This Mass for Holy Thursday captures historically three themes of our salvation. The first one is the presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. This is something that could be emphasized in any particular Mass; but, Holy Thursday IS when Jesus first gave the Eucharist to us, as a gift of love, the sacrament of charity. The second great theme, with Jesus’ 12 apostles, is the theme of Holy Orders in the Church; it is the way in which he chose to give his sacraments to the world. The deep symbolic significance for Holy Orders is embedded throughout this Gospel, even in the ritual of the washing of the feet, which of course has something of the memorial of Christ’ own death in it. That theme also relates to the eucharistic theme. But third, there is the theme of self-sacrificing charity, total charity; we call it agape. “Love one another as I have loved you”!
I chose a special theme related to the first, to the Eucharist. Because the Eucharist is Christ in his entirety – we say his body, blood, soul, and divinity – the whole of our Lord is present sacramentally. Yes, hidden under appearances of bread and wine, but truly heavenly, God! How on earth could you see God? Well, he is no more hidden in bread than he was hidden in just a mere human face. Until that revelation was made known to us! But I chose the theme not only just of the Eucharist, but the Eucharist and the Immaculate Conception. So let me start off with a few easy parallels between the two. In the first place when we’re talking of the Eucharist sometimes we would do better than to say “what is the Eucharist?” if we just said “who is the Eucharist?”. It’s Jesus! The same goes for the Immaculate Conception. We proclaim the Immaculate Conception as a “what.” “This is a thing that happened.” But we know also in Tradition the Immaculate Conception is a name; “Who is the Immaculate Conception?” It’s Mary! And she called herself that, we know, at the apparition at Lourdes. What is the Eucharist? What is the Immaculate Conception? No. In a certain sense these are the wrong questions! Who is the Eucharist, and Who is the Immaculate Conception? This great Mystery of what God has done in the world runs through mother and son, in very unique ways.
I want to take you through a biblical walk, of where the Immaculate Conception comes from in God’s plan, and how he began to open it up: that this was his plan from the beginning, to make Mary without original sin, to create her free of all taint of sin, incorruptible, ready for the Assumption into heaven, but always in the plan of Christ, always by the grace of Christ. In the Old Testament when Moses was leading the people of God, they had “the ark of the covenant;” and the ark was to be made of a wood which would not decay; it was pure, and it was also to be covered in pure gold, a beautiful object to hold the presence of God. The ark… we know the ark was housed in a Tabernacle, in “the tent” of God’s ark. And that tent would later give way to “the temple which housed God’s ark.” And the ark housed the presence of God: the ark of the covenant.
The gospel of Luke then goes on to depict Mary, in the scene of the Visitation, precisely with language that’s exactly borrowed from the ark of the covenant entering into Jerusalem. The language of “John the Baptist leaping in the womb of his mother Elizabeth” is the exact same as the language as “King David leaping in the presence of the ark of the covenant.” And there’s so many other parallels, it’s very clear that Saint Luke thinks – he wants to present – Mary as the ark of the covenant. Her going to the hill country of Judea is just as great as the ark of the covenant entering the great Jerusalem in the Old Testament.
And then in the Gospel of John, Saint John sums up the Incarnation of Christ – and we might also add the belief in the Eucharist – in this phrase: God the Word “became flesh and he dwelt among us.” Except, that the word literally means “he tabernacled” among us. How the “Tabernacle” held the ark of the covenant – that tent with the ark inside of it – that is the word Saint John used to describe the humanity, the body and blood of Christ! “He made his Tabernacle among us.” This is Jesus taking on a human nature. Or, as we put it, it is Jesus taking a mother; Mary became the Mother of God. And therefore God “tabernacled among us.”
And then we have the greatest depiction of all for the ark of the covenant. We get past the Gospel of Luke, we get past the Gospel of John, and we get into that great mystical book that John gave us, the Book of Revelation. And there we have the description of what the true ark, the true Tabernacle, was going to be. Or what it WAS, once all the signs of the Old Testament had been fulfilled; and now we have the reality. You know this description, but I remind you of it. John says “then God’s temple in heaven was opened and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant, and there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a severe hailstorm; a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of 12 stars on her head.” She, the woman – clothed with the sun, moon under her feet, the crown of 12 stars – she is the Ark the Tabernacle, the temple. And this is the Immaculate Conception. It is precisely in Christ! The whole plan of God is in Christ. How did they come about? Through Mary.
