Maundy Thursday

posted 5 Apr 2021, 02:52 by Parish Office

Homily for Maundy Thursday 2021 (1/4/21)

Today is 1st April, also known as April Fools’ Day. Some people say it originates from the fact that the New Year used to begin between 25th March and 1st April (depending on the year), and that when we changed to the new calendar, those still using the old calendar were referred to as April Fools. In fact the tradition goes back long before that, to pre-reformation times, but that slightly inconvenient fact deviates from the point I want to make. In the first reading, God says to Moses and Aaron that the month in which they celebrate the Passover is to be the first month of their year, i.e. this is when the new year begins. If the year still worked that way, then we could say that the dying of the old year and the rising of the new one mirror our celebration of the dying and rising of Christ. Of course today, we don’t celebrate Good Friday, nor Easter Sunday, but rather Maundy Thursday, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist. The Eucharist joins us to both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The whole point of the Easter Triduum is that the celebrations over the next few days are all one big celebration, rather than separate stand-alone events; when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, He didn’t actually finish the celebration; it’s a bit like if I decided to wander off into the house after the Offertory and finish the rest of the Mass tomorrow. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus said, this is my Body, which is given up for you, this is my Blood which is poured out for you – that’s exactly what happened on the Cross. Jesus gave up His Body and poured out His Blood so that our sins could be forgiven. But what we receive in the Eucharist is not the dead Christ, but rather the risen, living, resurrected Christ, so the Eucharist links us with the Resurrection as well. It is all interconnected.

John F Kennedy famously said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. In the same way, the Eucharist isn’t just about what God does for us; it’s also about what we then do in return for God. It’s about service. That’s where the priesthood comes in. Jesus didn’t just give us the priesthood so that we can have Mass – the priesthood is also about service to the whole People of God.

As I’m sure you know, today, in this country, is called both Holy Thursday and Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” derives from the Latin word Mandatum, which refers to the washing of feet and Christ’s commandment that we love one another as He has loved us. Unfortunately, because of Covid, the washing of feet can’t happen this year. You may know, from your RE at school, that the sacrament of Holy Orders has three “rungs” to it, if you like: deacon, priest and bishop, and ordination happens in that order, so all priests are ordained as deacons first. It used to be the case that it was compulsory for a bishop to wear the vestment of a deacon underneath his episcopal vestments; when I was a seminarian at Oscott and we used to go to the cathedral in Birmingham for the Easter Triduum, Archbishop Vincent would remove his chasuble for the washing of feet, revealing a deacon’s dalmatic underneath. Bishops, like priests and deacons, are called to serve; of course one of the titles for the Pope is not just the Bishop of Rome, but Servus Servorum Dei – Servant of the Servants of God. There is an important rule going on here: the greater you are, the more humbly you should behave. Christ, great as He is, took on the role of one of the lowest of the servants, by washing the disciples’ feet. His example is also relevant for families and people in general. And it goes further. Even though He knew He was going to the Cross and had plenty to worry about, He still thought about others, rather than Himself: “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail, and once you have recovered, you in your turn must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). It’s so easy, when we are suffering, to think only about ourselves, and sometimes we even make other suffer too; it’s more difficult to think about others instead.

Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Today we recall what God has done for us, and continues to do for us in the Mass. And we ask ourselves how we can serve God, and others, in return.