I have given you a model to follow, as I have done for you, you also should do. Tonight we enter into the Sacred Triduum, the yearly entrance into the great paschal mystery. This is the Passover of the Lord Jesus, where the blood of the Lamb frees us from the bondage of sin and death. We begin here at this Last Supper with Jesus. This is the supper he greatly desired to celebrate with his friends. He celebrates the Jewish feast of Passover, but he makes it his own, giving it a new meaning and significance.
We hear in the first reading about the institution of the Passover supper. The Israelites were to celebrate this supper annually to remember all that God had done for them, especially when he rescued them from slavery in Egypt.
Our Passover supper tonight is much the same. We gather to celebrate this supper annually to remember the great things that Christ has done for us. Really this whole Triduum is an extended period of remembrance. Each day we remember something specific. Tonight we remember Christ’s Last Supper. Tomorrow we remember his passion and death. Saturday we remember his rising from the dead.
But, in each case we do not simply remember as though it were some distant event. This is not like remembering the declaration of independence every July 4th. Rather, when we gather during these holy days to remember, we get to enter into the very mysteries we celebrate. Tonight as we gather to remember the Lord’s last supper, he is here in our midst. The deeper we reflect on these saving mysteries, and the more we are open to Christ who speaks to us, the more we are able to see his example.
Tonight we remember three key events that took place at the Last Supper, Christ washing the feet of his disciples, the gift of the Eucharist, and the institution of the Priesthood. Each of these events teaches us something important. The better we remember these events, the better we can follow Christ’s example.
You call me master and teacher, and rightly so because I am. But, if I have washed your feet you must wash each other’s feet. There is nothing pretty about washing feet. Remember that in the days of Jesus neither shoes nor cars had been invented. So, a person’s feet tended to be quite dirty. This is why it was pretty standard custom for a wealthy homeowner to have one of his servants by the door in order to wash his guests’ feet. It would have been crazy for the master of the house to be doing this kind of work. We even see that Peter had an almost violent reaction to such humility: Master, you will never wash my feet. What love, what humility. That Christ would stoop to wash the feet of his disciples. The showing of humility is amazing. But, even more, the Church has seen this act of washing feet as being a symbol for baptism. The Lord stoops down to wash us clean, to forgive us, to show us his mercy. As people who have experienced this love, this humility, this forgiveness, Christ calls us to go and do likewise. We are called to bend down to pick up our neighbor, we are called to spread his love and mercy.
At this same Last Supper, Christ also gives us the gift of the Holy Eucharist. If you thought bending down and washing feet was humble, how much more so is the gift of the Eucharist? Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of the Father, and he gives us his body and blood as an eternal memorial. But, he does so in a humble and lowly way. Simple bread and wine become his very body and blood. At this Mass and at every Mass, he takes lowly elements and transforms them for us. There are no earthquakes, no lightning flashes. Rather, the Eucharist is simple and humble, and handed over to people like us. What a lesson the Eucharist teaches us. Every Mass is like attending a 3-credit course in humility, simplicity, and service. Who are we to scoff at our neighbor, or fail to give of ourselves, when our Savior tireless pours himself out to us in the Holy Eucharist.
Finally, tonight we remember the first ordination class. When Jesus says “do this in memory of me,” he hands over his priestly ministry into the hands of the Apostles. Another lesson in humility. Christ did not choose the highest classes or the smartest people. Christ chose lowly fishermen, common men, who were weak and sinful. In fact, tonight the apostles show their weakness in an important way, because when Jesus is arrested they all flee. They were weak and humble men. And yet, it was precisely these men that Christ called as the first priests.
I can tell you from personal experience that not much has changed. He continues to call weak sinners to be his priests. Talk about amazing humility. In order to carry on his important priestly ministry, he chooses ordinary common men. Christ doesn’t choose supermen to be priests. He chooses ordinary, lowly men. But there is one catch. Notice the order the apostles receive these signs.
First, the Apostles have their feet washed. The first step on the road to priesthood is experiencing the mercy of Christ. I can say this is very true in my own life. What drew me to the priesthood was the amazing mercy and forgiveness that God gives in the sacrament of confession. I thought: what an amazing gift, how blessed I would be if I could give that gift to others.
Next, the Apostles were fed by Christ by the Eucharist. I can say with certainty that every priestly vocation is born in front of Christ in the Eucharist. Here in the Holy Eucharist every priest finds his mission: to give everything in humble service. In many ways, the Eucharist IS the vocation to priesthood because the Eucharist gives the priesthood its meaning and direction. To be a priest means to be a person who loves the Eucharist.
Every priestly vocation needs these two things as prerequisites: an experience of the mercy of Christ and a love for the Holy Eucharist.
Tonight I’m asking for you to pray for your priests. Not just Fr. Bob, Fr. Paul, and myself, but all priests everywhere. That we might continue to experience God’s mercy, be strengthened by the Holy Eucharist, and be inspired to share these gifts with others. But, I would also ask you to pray that more young men will experience God’s mercy and fall in love with the Eucharist. Men like that will be inspired to go and do likewise.
What tremendous love the Lord shows us tonight: he stoops down to wash away our lowliness, he gives himself to us in the Holy Eucharist, and he continues his work among us through the hands of priests. Truly this night, this Holy Night, is a night for us to be thankful.