TEXT: Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, April 18, 2019
Thursday of the Lord’s Supper
April 18, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Last Monday we looked on in stunned sorrow
at images of the fire that ravaged the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris.
As I saw the grand spire topple to the ground, my heart dropped with it.
Most of the civilized world, certainly most Westerners and Christians,
were at least saddened if not deeply moved by the loss
of this 850-year-old great wonder of art and architecture.
But as I have listened to and read reactions
from people around the world, especially the French themselves,
it seems most people really don’t understand what we’ve lost.
French President Macron vows to rebuild in 5 years,
but it seems he doesn’t really understand what it is he’s seeking to rebuild.
Because Notre Dame is not merely a stunning accomplishment of human genius,
nor is it merely an historical architectural artifact,
nor is it a merely grand monument to the glories and tragedies
of French and European history.
Rather, Notre Dame was built as an expression of deep faith in and love for
It is a love poem, in wood and stone, to God and to His mother,
poured out in the sweat and blood of thousands of French craftsmen,
sons and daughters of the eldest daughter of the Church,
And most specifically, it is an articulation of their Catholic faith and understanding
of the magnificence, beauty and splendor
of what we have gathered here this evening to celebrate: the Eucharist.
A temple built with human hands and minds,
but more than that, with human faith and divine grace.
Of course, the first Eucharist was not celebrated
in such magnificent surroundings,
or with hardly any such outward expression of faith and understanding.
It was, in fact, a very simple affair, at least outwardly.
But don’t ever let that fool you.
Because if we step back and look at it we see something entirely different.
Think of it.
There were present all 12 of the first apostles,
11 of whom would be destined to be
the very foundational pillars of the Church,
to sit on thrones before the throne of God in heaven,
as Jesus Himself tells us.
And of course, the priest of the first Mass
was none other than Jesus Christ Himself,
God the Son, Creator of the Universe, Savior of the World.
And there He offered Himself to the Father
in the supreme sacrifice that was the salvation of the world,
as He miraculously made present the very sacrifice
of His own body on the Cross,
taken out of time from the next day, Good Friday,
and placed on that table of the last supper on Holy Thursday.
His sacrifice of love beyond all telling.
love or us and for the Father.
His death paying for our sins and the sins of all mankind,
from Adam and Eve until the end of time.
On that table.
And so what happened that night would
have seemed, to the eye of man, to be pretty simple,
but to the eyes of the angels, it was more glorious
than all the most magnificent cathedrals in the world combined.
Now, the outward simplicity was completely in keeping
with the one who was in charge: Jesus.
Because Jesus never sought to glorify Himself outwardly.
Even though He saw it as right and just that others do that.
For example, at the transfiguration, He allowed Peter, James and John
to fall on their faces before Him.
And just 6 days before the Last Supper, He allowed Mary Magdalene
to anoint His feet with oil that today would cost $45,000,
and Jesus said of this:
“She has done a beautiful thing to me…”
But the outward simplicity of the first Mass might have contributed
to the misunderstanding of what was really happening
—misunderstanding by many in and out of the Church
for the last 2000 years,
but that began that night.
For clearly, although Jesus knew exactly what He was doing,
the Apostles seemed to barely understand at all.
Jesus had told them that He would give them His body as bread
for the life of the world,
and that it unless they ate His body and drank His blood
they would not have life within them.
So they probably had some idea, and some faith.
But it clearly was woefully incomplete.
Because instead of them falling on their faces in adoration,
as at the transfiguration,
now there’s not a word of them even acknowledging what He’d done.
And just moments after they received First Holy Communion,
Judas left to sell Jesus to the High Priest,
and over the next 3 to 6 hours,
Peter would deny he even knew Jesus,
and 9 others would abandon Him.
So much for their faith in Jesus and the Eucharist.
Of course, after the Resurrection, all that changed.
Then they understood not only the meaning of
His Passion, Death and Resurrection,
but also the entirety of His gospel,
including the ineffable gift of the Eucharist.
So that the Acts of the Apostles tells us that the first Christians
“devoted themselves to….the breaking of bread.”
And as we read in today’s second reading,
St. Paul tells us the established belief of the early Church that:
“as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”
For next 3 centuries poverty and persecution would force Christians
to continue offering the Mass with few outward displays of grandeur,
But once the persecutions stopped we quickly saw
the development of rich and elaborate liturgies,
as well as the dedication and building of beautiful churches
in which to celebrate.
