This evening, we begin the Paschal Triduum. It is the conclusion of Lent and an entryway to the joy of Easter.
The Triduum is a three-day period of prayer and observance, which recalls the three days Christ spent in the tomb. Beginning with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and continuing through Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and concluding on Easter Sunday, the Easter Triduum marks the most significant events of Holy Week when Jesus gives his Church the gift of Himself in the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, His life on the Cross on Good Friday, and the gift of new life with His glorious Resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.
The Scriptures help us understand the Last Supper within the context of the Passover, which recalls God’s deliverance of His chosen people, Israel, from slavery in Egypt. As we read in the Old Testament reading from Exodus, each family was to acquire a year-old spotless lamb they were to slaughter and the blood from that lamb was to be sprinkled on their doorposts and lintels. By the blood of the lamb, God would recognize the homes of His chosen people and Passover (or spare) them. “The blood will mark the houses where you are. Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; thereby, when I strike the land of Egypt, no destructive blow will come upon you.
The Israelites were also instructed not to eat anything containing leaven: “For seven days you must eat unleavened bread. From the very first day you will have your houses clear of all leaven. To this day, prior to Passover, members of the Jewish community throughout the world take great pains to remove all leaven (Hametz) from their homes, even going so far as to lifting up floorboards and scouring walls. This is because leaven has a symbolic meaning of sin and decay, the very thing that Israel and each of us must be unburdened from in order to be ready to make our long journey to the promised land. For us, the Lenten season is an opportunity to put away the old leaven of sin as St. Paul says in the first letter to the Corinthians: Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.
On Holy Thursday, we recall these things as we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, the body and blood our Paschal Lamb sacrificed for our sins so that we might have eternal life. Through Christ, we have been delivered and freed from the slavery of sin and death. Nourished with Christ, the new leaven and Paschal lamb, we are a people on the move, or an Exodus, toward what God has prepared for us.
St. John’s Gospel emphasizes that Jesus was very conscious that His hour had come to leave this world and be united to The Father. The moment of great Love is approaching, the sacrifice of the innocent spotless lamb on the cross. It is very fitting that Jesus gathers with his own to celebrate the Passover with His Blood, by which we are delivered from sin and death. Notice too, that even though His hour draws near, Jesus is not thinking of Himself but rather of His disciples and you and me. He wants to leave us with something to remember Him by – As our Patron St. Thomas Aquinas wrote – in this wonderful Sacrament you have left us a memorial of your passion – not just a token or memory but a real part of Himself, His precious body and blood.
One of the things I’m keenly aware of these days is that so many of you, for good reason, haven’t been able to receive or adore the Eucharist. This is a Cross to bear. Hopefully it creates a longing and appreciation of the strength and sustenance of what Jesus offers us in the Eucharist. As your chaplain, I can’t wait to consecrate and share the Eucharist with you once again. For some of us, it will be like making our first Communion all over again, inviting us to the opportunity of placing love of God, neighbor and ourselves at the very center of our lives! This is New Life that Jesus promises!
After the Passover meal, Jesus then teaches his apostles and all of us who receive His precious Body and Blood what we must do on our journey to Him in this life: when Jesus tightens his belt and washes the feet of His apostles. With a servant’s attitude, Jesus washes their feet and requires them to wash one another’s feet (cf. Jn 13:14). This act is more than a lesson in humility and service. It’s also an anticipation of His Passion, of the total humiliation He has to suffer to save all people. Our Lord does it completely and freely out of love for us!
By washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus models the new commandment to love one another as He loves us. A love so strong that He was willing to give up His life for His friends. We must recognize that we have no capacity to love like this without Christ. This type of love is not simply the fruit of our effort, but God’s wonderful gift of love when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist. In worthily receiving the Eucharist, the sacrament of charity that we receive offers the grace and strength necessary to wash the feet of our sisters and brothers.
My prayer for our community as the Paschal Triduum begins is that we may come to understand, as Peter did, that Jesus is all about loving God and loving and forgiving our neighbors. The Triduum allows us the opportunity to enter into and contemplate the extent to which Jesus would go out of love for us – the sacrifice of His very life to show us the way to God! God’s way and plan for our salvation!
With a renewed vigor, let’s try our best to contemplate and live out this ultimate act of love and service without looking for anything in return; that we allow our feet to be washed by Christ and each other without protest; ever mindful that our Lord loves us to the point of giving his life and that He continues to share His Divine life with us in the most Holy Eucharist.
May God Bless and protect you and your family and friends.
Fr. Brendan Murphy, O.P. | Chaplain at Aquinas House