April 15, 2020 Father De Celles Homily

Holy Thursday,

Mass of the Lord’s Supper

April 9, 2020

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

With this Mass of the Lord’s Supper

we begin the three Holiest days of the year called the Easter Triduum.

Traditionally, each day has unique Liturgies with important rituals

associated with them.

Unfortunately, this year each of these liturgies

has to be pared back and modified because of the coronavirus.  

In fact, tonight’s Mass is almost entirely stripped of its unique rituals.

But the one liturgy that will have the least changes

is the most unique of the three:

the Good Friday Celebration of the Lord’s Passion,

with the veneration of the Cross.

I’m very glad of that, because that Liturgy

has a special place in the life of the Church,

as it tries work with our imaginations

to take us back to stand at the foot of the Cross

with the Blessed Mother, John, the Magdalene, and the other holy women,

to experience what they did as they looked on their suffering beloved Jesus.

And this can have amazing and intense spiritual effect on us.

But even so, while imagination is a great thing,

it is not the same as being there physically, historically.

…But what if we could actually really be there,

standing at the foot of the Cross?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could somehow really be transported back

to the year 33 and be there with our suffering Lord.

That would be so incredibly fantastic.

Or would it?

Could you really bear to see His terrible wounds,

or endure the sorrow of His Blessed Mother?

I don’t know that I could.

So, in His mercy, Jesus spares us this.

Still He wants us to understand and participate in it in some real way.

And so He allows us to do that, to some extent,

through human imagination and divine grace,

by using art, word, and drama,

and especially through prayer and meditation,

and most especially the liturgy of good Friday.

But He wants even more than this:

Jesus wants us to somehow be there at the Cross with Him,

not just to see and feel, but to participate in it, and to share in the fruits

and come to know the depth of its meaning and effects in our lives.

So to do make that possible, as St. Paul tells in tonight’s second reading,

“Jesus, on the night He was handed over,
took bread, and…said, “This is my body that is for you”…

In the same way also the cup, …saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

In this the Lord, using His divine power,

which knows no limits of time or space,

reached forward, if you will, into the next day on Calvary,

and made present to his apostles

in the upper room on Holy Thursday

the real and true presence of His body crucified,

His blood poured out on Good Friday.

And He does the same thing at every single Mass, as He will tonight,

          reaching back in time to Calvary,

and placing the Cross and His Body on this altar.

But at Mass we are not overwhelmed by the horror

of the terrible sights and sounds and feelings of Calvary.

And He allows us to see with a certain calmness

so we can understand more clearly the full meaning and fruits of the Cross,

We are there, but not paralyzed by the pain.

We can see, but not blinded by sorrow.

And so, in the light of faith and by His grace,

kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament on the Altar,

we can begin to see the Cross for what it truly is, in its fullness.


We can see it as the fulfillment of man’s desire to offer fitting sacrifice to God.

In particular, we see the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices,

          from the first sacrifice of Adam’s son, Able,

to the Sacrifice of Abraham marking the beginning of the Old Covenant,

to the mysterious sacrifice of Melkizedech.

Most especially we understand that the Cross replaces and fulfills

the Passover sacrifice of Moses, that we read about in today’s 1st reading,

saving God’s people not merely from worldly enemies and oppression,

but from all evil and sin, and even death itself.

And so we see the Cross as beginning a New Covenant,

in which the mutual self-giving love of God and His people

is made complete and real

as Christ, both God and man, gives Himself

totally and completely, through His body on the Cross

to His heavenly Father and to us.

…We also see the Cross

as the perfect sacrifice for giving thanks to God

—what greater thanks can a Son give to His Father

than absolutely obediently doing His will, even to giving His life.

And we see it as the perfect sacrifice of atonement or expiation

for the sins of all mankind from the Adam and Eve until the end of time.

Who else but the eternal and omnipotent God who became man

could love so boundlessly and perfectly

as to make up for all the love that billions of us sinners have failed to give.

And we see the Cross as the perfect sacrifice of redemption, or ransom,

as God the Son, Jesus, gives His life for the ransom of mankind,

freeing us from slavery to sin, death and Satan.

And we see it as even more.

For beyond the suffering and sorrow of Calvary,

we see that from His suffering and death

comes the new life and glory of the resurrection.

And so we see the Cross as the font of our salvation,

the defeat of the ancient serpent, the devil,

the outpouring of His mercy and grace,

the opening of the gates of heaven,

and the pledge of perfect joy in heaven.


That is the Cross, and that is the Eucharist.

And that is what He gave us on Holy Thursday, 2000 years ago.


Now, don’t misunderstand me.

