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Holy Thursday

29 March, 2010


We have three sets of homily notes to choose from.
Please click on the one required.

1. Michel de Verteuil Lectio Divina Year C

2. Kenneth Payne, What shall I say Year C

3. Thomas O’Loughlin, Liturgical Resources for Year C (Luke)


Michel de Verteuil
Lectio Divina
The Year of Luke

 No text available from Fr Michel for this day


Kenneth Payne
What shall I say?

Theme: The Passover meal, but not all went well

Liturgical Text: ‘I give you a new commandment: love one another just as I have loved you’. (Gospel Acclamation)

Homily Notes:
1. For the Jews it was the great annual festival. Newborn lambs were slaughtered in the Temple area, and each family took a new born lamb home to be cooked and partaken of in the rit­ual meal of the Passover, reminding them of their escape from Egypt. It coincided with a former pagan spring festival when unleavened bread was eaten.

2. Jesus celebrated this feast with his apostles and some of the women, including his mother, Mary, who would have lit the lamps at the beginning of the meal.

3. However, things did not go too well-
– two of the apostles, James and John, quarrelled regarding who was the most important: they thought of ‘cabinet posts for the boys’;
– Judas, the most honoured, the treasurer, was given the ‘sop’, and left to betray his Master;
– Peter was reprimanded, and later denied all knowledge of Jesus;
– Mary, as the mother, would have lit the lamps at the begin­ning of meal, no doubt sensing that it was the last time she would do this.

4. Thus it was not all neat and tidy, but in many ways, a human mess. It is a reminder that we are all weak and fragile, but are called nevertheless to come close to the Lord, through his Real Presence in the Eucharist, through serving one another, and through spreading his Word.

A. A man offered to pay a sum of money to his twelve year old daughter if she mowed the lawn. The girl went at the task with great zest and by evening the whole lawn had been beautifully mown – well, everything except a large patch of grass in one comer. When the man said he couldn’t pay the sum agreed upon because the whole lawn hadn’t been mown, the girl said she was ready to forego the money, but would not cut the grass in the patch.

Curious to find out why, he checked the uncut patch. There, right in the centre of the patch, sat a large toad. The girl had been too tender-hearted to run over it with the lawn-mower. Where there is love, there is disorder.
Perfect order would make the world a graveyard.


Thomas O’Loughlin,
Liturgical Resources for the Year of Luke


Preaching the homily on this evening is probably the most difficult piece of communication in the entire year. The reason is simple: there are so many memories and so many events being recalled: the Last Supper, the command to love and serve one another, the night of the arrest, institution of the Eucharist, the Passover meal, Christ’s intercession as High Priest, and on The Missal directs that ‘the homily should explain the principal mysteries which are commemorated in this Mass: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and Crist’s commandment of brotherly love’ (p. 149). This, however, hardly takes account of attention spans, and invites a 15 minute lecture (i.e. 5 minutes to each topic). This idea should not be dismissed; there are some teachers who can communicate effectively in the homily setting, but unless you are a proven performer on the podium, another strategy is probably wiser. So what follows are some basic points about the Last Supper, and some options for communication.

1. Background notes.
(1) Today’s keynote is that Jesus gathered his people for a meal- something he did often, enjoyed, and was criticised for (cf Mt 1:19). This was an intimate affair of his own people, hence the added horror about Judas one senses in v. 2. A meal has a grammar all its own.
(1) It is around one table (which means we are ruly equal in his sight and ‘friends’ – there is no ‘top-table’ and then places for the rest.
(2) There is a sharing of food. This had been transformed in Jesus’ table ritual to being a central moment in his whole vision for the Father’s new people: a single loaf was broken and anyone who had a share in it was accepting a place among that new people. Uniquely, Jesus asked his table companions to share one cup over which he said a blessing. This established them, through an intimate ritual, as sharing in a common vision and destiny. (This basic table ritual of Jesus, from which our Eucharist derives, was not a Passover ritual – hence we celebrate Eucharist weekly not annually – and this is probably why John omits an ‘institution narrative’ from his account of the meal on the night of betrayal).

