This evening, with this Maundy Mass, we begin our intense celebration of the Easter mystery. In many ways these three days are one celebration, starting this evening and continuing tomorrow in our afternoon liturgy and coming to its climax at the Easter Vigil and Easter Morning Mass. This is one feast, one great drama of the mystery of our salvation.
We use the word 'mystery' to describe these actions, not because we don't have any understanding of them, as if they were a puzzle we cannot solve. No, we use the word 'mystery' in another sense: that this is the plan of God, established before all ages in his eternal wisdom, for our salvation. Here, then, we celebrate the Mystery of Salvation, those actions of God by which we come to the fullness of life. And at the heart of this mystery is the death of Christ on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.
This evening we mark again how we come to share in this saving death of the Lord through our participation in the Holy Mass, the Eucharist, established for this very purpose.
The first reading we heard, from the Book of Exodus, gives us the prefiguring of this great gift in the Passover meal of the people of Israel. The sacrifice of the lamb, by which the people are saved from death and
slavery, becomes effective in their lives through sharing it as a meal, as food to be consumed.
This same pattern is made new in Christ. Now it is his blood which is poured out for us, his flesh which is eaten. He is the lamb of the new Passover, the Paschal Lamb of God.
There is in my mind a particular phrase of the New Testament. It is, I believe, a key to our celebration of this Sacred Mystery, and I ask you to keep it in mind throughout these three days of our celebration. It comes from the Book of Revelation and it is this: 'See, I am making all things new!' May that phrase be our guide in these days.
In the Eucharist, Jesus makes new the sacrifice of the Old Law. In the Eucharist, Jesus offers to us the gift of new life. Through our participation in the Eucharist, we are indeed made new, for, as St Paul has told us, every time we 'eat this bread and drink this cup' we are proclaiming, here and now, the death of Christ, the death by which we are given that new life.
There is a unique and crucial character to this eating and drinking which sets it apart from all other food and drink.
Normally when we eat and drink we absorb the food we take. It becomes part of us, part of our flesh and blood. But with the Body and Blood of Christ, it is not we who absorb the food that we receive but rather it is we who are absorbed by it. We become part of what we receive. Through this eating and drinking we are absorbed into Christ, we become part of him, his Body, the Church, his presence in the world.
By our sharing in the Eucharist, then, we become part of Christ's offering of himself to the Father. Our lives are taken up into his. We become part of his sufferings, uniting our distress and hurt with his. We become sharers in his compassion and love, able then to offer to others the compassion and love that we have ourselves received.
In all these ways he makes us new. 'See, I am making all things new!'
Whenever we express or find a deep sense of gratitude to God, there we see the newness of Christ. Whenever we meet suffering carried with nobility and a concern for others, then we see the newness of Christ. Whenever compassion and love flow from heart to heart across the stony landscape of life, there we know the newness of life given in Christ. This is indeed the mystery of our salvation.
As we celebrate this Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we are called to renew within ourselves the virtue of faith, that gift by which we believe without doubting whatever God has revealed. May this Mass deepen in us our belief in the real and sacramental presence of Christ in the Eucharist, in which sight and taste are not reliable sources, but in which the Word of God which we hear certainly is. St Paul is our reliable witness that the words of consecration we have been given are those of Jesus himself and therefore effect what they proclaim.
This evening we have witnessed the washing of the feet of twelve good men and true. I thank the men of Chelsea for coming and, in this precious action, representing us all. This washing of the feet is the sign of the preparation we need to undergo in order to enter into this gift of new life, this new covenant, sealed in the blood of the new Lamb. This is a washing of forgiveness, a cleansing of sin, which we all need and which is made real for us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in Confession. It is also a sign of the humility of the Lord who reaches out to each one of us. Let us recall the words spoken by the Lord to St Peter. 'If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.' First spoken to Peter, these words are spoken to each one of us, too.
'See, I am making all things new!' Here, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the true hope of the world, the new start for which our world is longing, the true source of forgiveness and new life
Throughout this Sacred Triduum may we enter more deeply into the mystery of our salvation, so that we may indeed be witnesses in our world today to the forgiveness to be found in Christ, to him as the source of true compassion, service and love.
Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free. You are the saviour of the world. Amen.