21 April – Mass of the Last Supper – St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh
HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH
HOLY THURSDAY – 21 APRIL 2011
On Sunday afternoon last a remarkable group of people gathered next door in the Grammar School. They were the families of the ‘Disappeared’ and they gather there every Palm Sunday to celebrate the Mass of Palm Sunday. Of course the Mass of Palm Sunday always contains an account of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus and so the ceremony is always packed with emotion. There is a wreath carried in with a lily on it for every one of the disappeared whose body has not been found. Originally there were seventeen (17) disappeared and no bodies found. Now, ten remains have been found and seven remain unfound. Last Sunday we pledged to continue to pray that the remains of these seven (7) will eventually be recovered.
Originally there did not seem to be much hope really – but then, one was found and later another and so on. During this past year three more were located and three lilies were removed from the wreath.
There is always one very sad moment during the reading of the Gospel when the betrayal of Jesus, by Judas one of the twelve (12), is recalled. It recalls the fact that each one of the disappeared was, in fact, betrayed by someone or some group of people and condemned to death.
Every day this week the Church recalls the fact that Judas actually betrayed his Lord and Master. He did so for the paltry sum of thirty pieces of silver – which he flung back to those who convinced him to do the foul deed – before going out to end his life.
This evening we are celebrating the Mass of the Last Supper. It commemorates the fact that on the night that he was betrayed – the night before he was executed – Jesus gathered with his disciples – Judas included – to celebrate the Passover Meal – the most important meal of the year.
At that supper, Jesus makes one final attempt to save Judas from his desperate plan – but all to no avail. Satan had entered his heart and he was not for turning. So Jesus, seeing that he was getting nowhere, told Judas to get on with it and to get it over with as quickly as possible. Judas went out at once and St. John in a masterly phrase says – It was night.
It was night in more ways than one. The Light of Faith had gone out in the heart of Judas. He had come to the conclusion that Jesus was foolhardy in his opposition to the Chief Priests.
I heard a very interesting song which represents the two views: one says Jesus was doing fine until he fell in with some bad friends – the other point of view says that he should have been like Judas – who was shrewd and wise and always had a fair amount in the bank.
Jesus was upset no doubt by the prospect of being betrayed but he did not allow it to turn him aside from thinking about, and making provision for, his beloved disciples in a time when he would no longer be with them.
First of all he gives them his body and blood when he took bread and wine and changed them into his Body and Blood. He had already made that fantastic promise that he would do so – when he multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the multitude. He said: ‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will have eternal life and will be raised up on the last day’. Those who do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood will not have everlasting life. It is as simple as that.
In his Gospel St. John makes no mention of Jesus taking bread and wine and changing them into his Body and Blood but he does have something which none of the other Gospels have, namely, a description of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. It was as if John knew that the others had described the giving of the Eucharist – which he would skip – so he was determined to include the washing of the feet.
It was as if to say – yes, the Eucharist is important but the whole purpose of us being fed with the Body and Blood of Christ is so that we will have the strength to carry out the New Commandment which he was giving to them –
Love one another as I have loved you
So you must love one another
Jesus had already shown them how much he loved them. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave the world and go to the Father. At Cana, when he worked his first miracle, he had told his mother that his hour had not come. Now it had come.
I love the way John describes it. Jesus had loved those in the world who were his own and he loved them to the end. He knew he had come from God and was going back to God so he washed their feet to show to them the depth of his love. He gave them an example and asked them to follow it. Not only that, but he promised that if they put his commandment of love into practice, they would be happy. I suppose that explains how those who have left all to follow Christ, are the happiest people in the world.
Jesus is amazing. Of course he is upset by the prospect of being betrayed by one of his nearest and dearest. He foretells that even Peter will deny he ever knew him when put to the test. Jesus foresees that the others will be no better. They will run away and abandon him in his hour of need. And yet, none of this is allowed to distract Jesus from his plans. He is completely focussed on his love for his own, right to the end.
That love is shown by four great gifts:
1. His body and blood;
2. His command to love one another as he had loved us –
3. The example of loving his own to the point of washing their feet;
4. The final great gift of today is the Priesthood. Holy Thursday is seen as the Birthday of the Priesthood.
It is really very hard to take it all in – such love not just in words but accompanied by deeds – right to the end of time.
One has to wonder how we can remain so cold and so ungrateful in the face of such love. Jesus had always loved his own and he loved them to the end. Right now Jesus continues to love those who are his own and will continue to love them until the end of time. ‘See how these Christians love one another’. It was said so often about the early Church. This evening the bells rang out during the Gloria to indicate our joy at the fact that we have been saved and made free by our Lord Jesus. In some places people spend hours before the altar of repose in thanksgiving.
I am very grateful to those who have agreed to have their feet washed. It allows us to re-enact one of the most powerful incidents in the life of Jesus. I am not used to washing other peoples’ feet but we do it to remind ourselves of the humble washing carried out by Jesus. By so doing, Jesus is telling us that the greatest are those who serve – not those who dominate or throw their weight around or bully others.
In the washing of the feet, Jesus gives us a prophecy, a foretelling of the passion. His passion is nothing else than serving and giving of life for the salvation of the world. When Jesus washes the feet of his disciples he reminds us of the Eucharist – which is nothing else than his placing himself at our disposal. It reminds us of the purity of heart which we need to take part in the Eucharist. Finally, the washing of the feet reminds us of Baptism which washes away our sins and makes us table-mates of Jesus.
Tonight we give thanks for the fact that the world is full of humble, generous feet-washers – who dedicate themselves totally to others – to those with special needs, to the poor, the sick, the elderly and those on the margins. May this celebration touch our hearts and make us ready to become washers of the feet of our brothers and sisters.