If I could somehow be physically taken back in time to Calvary in 33AD,

I would do it in a heartbeat.

I know it would probably change my life.

Which is why the Triduum Liturgies are so important.

Because by mediating on the excruciating agony

that our beloved Jesus, endured for love of us,

beginning at the Last Supper and culminating on the Cross

we can bring that with us to every single Mass

and understand the glorious mystery unfolding on the altar.


What a great gift the Lord gave us on that night before He was to suffer,

“that is, tonight”: the Eucharist.

And to ensure that great gift could be experienced not just by the apostles

but by all generations of Christians, He gave us another gift that night,

as He commanded His apostles: “do this in memory of me.”

In this, He gave them a special power to share in His own priesthood,

to act in His person, in persona Christi,

in order to offer His sacrifice of the Cross on altars

from then until the end of time.

But He made it clear to them that this magnificent power was not for them,

but for the people He would commend to their care.

So that it can never be understood as a personal glory of the priest,

          but only in the humbling context of personal servanthood.

And to drive this home,

Jesus humbly got on His knees and washed the feet of His apostles,

saying to them: “as I have done for you, you should also do.”

And then a few moments later He would say,

“No greater love has a man than this, to lay down his life for his friends,”
pointing to His fulfillment of priestly servanthood on the Cross.

So the mysteries of the Cross, the Eucharist and the priesthood

are inextricably united to each other,

so that the priest must live His life, in persona Christi,

understood in the light of the Eucharist and the Cross,

as one of sacrificial self-gift to God and for His people.

So that each time the priest takes the bread into His hands and speaks for Jesus,

          to confect the Eucharist and offer the sacrifice,

He is also secondarily describing the essence of priesthood of Jesus,

in which He shares,

          saying, “this is my body given up for you.”

This is the priesthood—this magnificent gift, from Christ Crucified—to all of us.


Tonight we remember that the Lord instituted the Eucharist and the Priesthood

on Holy Thursday so that what He did on Good Friday

could be made truly present to His people in every generation.

But….I’m sure by now some of you are thinking

I’ve forgotten the elephant in the room.

That is, that with the coronavirus, with the except of a handful, you aren’t here.

And you won’t be here for the tomorrow, or the next or even on Easter Sunday.

And so Jesus can’t be truly present to you

through the Eucharist and the Priesthood,

(because you are not present here.)

And no amazing advancement in modern technology,

like livestreaming into your living room can change that.

There is no replacement for the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus

Christ poured out on the Cross for us, and into us.

There is no replacement for the Eucharist.

But….But think about this.

Just as there’s a reason, in God’s plan,

that you can’t go back in time to stand at the foot of the Cross.

there is also surely a reason, in God’s plan,

that you can’t come here tonight to stand at the foot of the altar.

You know, with all the beauty of the Triduum, and all the impact it should have,

          how many of us really appreciate the Mass for what it is?

How many let the lessons learned in the Triduum liturgies,

really transform our approach to Mass on Holy Thursday

and throughout the year?

How many of really come to Mass thinking,

          “I’m going to participate in miracle today,

that will open up time and bring me to the foot of the Cross,

and my Crucified Savior to me.”

How many of us participate in every Mass filled with awe at the miracle

that Able, and Abraham and Melchizedek, and Moses

longed to see, but did not see it.

How many?

If we’re honest, very very few of us, really.

Not only that, most of us, and I sadly include myself in this number,

          often even take it all for granted.

In His mercy that the Lord, through the Eucharist, spares us the pain

of being physically present to witness His bloody torture on the Cross.

Perhaps in that same mercy, this year the Lord chooses not to spare us pain

          –not the pain of the Cross,

but of not being physically present at the Mass and the Eucharist.

Perhaps the Lord is using this triduum of physical sensory separation

to remind us that each and every Mass is a miraculous

manifestation of the sacrificial love of Jesus on the Cross.

And perhaps He is reminding His priests that their priesthood

is inextricably tied to the sacrificial love of Jesus,

and serving God’s people, especially through the Holy Mass.


Truth be told, I almost didn’t celebrate the Liturgies of Triduum this year

          –part of me asked. “what are these liturgies without the people?”

But in the end, the truth is,

the Eucharist is the amazing miracle it is,

with us or without out us present.

And so we must do our best to honor, celebrate and remember this Holy Night,

as best we can.

So as you watch this Mass of the Lord’s Supper from your homes tonight

          go back in time with your holy imagination to the events of 2000 years ago.

But also allow yourselves to go forward in time,

and think of the next time you will be truly present

with Christ’s true presence at the holy Mass.

And open your hearts to the grace and lessons He wants to give you

tonight, and throughout this Holy Triduum.