Holy Thursday Homily

Holy Thursday
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-15
April 9, 2020

As we begin our Easter Triduum tonight, I note that the Jewish people just began their Passover last night.  Our first reading tonight is the story of the very first Passover.

The Israelites had been made slaves in Egypt.  They cried out to the Lord to rescue them.  The Lord sent Moses to lead them out.  To get the Egyptians to release the Israelites, God sent a series of ten plagues.  The 10th plague is the death of the firstborn son.  This is the time of the first Passover.

Each Israelite family “must procure for itself a lamb” that is “a year-old male and without blemish.”  It is to be sacrificed to the Lord.  We must give the Lord our best.

Then they are to sprinkle some of the blood from the sacrifice of the lamb on their door posts.  The blood will be a sign to the Lord that it is an Israelite home.  He will “Passover” Israelite homes without killing the firstborn. 

The Lord tells them to make this a “memorial feast..a perpetual institution.”  Even today, Jewish people celebrate the Passover every year.  It stands at the head of their calendar.  When they celebrate the Passover, they are making present what God did for them when He set them free from slavery.  It is a defining moment in the history of God’s people.

Tonight, we begin our Easter Triduum.  Easter stands at the head of our liturgical calendar.  No day is more important than Easter.

The word “triduum” means three days.  What we begin tonight continues for three days.  Tonight is the Mass of the Lord’s Supper with the Institution of the Eucharist.  Tomorrow, on Good Friday we celebrate the Crucifixion.  What would the Crucifixion be without the Resurrection on Easter?

These three actions (Lord’s Supper, Crucifixion, and Resurrection) occur over three days but they are one continuous event in Jesus’ saving action for us.

In our second reading, we hear Paul tell the institution narrative for the Eucharist.  He says that it is what he “received from the Lord.”  What we celebrate in the Eucharist is not of human origin.  It is what Jesus directed us to do when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.

When we think of the Eucharist, we think of the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Real Presence.  Jesus gives us this Sacrament to nourish our souls.  Yet, we live in a moment when we cannot come together to celebrate the Eucharist.  You are not able to receive Jesus sacramentally.  However, this does mean we stop celebrating Mass.

Priests continue to celebrate Mass privately.  One might ask why when there is no one else present to receive the Eucharist.  Celebrating Mass is not only to receive the Eucharist.  We need to think about what it is we celebrate in the Mass.

Remember how I said what happens over the three days of the Triduum are one event.  When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are celebrating the Sacrifice of Jesus giving his life for us on the Cross.  When Jesus institutes the Eucharist, He speaks of his body that will be given up for us, his blood that will be shed for us.  By his own words, Jesus unites the Eucharist and the Crucifixion. 

He tells us to celebrate it over and over.  However, it is not just a historical reenactment like a play might be.  Remember God is not bound by time.  What we celebrate in the Eucharist transcends time and placeGod, in a way that only He can, makes present for us now what Jesus did 2,000 years ago. 

Tonight is about the Institution of the Eucharist.  It is also the Institution of the Priesthood.  Why?  Because the Eucharist is a “sacrifice.”  To celebrate a “sacrifice” requires a priest to preside. 

Jesus made the Twelve the first priests.  In ordination the one being ordained is ontologically changed in a way that marks them with an indelible mark and set apart to serve the people.  In being ordained, the priest is not made better than the laity.  The priest is given a unique role to serve the people.

The priest is to be a servant leader.  Jesus gave us an example of this, “a model to follow,” when He washed the feet of his disciples.

This was not a role for the master of the house.  It was the role of a servant to wash the feet of guests.  Jesus shows us a different way.  He shows us the way of service.

Before I presided at a Holy Thursday Mass and washed the feet of some parishioners, I knew about the washing of the feet but I hadn’t quite gotten what Jesus was saying about service in priesthood.

It is a humbly experience to wash the feet of others.  As I would wash the feet of each person, I would think not just of that one person but all the parishioners that I am called to serve.

Tonight is different.  There are no people here because of the Coronavirus.  So, there will be no foot washing. 

I have to say this is difficult for me.  As a priest, I am here to serve the spiritual needs of our parishioners.  This is very different right now.  But it does not stop priests from serving the people.  Each priest is challenged to find ways to support their people.

I try to do it in part with the Facebook posts I do on our parish Facebook page and in writing articles for my blog to offer those with a computer spiritual support.  Fr. Bernard does it in other ways.  We are still here to serve you.

I also say Mass regularly.  I do this not for myself.  In fact, when I am celebrating Mass privately, I find it difficult in a way.  For me, I say Mass for the people, it is for your benefit more than mine.  When I say Mass I long to see you.  Even when livestreaming Masses I long for the day when we can celebrate Mass together.  Right now, I look out and I see computer screens with cameras and empty pews.  I would much rather see you here.

Tonight we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  It is the Institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood.  It is the sacrifice of Jesus.  It is our salvation.  It comes to us from the love of Jesus.


  1. I have been trying to understand the sacrament of Holy Orders. I know you’ll be doing a presentation on it so I can wait until then if that’s easier. My question is about the ontological change after ordination. ( I know it is also part of Baptism and Confirmation but that’s another question!) I’ve always thought of your ability to perform the consecration as an incredible gift. (Gift might not even be the right word! ) Is an ontological change a change or awareness deep in your soul that guides you to share God’s word? What I read online is unclear and makes me wonder if it’s something that words are too inferior to explain.

  2. You ask a very good and deep question. In ordination, God gives the gifts needed to perform what the priest is called to. Yet, not all priests are great preachers. As I said in my homily tonight, every priest is called to celebrate the Sacraments. Beyond that, different priests have different callings and gifts. Most priests are called to serve in parishes. Some are teachers. Some are monks… What every priest needs to do is to let the Holy Spirit lead them to their calling and within their ministry, let the Spirit lead. In my own preaching, I try to let the Spirit connect the words of Scripture to what is going on in the world. To do this, I spend some time each day during the week reflecting on the readings to give the Spirit a chance to speak. As to where the ontological change comes in, prior to being called to the priesthood, I avoided public speaking. In ordination, I found new comfort and peace in speaking to the congregation. I think that came from ordination.

    I hope this starts to answer your question.

    Fr. Jeff

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