Monsignor Ryan’s Homily for Holy Thursday

“I received from the Lord what I handed on to you…”
Holy Thursday is the day par excellence in our liturgical calendar to celebrate receiving and handing on. The day begins with the Chrism Mass at which priests gather around the bishops to remember the gift of the priesthood that they have received through the laying-on of hands. And they participate in the blessing of the holy oils through which the saving power of Christ is handed on to all the faithful and catechumens in the coming year.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper that we are celebrating now is an opportunity for us to recall the great commandment of love that we have received from Jesus along with a demonstration of that command in practice. Then, too, we recall with profound gratitude St. Paul’s words about the incomparable gift of the Holy Eucharist that hands on Jesus’ living presence and the sacramental reenactment of his saving Passion and Glorification. As Moses commanded the Israelites to hand on the Passover ritual “which all your generations shall celebrate,” so we hear Jesus’ command, “Do this in memory of me” and Paul’s admonition that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
In normal times, receiving and handing on are reasons for joyful celebration. In this “Lent of our discontent” they are rather cause for alarm and distress. Foremost in the minds of people around the world, a fear bordering on terror of someone handing on to us the Covid-19 virus or of a family member or friends receiving infection has led to drastic measures. We don masks and gloves and other protective gear. We practice social isolation and, as best we can, avoid contact with everyone, including the people we love most. We no longer gather in church to worship. We no longer gather with grieving friends and neighbors to offer comfort.
Receiving and handing on now are taboos to be enforced without mercy. Because we associate them with handing on a deadly disease and receiving a death sentence.
But, we disciples of Jesus gather in front of television and computer screens because we know that receiving and handing on are vital elements of our spiritual lives. So, on this Holy Thursday unlike any other, we think about how they are going forward. Thousands of hospital patients are receiving mercy, care, healing. Medical personnel, first responders are handing on an example of heroic service. Volunteers at food banks are handing on vitally needed grocery items.
Yes, all of this is very different from what we would have expected or wanted. But I wonder if it is not all profoundly Eucharistic and ultimately more pleasing to God than a routine Eucharistic assembly. When Pope Francis broke with tradition and insisted on celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a detention center for young offenders and washed the feet of twelve residents without regard to gender of religious affiliation, he taught the link between the commandment of love and the commandment to remember more powerfully than he could have done in a basilica with well-scrubbed clerics.
St. Vincent de Paul long ago admonished his spiritual sons and daughters to leave their prayer immediately if they received a request to attend a needy person. “God will not be displeased that you have left off talking to him in order to minister to his needs,” that wise saint taught.
Perhaps we need to receive and hand on that sublime insight in this time of unparalleled challenge. Will God be hurt, feel let down, bitterly miss his priests washing feet in ritual – and even his people satisfying their hunger for his Eucharistic Body and Blood – as he watches the daily display of generosity and heroism. If the example of so many people humbly, selflessly serving in a myriad of ways inspires a coming generation to turn their backs on the quest for individual fulfillment and dedicate themselves instead to serving the common good, it will have turned out that we will be handing on what we have received far more effectively than we would have in an ordinary Holy Week.
May our God protect all who are remembering and imitating our Blessed Lord in unexpected – and unwelcome – ways. And may we all pledge ourselves to receive and hand on our love for the Faith and for Jesus’ saving presence with us in the Eucharist.

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