Given at Mass of the Lord’s Supper on 9th April 2020 at Westminster Cathedral
In such unusual circumstances, we celebrate together the Last Supper of the Lord. We remember and relive the moment in which he handed himself over to us in the Eucharist before handing himself over to those who were to put him to death.
This Mass is rooted in the Passover Meal, of which we heard in the First Reading.
The great event of the Passover, the passing of the People of Israel from slavery into freedom, is marked by the blood of a lamb, smeared on their doorposts, the sign of their deliverance. This event is always remembered, in the Jewish community, by a family meal. In celebrating the Passover, at this same time, the Jewish community, like our own, will not be able to gather in extended family groups. They too will celebrate only with those with whom they live. They too, like us, will strive to be united in spirit. As the Chief Rabbi said recently, this pandemic is making us realise again that the home is a house of God and a place of prayer.
In Jesus Christ, this Passover is made new. He himself is the new Lamb who is sacrificed, the Lamb of God, the Lamb who is God. The freedom he brings is new: a freedom from slavery to sin, a freedom to live in him, to share his very life. In him we become into a new people, beyond any division by race or nationality, a people from every nation under heaven.
The prayer of our Mass today takes us to the very heart of this Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We are instructed by that prayer that here we are ‘given a sacrifice new for all eternity’ which is ‘a banquet of love’.
Yes, Jesus offers himself as the ‘sacrifice new for all eternity’. Having taken on our flesh with all its burdens, and conquering them, he is now and forever pleading for us before his heavenly Father. In the eternal NOW of heaven he is always presenting his self-sacrifice to the Father, for our forgiveness, our freedom, our salvation.
We enter and share in this act of Jesus every time the Mass is celebrated. That is why it is so important that, during these days of great peril and hardship, the Mass is being celebrated every day in our churches. In the Mass, we join in the prayer of Jesus, holding our troubled world before the Father, praying with him for our healing. This is the wonder of the Mass to which we cling and for which we long. Today we thank God for this gift of prayer, in every form that it takes: candles in windows, ringing of bells, prayers said and sung together as a family, whispered quietly in the night. Prayer is our part in the sacrifice of Jesus, new for all eternity.
This evening we also learn afresh that Jesus gives us ‘a banquet of love’, expressed in the unforgettable act of him washing his disciples’ feet, as told in the Gospel this evening.
The Sacrifice of the Mass, offered in thanksgiving, flows outward in loving service. The two are inseparable: sacrifice and service, bound together in love.
True service is given with humility. The knees of our mind and heart must bend if we are truly to serve one another.
True service comes with a sacrifice of self-interest.
True service is an act of thanksgiving for the very gift of life and the freedom we are given.
In these difficult circumstances, it is not easy to make family life a ‘banquet of love’. But, in this moment of remembrance of Jesus, we embrace again that calling: our enduring practice of service towards one another, our readiness to wash each other’s feet.
Today, as we are witnessing extraordinary acts of generous service, flowing from a thankfulness for the gift of life and deep desire to help and assist, we pray that this moment is part of our Passover. We pray that from our experience of this dreadful pandemic and of this ‘lock down’ we may emerge as a people newly aware of the key virtues we need to fashion our lives anew:
-a readiness for sacrifice and forgiveness, in the image of Jesus, as the road which heals our wounds;
-a readiness, through our willing service, to create, of our shared life, a banquet of love.
In this Sacrifice of the Mass, new for all eternity, we are one in the Lord, one with him in the depth of our hearts, one with each other. May his Holy Spirit draw us together over these painful separations and may the holy Angels work at our side and keep us safe.
A prayer to our Guardian Angel:
Dear Guardian Angel, go for me to the church this day. Kneel down there at Mass for me. At the Offertory, take me to God, and offer him my service: What I am, what I have, offer as my gift. At the Consecration, with your seraphic strength, adore my Saviour truly present, praying for those who have loved me, for those who have offended me, and for those now deceased, that the blood of Jesus may purify them all. During Holy Communion, bring to me the Body and Blood of Jesus uniting him with me in spirit, so that my heart may become his dwelling place. Plead with him, that through his sacrifice all people throughout the world may be saved. When the Mass ends, bring home to me and to every home, the Lord's blessing. Amen.
At the end of Mass:
After this Mass today, there is a period of silent prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Please join in this prayer in your homes. And in this time of prayer please do remember your priests, who will be renewing their priestly promises, first made at ordination, during this time of prayer.
Photo: Mazur/CBCEW.org.uk (taken on Maundy Thursday in 2018)