As we now enter the Holy Triduum, the most important time in the Church’s liturgical year, we become more aware that so much of salvation history, the story of God and his people, finds its fulfilment in these 3 days.
From the fall of Adam, the flood and Noah’s ark, to the covenant with Abraham, the Exodus led by Moses, the establishing of the Davidic Kingdom, the prophetic voices of the Exile and the return all find their true meaning. All has been leading up to this moment which illuminates the events of the past and allows the past to provide meaning in these extraordinary events in which we participate.
Today focuses on the altar and draws together all the cultic temple sacrifices that marked the people of God and their worship of the Lord. The Passover, the most significant, has particular resonance. Our Lord, at the Last Supper, takes the story of the Passover and reveals the true fulfilment in himself and the events yet to take place. At the Passover meal that he celebrates with his disciples, Christ takes the key elements of bread and wine and states, as St Paul in the epistle reminds us, “This is my body,” and “This chalice is the new covenant in my blood.”
Our Lord is claiming to be the true Passover Lamb who’s blood, Death cannot come near, but can only ‘pass over.’ Death cannot claim those who are under the cover of his blood. Our Lord is the sacrifice that will lead his people to freedom and the true Exodus, not from a human tyrant but from sin and death and the power of Satan and his minions. Those who claim Christ as their own are freed from the separation from God and its fall from grace.
Therefore there is an altar and upon that altar ever since, obedient to the Lord, the re-presenting of the sacrifice of our Lord is made. If there is an altar there also needs to be a priest. There cannot be any sacrifice without a priest. Jesus is not only the sacrifice but also the high priest who offers the sacrifice of himself in loving obedience to the Father for the salvation of the world. Those present, the disciples, will become apostles and continue the priesthood established at the Last Supper by our Lord as the very central act of the new Israel, the Church. This sacrifice has and continues to provided the heavenly manna sustaining the spiritual lives of God’s pilgrim Church on earth, aiding the Church in suffering and preparing all for the fullness of heavenly glory.
Our Lord in establishing this priesthood wants to be very clear about the fundamental nature of such a priesthood. The Church’s priesthood is by nature and decree only one priesthood, that of Christ himself. It is why any priest of the Church can only celebrate as persona Christi, in the person of Christ, as he has no authority, right or claim to any priesthood of his own. It is Christ’s sacrifice, Christ’s priesthood and only in Christ can the mass be offered. In human terms the individual priest who presides at the mass is of no consequence. It is why the priest is subject to and servant of the liturgy given by God to the Church and should not impose his own whims and novelties upon it.
To make the nature of this priesthood tangible, we see in the Gospel our Lord washing his disciples feet. Christ states clearly, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Think about it, God Incarnate, gets onto his knees and washes the feet of his disciples. He washes Peter’s, whom he knows will deny him 3 times. He washes the feet of those who will abandon him at his most difficult hour, and he washes the feet of Judas Iscariot whom he knows will betray him. A servant is no greater than his master. What he has done all priests are called to imitate. There is no room here for notions of privilege, entitlement, power or prestige which at times has dogged the priesthood and led to so much corruption and scandal that we still see in our Church today. Instead our priestly service must be patterned on Christ – a priesthood of service. A priesthood given to seeking the will of our Heavenly Father rather than our own and being good shepherd’s of God’s people leading them into the knowledge and mystery of Christ.
It is in the ministerial priesthood’s celebration of the mass, the source and summit of the Church’s life, that thus enables the people of God to be enabled to live out their vocation as ambassadors and mediators of the Gospel of Christ to the world. This living out of the role as ‘the priesthood of all believers’ finds its greatest expression in God’s children being missionaries, evangelists, teachers, catechists, prayer warriors, charity workers and loving one’s neighbour as one’s self, in the ordinary day to day of our lives. This lay priestly role also requires a deep humility and loss of oneself so that Christ is made visible to the world.
St Paul, again, puts this well in that great hymn when writing to the Philippians (2:5-9):
“Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name.”
Tomorrow we will travel together the ‘Way of the Cross’.