Archbishop Lori’s Homily: Holy Thursday 2022

Holy Thursday 2022
April 14, 2022
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen


Thus begins the Sacred Triduum, three days when we solemnly celebrate the saving Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the course of these three days, we shall not only recall the Lord’s death, we shall also participate in it, as we ourselves become actors in the great drama of the world’s salvation. So it is, that we find ourselves this evening in the Upper Room with Jesus and the Apostles.

What unfolds this night before our eyes of faith? What is it that we see, not with physical sight, but with eyes of our soul? The Scriptures proclaimed on this solemn feast illuminate what we inwardly see. We see Jesus, kneeling down to wash the feet of his Apostles. We see Jesus, seated at table, instituting the Most Blessed Eucharist, the Paschal Meal that anticipates and encompasses his Sacrifice on the Cross. We see Jesus, kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane, suffering untold anguish. In this most Sacred Liturgy, then, let us encounter Christ anew, and let us extend our hand to him, that he himself may lead us into the spiritual depths of what we celebrate tonight.

The Washing of the Feet

As Jesus knelt down to wash the feet of his Apostles, he manifested to them and to us the meaning of the Beatitude, “Blessed are meek!” Here is the Son of Man, “meek and humble of heart”, Jesus, the Son of God and the Lord of all, who made himself the servant of all by performing the humble, menial task of washing his disciples’ feet.

Moments from now, I will wash the feet of Jesus’ disciples. Is this action simply a dramatization of the Lord’s humility and charity? As is always the case with Jesus, there is more than meets the eye. Listening to the dialog between Jesus and Peter, we come to understand that the washing of feet is more than an act of radical hospitality. It is also a symbol of the interior cleansing that Jesus wishes to accomplish in all of us. In Baptism, Christ washes us all over; he cleanses us inwardly from all sin. Our souls become lovely in God’s eyes, radiant with the beauty of Christ himself. Yet, as we journey through life, even in our work for the Church, our feet become soiled – soiled not only with our sins, but also with the dust of the world in which we “live and move and have our being”. Though Jesus has already washed us in Baptism, we need him to cleanse us further. Thus, the washing of the feet is an apt symbol for the Sacrament of Reconciliation in which our sins are forgiven by the same Lord who washed his disciples’ feet. Both Baptism and Penance spring from the font of Jesus’ love, namely, the Cross.

As we witness the re-enactment of this scene in the Upper Room, God forbid that we should be like Judas who saw himself as beyond redemption. Nor should respond to Jesus as Peter, who tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet … as if to say that we do not need the further cleansing Jesus offers us. Rather, let us gratefully recall our Baptism, and the many times Christ has cleansed us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If we have not received the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent, may we resolve to do so prior to Easter, and frequently throughout the year. Allowing the Lord Jesus to cleanse us, we are prepared to sit at table with him.

The Institution of the Eucharist and Priesthood

While at table, Jesus celebrated with his Apostles how God in his mercy delivered the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt. As he and his disciples shared the paschal lamb, as prescribed by Moses, Jesus was in reality the true Paschal Lamb, indeed, ‘the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.’ Thus, the Supper Jesus shared with his Apostles was more than a convivial gathering. Rather, it was a privileged moment in salvation history, when Christ fulfilled most profoundly what God had promised to the Israelites: not merely an earthly deliverance from slavery to the freedom of the promised land, but indeed deliverance from the slavery of sin to the freedom and joy of heaven.

That is why, on the night before he died, Jesus took bread and said, “This is my Body, given for you!” – and likewise the wine and said, “This is my Blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sin!” The Last Supper is linked inseparably to the Cross, and the Cross to the Last Supper, and both are contained in every celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass. When we gather for Eucharist, we listen to the Lord speak to us in Scripture, just as the Lord spoke words of “spirit and life” to his Apostles in the Upper Room. After responding in faith to what we have heard, we are led, like the Apostles, into the depths of Jesus’ love for us as bread becomes in truth the Body of Christ, given for us on the Cross, and wine becomes in truth the Blood of Christ, poured out for the forgiveness of sin. The priest offers anew for us the same Sacrifice of Love that Jesus once offered, not in his own person or power but in the Person and power of Christ, truly bringing into the present what Jesus did once-for-all to save us. The Eucharist, then, is no mere symbol, but a living and substantial encounter with the Christ who died and rose to save us. Now, if that so, why would we ever want to be anywhere else on Sunday but at this Holy Table where Jesus feeds us with his Body and Blood? If we truly believe what the Apostles believed and what saints across the ages believed, we will see what a beautiful, precious, life-giving gift the Eucharist truly is, and we will make it the center of our lives!

The Garden

At length, Jesus departed the Upper Room and went to the Garden where he experienced anguish, as he poured out his heart to his heavenly Father, and as, with loving obedience, he took upon himself the sins of the world. The disciples, however, became weary and fell asleep as Jesus suffered, just as we may become spiritually drowsy, even indifferent, to Jesus’ loving heart. We must ask for the grace to stay awake spiritually, to share in the Lord’s suffering, to recognize our need for his forgiveness and the healing balm of his love.

As the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession, through the Cathedral, to its place of repose, let us walk with Christ Jesus to the Garden and there kneel beside him. Adoring our Eucharistic Lord, let us pour out our hearts, and with Christ, lay bare our anguish before the feet of our heavenly Father, asking for the grace and courage to pick up our cross and follow after Jesus. The cross we bear is laden with the sins we have committed, but also with problems we face, fears that haunt us, divisions that bedevil us, persons we find difficult to forgive, needs we cannot meet, worldly strife and violence. Let us entrust all of this and more to the Christ who loves us beyond measure.

As the altars are stripped bare, let us allow the Lord strip us of all pretense and thus make us ready to follow him all the way to Calvary. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori was installed as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore May 16, 2012.

Prior to his appointment to Baltimore, Archbishop Lori served as Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., from 2001 to 2012 and as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington from 1995 to 2001.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Lori holds a bachelor's degree from the Seminary of St. Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., a master's degree from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg and a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977.

In addition to his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori serves as Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and is the former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.