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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

The Father and the Mystery of Holy Thursday

The liturgies of Holy Thursday commemorate the institution of the Priesthood, the Eucharist and the mandate of Christian Charity. Each of these are beautiful mysteries for the heart to ponder, places of profound encounter with Christ where He unveils the mystery of the Father's love. Each manifestation of the Father's love also unveils the deepest truth about who we are and the high calling that we have received. When Christ's establishes his priesthood, this includes a participation in Christ's priesthood that baptism makes possible. Christ instituted this priesthood based the ancient priestly character of humanity. In human existence, visible and invisible realities are mediated one to the other through the beautiful reality of our body-soul personal existence. As stewards of creation, our first obligation was to order the whole visible cosmos to the true spiritual worship of the Creator. The dominion that the Lord entrusted to us over the earth and its creatures was intended so that through humanity, the whole earth might know the glory of God and His holiness through our obedient surrender to His immense love. This great purpose was impeded when we fell into disobedience. Without following the will of the Father ourselves, the rest of creation could not know His love through us. We ourselves, unable to fulfill the office of praise entrusted to us, suffered the misery of not knowing the great love that lives in the heart of the Father for us. And so, our disobedience has caused us to suffer the indignity of hostility to the Lord - a hostility that Christians are the special object of in these times. The obedience of Christ restores the priestly office entrusted to humanity and confers it with a more perfect kind of priesthood - one from the very heart of the Trinity. The Son of the Father offers His very person to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit in an eternal moment of praise, one without beginning and end. Creation is simply a reflection of this immeasurable love, unending adoration and perfect praise through in time and space. Humanity was created in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity - a communion of love -- because only such a communion could make such love known in the way the Father yearned that it should be manifest. Christ obedience not only restored this sacred reality of holy humanity, but opened up the possibility of spiritual worship beyond the limits of this presence life and the confines of time and space. The priesthood of Christ is anticipated in the mysterious person of Melchizedek, who offered sacrifice of bread and wine for the Father of our Faith, Abraham (Genesis 14:18). By tithing to this righteous priest and king, Abraham was able to offer acceptable worship and thanksgiving (Hebrews 7:1ff). Similarly, the priesthood founded in Christ's obedience to the Father enables us to offer true spiritual worship with our bodies when we join Him by faith and baptism. Yet the form of this worship is Eucharistic—a thanksgiving that utterly transcends everything that pre-figured it. In Christ's personal existence, His Divine Person mediates divinity and humanity, without mixing them, into a perfect harmony of salvation, mediating one to the other just as Melchizedek mediated between God and man for Abraham. Those who believe in Christ participate by faith in the restoration of the priestly dignity that belonged to humanity from the beginning. Just as Abraham experienced through the mysterious Melchizedek, but now in Christ, we have this priesthood in a more perfect and irrevocable way. For with the institution of the Eucharist, the Bread of Life found a way that we might share in this harmony of God and man that He knows in His very person. Moreover, He has done this in a manner that beautiful relations between humanity and divinity constituted in Him might be our strength and sustenance in this life. He has made Himself into the Way, the Truth and the Life. To this end, the Lamb of God established a new covenant, a never before known relationship with humanity, in the Eucharistic Banquet of the Last Supper. It is in offering Himself as our spiritual food that our Crucified Master has made of Himself the very means of sharing in His own life. Through this sacred banquet, the Risen Lord fills the soul with grace, helps us remember his passion and gives us a pledge of our future glory—for in this sacrificial offering, faith brings us face to face with the mystery of His Blood poured out and His Body broken for our salvation. On Holy Thursday, this is expressed in the ritual acts of the Last Supper—where, by Jesus's own words, the ministry of a priest makes bread and wine the very Body and Blood of the Lord in such a way that we who partake in these gifts also mysteriously participate in the life of His Human Soul and Divine Nature. Christ Himself would ratify these sacred actions by offering Himself with complete love and thanksgiving to the Father by humbly accepting the full vent of our hostility to God. The Apostles received the power and authority to continue this sacrificial offering in the life of the Church and they past this power and authority on to presbyters as their successors in this ministry. Thus, the ministerial priesthood is drawn from the priesthood of Christ to serve the baptismal priesthood—especially by offering the Eucharistic liturgy which is the source and summit of our whole life of grace, including the mysterious of Christian prayer. This is why every priest bears a special relationship to the Eucharist. This sacrament of sacrifice, of communion and of presence characterizes the priestly existence of the ordained—they minister to offer sacrifice, to build communion, and to unveil the presence of Christ saving His people from their sins. In this way, each priest is an image of God the Father—just as the Father gives us everything when He gives us His Son, a priest has only fully grown into his own vocation when he gives everything to give us Christ. The secret of restoring the priesthood is to adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament on their behalf. The more we pray for them to plunge more deeply into this mystery, the more the Lord can work to heal the many wounds our broken society and ecclesial divisions have caused them. We should not be alarmed if today we are aware of priests and bishops who have betrayed, denied and abandoned the Lord—all but one of those at the Last Supper did no less. Instead, we should thank God for the Beloved Disciple in our midst. This is the one who stands at the foot of the Cross come what come may. This is the one who out runs everyone else to the empty tomb. We must pray with and for such holy priests whenever we find them. We must remain constant in our prayers for the others until Christ is able to restore those who have scattered under tribulation. Finally, the Word of the Father left us an example in washing the feet of his Apostles. Instead of using religion and the priesthood for worldly power and influence, what the Great High Priest has given us and sealed by His suffering and death is to be used in humble service of one another. He has enabled us to be the guardians of each other's dignity. So even our feet, the Living God has elected to wash with His own hands. What is lowest is tenderly bathed by Him who is highest. The mandate of charity has the form of supreme humility. There is no other way to love. To share in Christ's Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity means to allow one's whole existence to draw its sustenance from this humility and to be utterly formed by it. In this divine humility, we contemplate what it means for us to share in his Divine Life.

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