(3) At any common meal there is an element of showing one’s desire to be of service and to offer of one’s best: one way of doing this in Jesus’ time was to offer the service of foot-washing. Jesus’s action transforms this into making service the basis of community; and this action was so strikiong that it became a part of many Christian liturgies – now only surviving vestigially.

2. Strategy A – deeds not words
Instead of a homily, finding some way to express in actions that are more than tokens, this basic meal grammar and this new vision of sharing and service is the challenge for today. Perhaps it means having the awkwardness of much foot-washing, of people milling around the table (it was for this reason that the tables were taken from the back walls in the 1960s!), a very slow fraction and all the complications with sharing one cup. But all this might make it a ritual that impresses the common memory within the group, and so reconstitutes the gathering as who they are.

Washing Feet
The most effective homily on the command to love one another – the phrase ‘brotherly love’ is dated – is to perform the ceremony of washing of feet properly. No ceremony is more likely to get cut down, tokenised, or abandoned altogether than this; but if this ceremony – ritual at its most real – is not really done, then preaching about Christ’s example is mere words. Do the ceremony well, which means men and women, young and old (and will probably involve more than twelve people if different strands and groups in the community are represented), take off the chasuble (cf Jn 13:4), have the awkwardness of donning a towel (cf Jn 13:4), then get down, have the splashing water, and the rest of it.The shock and the communicative power of thid ritualis immense. Yes it is all very embarrasing – it is meant to be

3. A place at table
The central Eucharistic symbols are one loaf, one cup, and one table. Being at table with Jesus is a key theme in the gospels: he eats at table with those whom others shun, he uses table metaphors to make his points, he teaches while he sits at table. In most church building the table is not gathered around: it is observed. People do not expenence being· at the table, they have to imagine it – yet the rationale of sacraments is that we experience an earthly reality (being at table) and relate to a heavelily reality (we are sharers in the divine banquet). So the experience of actually gathering around the table is something that is most worthwhile. Instead of looking at one person at a table ‘over here’ – invite the people to stand around the table and on this special night, not just to look at the table or be ‘virtually’ at it, but actual share a single table. It is interesting to note that the oldest western eucharistic prayer, what we call Eucharistic Prayer which should be used tonight, contains the phrase ‘Memento, Domine, famulorum famularumque tuarum et omnium circumstantium’, which literally means: ‘Recall, Lord, [the prayers] of your servants (male) and your servants (female) and of all those who are standing around … ‘ This part of the prayer – meaningless in practical terms for more than a millennium – reminds us of a time in the church in Rome when around the table alongside the celebrant stood many women and men. The official translation we use today is a little more reticent: ‘Remember, Lord your people ‘” Remember all of us gathered here before you.’

We constantly use the image of the table, the one table, and gathering at the table: give it sacramental expression by actually gathering people around at the table tonight.

A real fraction
The basic symbolism of the Eucharist is that there is one body, one loaf, and one cup (‘The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The loaf which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf’ -1 Cor 10:16-17). This was, for most of the first millennium, the most obvious, and a time consuming part of the liturgy was the actual breaking up of a single large loaf by the deacons and the drinking from a single large chalice. When the emphasis in eucharistic theology shifted from sharing in the Lord’s meal to what is there in the species which you could receive as a wondrous visitation from God – a process that began with Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636) – we began to think of the sacrifice of the Mass as one activity, and receiving communion as a separate activity. Now, ‘receiving communion’ was ‘an extra’and reservation became a primary part of our theology. Reservation was made simpler when unleavened bread was used (introduced in the late ninth century)/ and the only loaf that was needed was one big enough for the priest – any other person could be accommodated with smaller individual loaves. Since the Second Vatican Council these trends have been balanced in the west by a greater emphasis on the Eucharist as the action of the whole People of God/ in contrast to the notion of a priest saying Mass with a congregation. However/ we still/ on the whole/ use precut round individual mini-loaves: these do not reflect a rich theology of the Eucharist tuned into the basic symbolism of which we read in the scriptures. A similar shift took place with the cup: when communion became infrequent/ and then communion under one species became the norm for Catholics/ the cup had only to be big enough for one. So tonight why not get the large breads used in many religious communities/ so that each person get a broken part/ a fraction/ and thus part-takes of a loaf with others. Then use only one large chalice. In this way a basic theology of the Eucharist is imparted under the original sacramental signs. This takes time/ but we are celebrating a mystery/ not running a religious /fast-food/ joint!

