Homily for Maundy Thursday
by Archbishop Wilson
‘May our love of Him in the Eucharist
overflow into humble loving service for each other.’
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
When the Lord Jesus took bread and said ‘This is my body,’ we believe him. And when he took wine and said ‘This is my blood,’ we believe him. If he who is truth doesn’t speak truthfully, who else can we trust? We believe the words spoken by the Lord Jesus are true.
Each of the scripture readings tonight tells a true story. In the Book of Exodus we hear the instructions for the Passover meal commemorating the people of Israel’s liberation from slavery. In was in the context of this meal that the Lord Jesus celebrated the Last Supper the night before he died. It was to be forever a sign of his own ‘passing over to his father by his death and resurrection…anticipated in [this] Supper and celebrated in the Eucharist.’ (CCC 1340)
St Paul describes how the Last Supper took place; and how it has been handed on faithfully ever since through the Church’s tradition. Long before Christians were ever able to hold a bible in their hand, they gathered each Sunday, the day of resurrection, for the ‘breaking of the bread.’ (Acts 2:42) From the Last Supper to our Mass tonight, ‘the celebration of the Eucharist has been continued.’ It ‘remains the centre of the Church’s life.’ (Cf CCC 1343)
Then St John tells how the Lord Jesus did the unthinkable and took the place of a slave, washing the manure and dirt of Jerusalem’s street from his apostles’ feet.
When the Lord Jesus took bread and said ‘This is my body,’ and when he took wine and said ‘This is my blood,’ we believe him.
I remember celebrating this liturgy, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, on Maundy Thursday 1999 in my parish of St Joseph’s, Bradford. As the Blessed Sacrament was processed around the church to the Altar of Repose, parishioners, many of them advanced in years, bowed low in adoration as their Lord passed by.
Tonight let’s take a moment to ponder what it means for us to be Eucharistic disciples? This is an important question. We believe everything in our Christian life together flows from the Eucharist everything in our Christian life together is directed and ordered towards the Eucharist.
Ever since the Lord Jesus, the night before he died, took bread and wine; blessed and gave thanks for them; broke the bread and poured out the wine, and then gave it to his disciples, the Church has faithfully done this in memory of Him. Here on the altar the Lord’s death and resurrection is re-presented so that sins may be forgiven.
In the bread that becomes His body and the wine that becomes His blood, our Lord is really and truly present in this Most Holy Sacrament. During the Mass, in times of adoration, and before our Lord in the tabernacle, we encounter the risen and living presence of Jesus Christ – feeding us, abiding with us, waiting patiently for us. No wonder Pope, St John Paul II encouraged us to ‘rekindle our Eucharistic amazement’ (EDE 6) – to shake off our complacency and not take the Mass for granted. Each time we enter the church we can re-appreciate this incredible gift of Christ’s body and blood for what it really is and devoutly and respectfully approach the Lord as if this were our first Mass, our last Mass, our only Mass.
The Eucharist is the hallmark, the authentic expression of Catholic faith and practice. It does us all good to pause and reflect on how we pray before, during and after Mass; how we listen and speak and sing; how we receive the Lord; how we go out in His Strength to announce the Gospel through a service like his, inspired by his washing of feet
A few years ago I was visiting a priest in Stockport and I celebrated one of the parish Sunday Masses. I noticed in the congregation, on the left near the front, a young disabled woman in a wheelchair that held her almost horizontal. During the Mass I could see her parents wiping her mouth and leaning over to check she was okay. When it came to the distribution of Holy Communion, the young woman’s father came up last in the queue. As I gave him Holy Communion I asked whether he wanted me to come over and give the Eucharist to his daughter. ‘Thank you Father,’ he said, ‘but it’s okay; I have permission to share my host with her.’ I watched him very reverently walk over to his daughter, break the body of Christ in two, give half to her and consume half himself. With simplicity and faith that man expressed the four essential actions of the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist: he took; he gave thanks; he broke and he gave.
What does it mean to be a Eucharistic disciple? Here are just two suggestions.
First of all, it means having an ever-deepening appreciation of, and love for, the Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. My faith in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist means that I can be as close to Him as were his first disciples. We take Christ at His word. He is with us. St Thomas Aquinas put it beautifully: ‘I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see; but can plainly call him, Lord and God as he.’ In the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist I pray: ‘My Lord and my God, I firmly believe you are here; that you see me, that you hear me; and I adore you with profound reverence. ’ We desire to ‘rekindle’ our ‘Eucharistic amazement;’ to be opened afresh to the awesome truth that here is the Lord Jesus in his glory – to be seen and received with eyes of faith; to be loved with hearts of devotion.
Secondly, it seems to me that to be a Eucharistic disciple means constantly returning to the essential actions of our Lord when he took, when he blessed, when he broke, and when he gave. This prompts questions in my mind and heart, not for self-critique, but in an attempt to ponder my Eucharistic life in the light of Christ’s taking, blessing, breaking and giving. So I might ask myself, we might ask ourselves:
- What do I take from others and from the world? And what motivates my taking?
- To whom am I a source of blessing? Who or what is a source of blessing to me? And for whom and for what do I give thanks?
- Where do I encounter brokenness – in myself, in others, in the world? How do I respond? How do I pour myself out in loving service?
- How do I give of myself and of what I have? What motivates my giving? And who receives from me?
With sharp and uncomfortable clarity, Mother Teresa, St Teresa of Calcutta, identifies some of the implications of what it means to be a Eucharistic disciple. She wrote:
If we really understand the Eucharist,
if we really centre our lives on Jesus’ Body and Blood,
if we nourish our lives with the Bread of the Eucharist,
it will be easy for us to see Christ in the hungry one next door,
the one lying in the gutter,
the alcoholic we shun,
our husband or wife, or our restless child.
For in them, we will recognise the distressing disguises of the poor:
Jesus in our midst.
The Lord Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave. May our love of Him in the Eucharist overflow into humble loving service for each other.
Homily given at St George's Cathedral Southwark
Maundy Thursday - 14th April 2022