The Immaculate Conception then in relation to the Eucharist? The theme is a little heady. I don’t know whether I’ll bring this to a very practical conclusion or not. But in relation to the Eucharist, we can say: in the Eucharist you have all of Christ – everything! – all of his teaching, all of his miracles, all of his human life, from the moment he was conceived in Mary’s womb to the moment he died on the cross; the whole of his life is bound up, packaged up, and as it were given to us in the Eucharist. Because Christ is eternal.
In the Eucharist we have the whole of Christ’s life. And amongst all the miracles which are bound up, summed up, and put into the Eucharist, and then given to us… the Immaculate Conception is one of the miracles of Christ, given to us in the Eucharist. It is a great grace for Mary right? We are constantly proclaiming this is a grace that Mary received through Christ, through Christ eternally. But it’s for us! She received it for us. She responded to that grace for us. Because she did it out of love, complete love for God’s plan. And you see, you and I were in God’s plan, from the beginning! And so, Mary’s response to the Immaculate Conception, that great grace – and it was a great grace, that she didn’t choose but she received from God – her response included us! And it included the fact that we were going to get Jesus in the Eucharist.
I don’t know if I can say much more except that we celebrate all of these miracles and all of the truths: that God had a plan, and he started to open up that plan when he made that first ark of the covenant back in the Old Testament, and when they pitched the tent of the Tabernacle, and they built the temple which then housed that ark. But God was always hinting and showing signs of his plan to come. And his plan to come was Mary, the Mother of God, who would bring us Christ.
And in this great mystery it’s the very redemption of Christ that we receive. All the miracles all the redemption all the forgiveness of sins, we receive it in the Eucharist. That’s the very redemption of Christ, which is what caused the Immaculate Conception in the first place. God’s plan is eternal and if it were not for Scripture, and the Tradition of the Church, we would never dare to proclaim these things. But we do, and we have. In a certain sense, right from the beginning; even though the language of the Immaculate Conception is, you know, a-couple-100 years old; it (the terminology) wasn’t there from the beginning. There were other mystical terms there from the beginning. What we proclaim was always there in a mystical way. Every devout believer in the Eucharist, and that’s every Catholic since day-1 of Pentecost, has gone about witnessing what Saint John said in the Book of Revelation. Do you believe in the Eucharist? Do you believe in Christ? Do you believe Mary is the Mother of God? That she is the fulfillment of the ark? We go around saying, as our own witness, “I saw the ark of the covenant in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet, and on her head was a crown of 12 stars”!
The washing of the feet, which will begin in just a minute, is strange ceremony. There from the beginning, Jesus gave it to us. And it hits upon all of those mysteries that I said are all pertinent to Holy Thursday Mass. But here I want to highlight the crown of Mary: that Christ made his own mother and he made her perfectly; and he prepared that crown from the foundation of the world for her. But what was her response? Her response to the Immaculate Conception – to that great grace, that great plan – wasn’t just for herself; it was a “yes” for all of God’s plan. And that “yes” included you and it included me. So the washing of the feet – a humbling thing, a unique thing, a quirky thing for our day and age – let’s make it just that: “Mary can I be like you? You were the ‘yes’ to all of God’s plan! Can I be a ‘yes’ to all of God’s plan like you?”
Fr., Thanks for sharing this insight. I was speaking to Dcn Patrick at Men’s Night last week and he suggested perhaps we can find an additional theme in Holy Thursday; reconciliation. When Jesus tells Peter that “unless I wash your feet you will have no inheritance with me.” Further He directs the apostles to wash each other’s feet. Is not the Sacrament of Reconciliation an opportunity for Jesus to “wash our feet”? Doesn’t sin make a part of us “dirty”? His absolution cleanses us of sin and makes us “clean”.
This was excellent.
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