In fact in 313, the year the persecution of Christians ended in the Roman Empire,
the palace of the rich Laterani family was given to the Christians
to be used as church,
which today is the Cathedral of Rome, St. John Lateran.
And over the centuries, as the Church’s understanding
of the richness of the Eucharist continued to grow and deepen,
so did her churches become more and more beautiful,
as did the vessels, vestments, music and liturgies.
Sadly, though, just as there were sinful men at the Last Supper,
there are always sinful men in the Church and at Mass.
So, sometimes, while the external beauty of the Mass remains,
the interior lives of the faithful fades.
And that leads to two terrible problems.
First, to some who lack interior understanding or faith,
the beautiful churches and liturgies become meaningless,
and so they try to redo them to appeal to their confused or faithless hearts.
And so we see once beautiful churches gutted and redecorated
to look like modern theaters,
and once-splendorous liturgies rewritten to be more entertaining
to the weak in faith.
much like a church where the façade remains beautiful,
while the hidden wooden beams and girders decay and rot,
in the same way sometimes the Catholics
that externally hold themselves out to appear most holy,
especially some priests, bishops and cardinals,
internally have little or no faith or true love for Christ,
much less His Blessed Sacrament.
And when the fire of the devil’s temptations comes
it quickly engulfs and destroys the rotted timbers of their souls.
And so the destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral reminds us
of what we can so easily lose sight of: the Glory of the Eucharist.
But it also reminds of the second sacrament Jesus instituted that same night
at the Last Supper: the sacrament of Holy Orders, the priesthood.
Just as with the Eucharist, this great sacrament of the priesthood
was also not fully appreciated that night:
the 11 apostles who betrayed, denied, or abandoned Jesus
after the first Mass
were all newly ordained priests.
But they did not understand that
He had not only given them custody of the Most Blessed Sacrament,
but also that He had ordained them to be His personal representative
to the world, to stand in for Him, in persona Christi.
And so they did not understand that like Him,
they must not merely wash other’s feet,
but live a life of sacrificial service united to Him
who came not to be served but to serve
and to give His life on the Cross as a ransom for many.
So that when a priest says, “this is my body which will be given up for you,”
while he is above all saying the words of Eucharistic consecration,
he is also stating the pattern Christ calls the priest to live out
in his own body, every day, giving up his own body for the Church,
in union with His Crucified Lord.
But, again, after the Resurrection,
the Church came to understand, appreciate and embrace
the great gift Jesus had left them in the sacrament of priesthood.
So history tells us that the 11 faithful apostles went on
to give their whole lives for Christ,
first proclaiming the gospel untiringly,
and then being martyred or imprisoned for love of Jesus.
And we read that the people too understood the gift,
as the Acts of the Apostles tells us that just as the early church
“devoted themselves to….the breaking of bread.”
they also , “devoted themselves to…the teaching of the apostles.”
And as the years passed, we saw the outward signs of appreciation
of the sacrament of priesthood grow.
We saw Christians begin to call their priests “Father” and “Reverend.”
And we saw priests celebrating Mass wearing beautiful vestments
not to adorn themselves,
but to adorn the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and the Eucharist.
But, again, just as with a beautiful church, and with the Eucharist,
too often the interior is neglected,
and like 11 of the 12 apostles, newly ordained as priests,
too often priests bishops and cardinals betray, deny and abandon Christ.
All this, we remember tonight, at this Mass.
We remember the night Jesus gave us the awesome gifts
of the Eucharist and the Priesthood.
But we also remember the lack of faith and understanding of these gifts
that all of us, in large ways or small, show all too often.
Tonight, as we prepare to commemorate
the Lord Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross on Good Friday,
on this Holy Thursday, we stand in awe of love
Jesus reveals in His crucified Body and pours out in His Precious Blood.
And we are overwhelmed that He would allow us to share in this love
at this and every Mass:
to stand at the foot of His Cross,
to participate in His salvific sacrifice of the New Covenant,
through the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders.
Let accept the grace God gives us tonight
to always understand and believe in these sacraments,
and appreciate them as precious treasures of our salvation.
May we continue to give Our Lord Jesus beautiful outward signs
of devotion, adoration and worship of Himself
truly present in the Blessed Sacrament
whether they be beautiful churches, like Notre Dame or our very own,
or beautiful vestments, vessels, liturgies, hymns, prayers and gestures.
But above all, let us always accept the grace Jesus gives us in the sacraments,
so that even the most beautiful of these outward signs
will only be as so much wood and stone compared to
the beauty of the true and profound devotion and faith and love that
that Our Lord sees inside our hearts.