Archbishop Lori’s Homily: Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday
April 1, 2021
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Homeland

The Passover Fulfilled by Christ

On Holy Thursday, the Church celebrates the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Taking part in this liturgy, we find ourselves at table with the Lord and his Apostles. During that meal, celebrated at Passover, the Lord and his Apostles commemorate, and in a sense, relive, the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb,
by whose Blood the people of Israel were delivered from the slavery of Egypt, so as to begin their journey towards the Promised Land.

Many times before, Jesus had commemorated this epic event, but this night would be different. Jesus sits at table as the true Passover Lamb, indeed the Lamb of God, who would soon lay down his life on the Cross, thus revealing “the mystery of the Father and his love for us” (GS, 22).

The bread, which Jesus hands to his chosen ones, is in fact his Body which he would offer on the Cross for the salvation of the world. The cup, from which Jesus gives his Apostles to drink, is in fact his Blood, which, from the Cross he would shed for the forgiveness of sins.

In his great love, Jesus desired that we, his people, would share in these saving events. For that reason, Jesus established the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, the Eucharist. Just as Moses oversaw the institution of the Passover feast as an enduring memorial of God’s miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, so too Jesus instituted the Eucharist as the perpetual memorial of the decisive deliverance he would accomplish by his Cross and Resurrection: deliverance from the slavery of sin and from the fear of death, safe passage through this earthly vale of tears to the everlasting halls of heaven.

In a most mysterious and wonderful way, the Eucharist re-presents, re-enacts, and “encapsulates” the Paschal Sacrifice of our Savior, thus enabling us to pass from sin to grace and from grace to glory. Moreover, at the Last Supper Jesus also instituted the Holy Priesthood by which the Apostles and their successors would be enabled to celebrate the Banquet of his Sacrifice, the Mass, until the end of time.
Celebrating the origin of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, it is right that we should give God thanks and praise.

In our reading from 1st Corinthians, St. Paul also takes us to the heart of the Eucharist: The bread we bless and break is the Body of the Lord given for our salvation. The cup of wine we bless is the New Covenant in the Lord’s Blood. St. Paul teaches that, when we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord… In other words, we bear witness that, by dying, Jesus has saved us, and that we share in Jesus’ death through the Eucharist.

This is the immense gift given to us by Christ on that first Holy Thursday night, a gift so rich and beautiful that the Second Vatican Council said of it (and I quote): “[The Eucharist] contains all the spiritual treasure of the Church, that is, Christ himself our Passover … whose flesh, vivified by the … life-giving Spirit, gives life to [us], inviting [us] and leading [us] to offer, in union with him, [our] own life, [our] work, and all creation” (PO, 5).

Eucharistic Coherence: Charity and Clarity

What this means is that none of us can remain indifferent to the Eucharist. The Eucharist, the celebration of the Holy Mass, is not merely a nice ritual, something we can take part in when we feel like it, or when we feel the need for it. Rather, it is utterly fundamental to our lives as Catholic Christians. The Eucharist is, in fact, Christ’s own way of perpetuating his presence among us
so as to form us as a community of disciples, as a holy people, precious in God’s sight.

The Eucharist is also the Lord’s own way of entering into our hearts individually, there to shape and form us as his disciples. Sharing in the Lord’s own life and love is meant to shape how we live and love.
Sharing the Lord’s Body and Blood is meant to impart to us a newfound charity and clarity in our relationship with God and our neighbor. Allow me briefly to explain.

First, the Eucharist should lead us to new heights of charity. Moments from now, I will re-enact that scene from the Last Supper when Christ knelt before his Apostles to wash their feet. On Jesus’ part, this was a gesture of humility and hospitality. That Jesus performed this service on the same night he instituted the Eucharist, says something very important about what it means for us to partake in the Eucharist.

It means that, just as Jesus laid down his life for us, so too we are to love one another, to serve one another’s needs, to put ourselves at the disposal of others. Jesus is the gold standard of love: “Love one another,” he says, “as I have loved you.”

If, in the Eucharist, we share in the immensity of the Lord’s redeeming love . . . he who died for us while we were yet sinners, the innocent for the guilty – then, should our lives not reflect that love, especially for the poor and vulnerable? What’s more, the Lord’s example of washing his disciples’ feet shows us that our love for others should be “hands on,” direct, and personal.

Second, the Eucharist should lead you and me to a newfound moral clarity. The heart of Christian morality is, of course, love for, as St. Paul teaches, “love is the fulfillment of the law.” Attentively and worthily receiving the crucified and risen Lord in the Eucharist, our lives should reflect ever more deeply something of the Lord’s own utter goodness. As the glory of the Lord’s self-giving love lights up our minds and hearts, we should perceive, with increasing clarity, our duty to practice and hand on the faith, as well as our responsibility to uphold and defend human dignity . . . first by conducting our lives with a genuine moral integrity born of love, and then by upholding and defending human dignity at every stage of existence, from the moment of conception until natural death, and all the stages in-between.

Jesus died and rose because God cherishes our humanity, the humanity of each person. Receiving the Eucharist should transform how we think, what decisions we make, and especially how we treat the poor, the vulnerable, and the defenseless. Just as the Lord rescued us when we were powerless to save ourselves, so too, once we share in the Lord’s victory of love, we should show compassion to those who are most defenseless, those who have no one to speak for them but us.

Examination of Conscience

Further on in the 1st Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul urges us to examine our consciences carefully before we receive the Eucharist, lest we eat and drink a judgment against ourselves. These days, the tendency is to examine other people’s consciences, and to put forth one’s findings on social media. This evening, let each of us set that aside so as to examine our own consciences lest we fall prey to the sin of presumption, lest we take for granted the fathomless gift of the Most Holy Eucharist.

Come, now, let us hasten to take part in the Lord’s Supper and then let spend time with the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane by adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament at the conclusion of our liturgy. Thus will we allow the depth of Our Savior’s love to dawn upon our hearts!

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.