3. Strategy B – a reflection on what we are doing
The liturgy is so full this evening that the homily can be a pause for little reflection by inviting those celebrating with you to imagine a series of meals.

Some of the best times in life are marked by assembling with those you are related to by family/ friendships/ or common inter­ests: the wedding meal/ the birthday party/ the meal of the team/ the class reunion/ the Christmas dinner. We all know them/ we all have our likes and dislikes about them/ but we would not be without them.

Such need for gatherings is embedded deep within us as human beings. Such meals are part of every culture. They are times of celebrating the present/ they remind us of our bonds to one another/ they proclaim our identity and the group to which we belong.

Such meals are part of virtually every religion – chances to tell the sacred stories and re-establish links. So it was for the Jews for centuries before Christ and the Passover meal. They gathered in houses in cities like Jerusalem, in little villages in the countryside. The houses of merchants, the houses of people who grew vines, others who cared for sheep, others who tilled the ground, others who were fishermen. Sometimes they did it when Israel was free, sometimes they did it when they were con­trolled by foreigners who did not share or understand their reli­gion or meals like the Passover. They did it when in captivity in Babylon, ‘there they wept,’ but they kept up the practice of the meal. By the time of Jesus, there were Jews living across the Mediterranean world from Persia, to Egypt, to Rome, to Spain ­and one of the things that bound them was that in each house they gathered for this meal. Later across Europe, and later still in Russia, and now across the globe they gather for this meal. They gathered for it in times of persecution by us, Christians, in ghet­tos, and in camps – but gathering for this meal was essential to identity.
Gathering for this meal as transformed by Jesus is part of Christian identity. It was for this meal, the Eucharist, that Christians in Corinth gathered. Later, Christians would gather for it in houses across the Mediterranean; sometimes in good times, sometimes in bad times as when they met in the catacombs. Later, they would gather for it in churches and chapels and great cathedrals. Sometimes they almost forgot it was a meal at all, and used names like ‘Mass’ which ignored that its key element was thanksgiving (‘ eucharist’). But they kept gathering.

So here we are tonight – another gathering for this meal. It brings us together as a group with a common identity as those made children of the Father, and brothers and sisters to one an­other. It gathers a lot of memories from all the times this meal has been celebrated back to the time of Jesus and long before that again. Being here is also a declaration that we want to keep faith and state again that we trust in God’s mercy and will endeavour afresh to be disciples.

4. Strategy C – A short reflection
Most of today’s liturgy is in the upper register of ceremony: the bells of the Gloria, thuribles that have been dug out of cup­boards, the splendour of the final procession, and the choir dusting-off snippets from the Missa de Angelis. So perhaps the homily should adopt a reflective tone, a quieter time to just let the sense of what is being celebrated sink in. For centuries the Jewish people had gathered for a meal to recall their deliverance. Jesus and the disciples were part of that tradition. For nearly two millennia, we have continued to gather in memory of the new act of deliverance by Christ. The mystery is that this meal is not just, going through the motions,’a piece of historical drama; but rather as parts of the risen and ever-living Christ we are sharing now in his supper, sharing now in his thanksgiving to the Father. We are seeking to mingle our lives with Christ; he is sharing his divine life with us. The reflection could conclude by slowly reading the central portion of this evening’s preface: ‘He is the true and eternal priest … we are washed clean’.