Saturday, 1st Week of Lent
Institution of Acolytes
St. Mary’s Seminary and University
Mar. 7, 2020
An Impossible Ideal?
Today the Word of God focuses us on the law of love. After presenting to the people of Israel the Lord’s statutes and decrees, Moses, the teacher par excellence of the Old Testament, makes it clear that these statutes and decrees are not merely a set of rules to be followed, but rather a response of obedient love to the Lord who invited them to enter into a covenant with himself. We are to love God above all else and our neighbor as ourselves.
In the Gospel, Jesus the living Word of God, challenges us to understand and live the law of love more fully. Instead of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, we are to love them in the utterly generously way that his Father loves them. We are to love our enemies, our persecutors, and those who are unjust. It seems that the Lord has set the bar impossibly high. Who of us can love like that?
The Sacrament of Charity
The answer is none of us can do so, even those with a first-class temperament. But rather than impose upon us an impossible ideal, the frustration of a law we cannot possibly hope to fulfill, Jesus, at the Last Supper, instituted the Sacrament of Charity, the Eucharist. Only because the Lord has given us this great Sacrament and only because we participate in it worthily and wholeheartedly, can we hope to love and serve others as the Lord has first loved and served us.
Why do we call the Eucharist the Sacrament of Charity? Pope Benedict XVI writes that: “The Holy Eucharist is the gift Jesus makes of himself, thus revealing God’s infinite love for every man and woman. This wondrous sacrament makes present that ‘greater’ love which led [Jesus] “to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:3) – loving us “to the end” (13:1, SC, № 1). Pope Benedict went on to say that, in the Sacrament of Charity, the Eucharist, we are introduced and immersed in “Christ’s act of immense humility: before dying on the Cross, he tied a towel around himself and washed the feet of his disciples” (Ibid.). How amazed were the disciples as Jesus performed this act of charity. How amazed we should be as we adore and receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist in which Christ’s immense act of charity and humility is contained? It is in this immense act of charity and humility that you are being instituted as Acolytes. How, then, should you respond to this grace and favor?
Responses to the Grace and Favor of Becoming an Acolyte
As I am sure you realize, becoming an acolyte is much more than taking a necessary step along the road to becoming a deacon. If you would be a minister of the Word, it makes sense that you become lectors. If you would be a minister of Charity, it makes sense that you would become acolytes, ministers of the Sacrament of Charity, ministers of that Sacrament which is the source and summit of all the Church’s social and charitable activity.
This requires of you, however, a wholehearted response of faith and love, a response that will only deepen as you proceed toward Holy Orders. Let me suggest three ways in which you might fittingly respond.
First, I would suggest immersing yourselves in the truth of the Lord’s Eucharistic love. Re-read the Bread of Life discourse in the sixth Chapter of John, review the teaching on the Eucharist expressed so profoundly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church; and refresh yourselves with what recent Popes have written on the Eucharist – from Pope St. Paul VI, to Pope St. John Paul II, to Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. Ensure that your Eucharistic faith is not only solid but well-informed. This is very important not only for your role as acolyte but also as lector and eventually as a preacher of the Word of God. Today, so many people’s Eucharistic faith has waned or has become distorted. Fewer and fewer believe in the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist and thus deprive themselves of the truth and reality of the Lord’s Sacrificial Love, that love which is a the heart of our lives as Christians. If the Eucharist is an empty symbol, perhaps coming to Mass isn’t necessary after all. But if the Eucharist is truly the Lord’s Body and Blood, broken and poured out for us, could we really absent ourselves from this great mystery, this mystery in which saints and martyrs were formed and from which the Church derives her strength?
Second, if we believe what Scripture and Tradition teach concerning the Eucharist, we should be overcome by what St. John Paul II called “Eucharistic amazement” – a holy fear that yields to an unspeakable love, that the Lord would give himself to us in this fashion; that he would make himself and his sacrificial love so available to us as we journey through life, and remain with us so faithfully, both in the celebration of Holy Mass and in the Blessed Sacrament reserved. To be a faithful minister of the Eucharist, we spend time in silent prayer before the Eucharistic “holy of holies”, before our Eucharistic Lord of lords, listening to his voice, allowing his heart to speak to our hearts. This is where we are formed in the love, the charity, of which you, as deacons, will be the ministers. This is where you absorb the humility and love Jesus displayed at the Last Supper and upon the Cross.
Third, borrow an insight from St. Teresa of Calcutta, who saw the link between adoring and receiving the Body of Christ and ministering to the Body of Christ by touching the wounds of human existence, by loving and caring for the poorest of the poor, including lepers. Pope Francis often warns the Church not to be merely another NGO but instead to be a witness to the love of God alive in our world today, the love which God has for those who are poor and despised. This must become incarnate in your own lives as your hands-on service to the poor originates in your Eucharistic faith and as you bring back to the Eucharistic Lord all that you have done in his Name. Let the Eucharist be the source and summit of your charity!
“Grounded and Rooted in Love”
By responding in all these ways to your institution as acolytes, may you indeed be, as St. Paul says, “grounded and rooted in love” as you continue your journey towards the diaconate. And may God bless you and keep you always in his love!