Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta.
13 April 2017
My dear friends,
Tonight, we have come to celebrate what should be considered the essence of what the Church should be and who we should be as Christians. We followers of Christ are called to be builders of God’s reign of justice, peace and love. Holy Thursday is the starting point of this vision. It is the source of our inspiration for building a community of love and mutual service based on Gospel teachings and values. This is born out so richly by tonight’s scriptures and again so powerfully by the ritual of feet washing which we are about to re-enact.
In the first reading taken from the book of Exodus, we are told how the Jews are to celebrate the Passover, which was the defining event in their history as a chosen people. “This day is to be a day of remembrance” and a day of celebration for them because of their liberation. They celebrate the event through which God delivered them from the burden of slavery in Egypt and led them to the land where they could build a new society free from injustice and oppression of any kind. In celebrating the Passover, they recall their deliverance and at the same time they renew their commitment to build a society they are meant to be.
we have come to celebrate what should be considered the essence of what the Church should be and who we should be as Christians.
In the Last Supper, Jesus transforms the Jewish Passover meal. Those who partake in it celebrate not just an exodus from Egypt to the land of promise. They celebrate and enact a new kind of exodus. The Last Supper anticipates the Passover of Jesus from death to new life. He is the Passover Lamb, bringing about a new and greater exodus – leading us not to an earthly promised land, but to the reign of God’s justice and love.
Jesus demonstrates how this new exodus is lived by the symbolic gesture of washing of the feet. It means much more than an act of humility. It subverts worldly notion of greatness, power and leadership. The greatest has to become the smallest; the powerful has to become the powerless; and the leader has to become the servant. In effect, foot washing is indicative of the self-emptying journey and the self-giving love that manifested in Jesus’ whole life and culminated in his death on the cross. It illustrates powerfully to the disciples and all who wish to embark on this exodus what it means to be his follower. It is a stark reminder of our commitment to be servants in imitation of the Servant Leader who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life for others.
Jesus demonstrates how this new exodus is lived by the symbolic gesture of washing of the feet. It means much more than an act of humility.
My dear friends,
Tonight’s celebration highlights for us what it means to be a disciple and what it means to be a body of Christ. In the world which is deeply suspicious of institutional religions, only the true measure of discipleship counts. Pope Benedict remarked that in the face of the crisis facing the church, what we need above all is purification and conversion. We need to be purified of all that is the antithesis of the Gospel spirit. We need to convert to the humble and servant Christ. Christianity or specifically Catholicism need to regain not so much its former influence in an increasing secular society, but the quality of its witness by the depth of our integrity and our commitment to be servants of the world.
Tonight’s celebration highlights for us what it means to be a disciple and what it means to be a body of Christ.
Maundy Thursday is also traditionally regarded as the birthday of the ministerial priesthood and Holy Eucharist. On this day, Jesus showed how perfect his love was to those he had always loved. The institution of these two sacraments is seen as an expression of this perfect love. They originated from the self-giving, sacrificial love of Jesus. The Eucharist is the eating of the new bread and the drinking of the new wine. We, who eat his body and drink his blood, are commanded to give ourselves in loving service to one another and so create a Eucharistic community.
Maundy Thursday is also traditionally regarded as the birthday of the ministerial priesthood and Holy Eucharist.
The ministerial priesthood is likewise modelled on the ministry of selfless service of Christ. It is not a form of prestige, power and domination. We, ministers and priests in the Church, are called in a special way to mediate, to make present the selfless, life-giving ministry of Jesus. But all of us who celebrate the New Passover, the Last Supper, the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ, in short the Eucharist, the Mass, are called to give ourselves in service to each other and to the world.
Let us pray that we have the courage to respond to God’s call to live our discipleship authentically. Let us pray that we may learn to influence, albeit from a position of weakness, vulnerability and smallness, the world around us by our authentic witness to the Gospel. May we follow Christ in the nurturing and realising of God’s reign of love and justice. May Christ’s victory on the cross be our guiding light and our inspiration at all times.