Homily for Holy Thursday – Mass of the Lord’s Supper
April 9, 2020
Sacred Heart, EGF – Thursday, 7:00 PM
[Due to COVID-19, parishioners are unable to join us in person for Mass. They are watching via livestream in their homes.]
In the years surrounding and following World War II, an Iron Curtain descended across the continent of Europe, dividing the East from the West. Countries to the West of the Iron Curtain enjoyed more freedom, while countries to the East of the Iron Curtain found themselves under the influence of the Soviet Union and communism.
As the Soviets invaded, they lowered the Iron Curtain,
which served to keep information and the influence of the outside world out
and to keep people who might flee to freedom in the West in.
These countries were referred to as being “behind the Iron Curtain.” The Iron Curtain allowed war crimes to be committed without being observed and controlled by the outside world.
The Iron Curtain got its name from the iron curtain that was common in the theaters of the day. Events behind the theater curtain were not visible to the audience and were cut off from outside observation.
Karol Woityla was a young man who grew up behind the Iron Curtain during this time. In 1978, he was elected Pope and took the name John Paul II. That year, on Holy Thursday, he wrote a letter to priests, in which he tells of a custom that developed in many places behind the Iron Curtain, where persecution left no priests.
The custom is this:
People would go to an abandoned church, or if one no longer existed, to a cemetery where a priest was buried. They would take a stole, the garment worn by a priest when he celebrates the sacraments, when he acts in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, and they would place it on the altar or on the priest’s tombstone, and together they would recite the prayers of the Mass.
At the place where the consecration would occur,
at the words that only the lips of the priest could utter,
a deep silence would ensue,
a deep silence interrupted only by weeping.
My brothers and sisters, this year perhaps more than ever, we can understand their anguish.
What does it mean tonight for the priests to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper when the People cannot come to the church to receive the Eucharist?
What does it mean for you to tune in online to watch this Mass,
to unite yourself to this Mass,
when you cannot receive communion?
This is what it means:
It means that the Eucharist is real.
It means that the Eucharist matters.
It means that the reality of the Eucharist is bigger than me and it is bigger than you.
It means that the priesthood matters.
It means that the power Christ has given to his priests is real. He has vested them with his authority and power to continue to re-present these sacred mysteries for our salvation and for the salvation of the world until the end of time.
It means that the sacred mysteries that we celebrate,
tonight and throughout the rest of the Triduum,
and indeed, every time we gather at the altar…
it means that these sacred mysteries continue the saving action of Christ in the world whether I am able to receive the Eucharist or not. The suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ made all the difference in the world, even though you and I did not find ourselves standing under the Cross outside of Jerusalem in the year 33 AD.
Brothers and sisters, in these days, on this night in particular,
when you desire with all of your being to be united with the Lord Jesus in his passion by receiving the Eucharist, know that you ARE spiritually very close to him even as he is close to you.
Tonight, you are offering a sacrifice and a service of love for the good of your brothers and sisters. Tonight you wash their feet by your absence.
Tonight, you are united to Christ in your suffering even as he prepares to experience his suffering.
Tonight, we are in good company. We are in communion with each other and with all of those saints who lived behind the Iron Curtain – saints who, in their desire to receive the Eucharist when they were not able to do so, were shining witnesses to the reality of the Eucharist and the power of the Priesthood.
United with them in your desire to be united to the Lord, your souls cry out:
The Eucharist is real and the Eucharist matters!
The Priesthood is real and the Priesthood matters!
They matter because the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus matters.
They matter because Jesus instituted them on this night…and he instituted them for you.
They matter because you matter.
You matter to Jesus. You are loved by Jesus. He is about remind you again of this love over these holy days.
It is a love that led him to give his life for us.
And it is a love that leads us give our lives for him and for one another.