Homily by Fr. John Jirak on Holy Thursday 2017 given at Blessed Sacrament Parish
He begins by reflecting on the Second Reading from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:
In my mind [this] is the most important passage in the entirety of the Scriptures. It’s the earliest description of the Mass around the year 50 AD, even before the Gospels. And we know that this was happening before the year 50, because St. Paul says, “I hand on what I first received.” So, he’s handing on to them, right, what he’s already received. And this passage makes it clear that … He’s not [merely] describing what’s happens there at Mass when he took bread said the blessing and gave thanks and said, “this is my Body that is for you, do this in remembrance of me.” This is really in the form of a ritual that is to be done and celebrated from the beginning. And so, the Mass being celebrated is the institution of the Mas s. The gift of the Mass is beginning tonight. And so, that’s why it’s such a precious night. The Mass is the source and summit of our Faith. So, let’s talk a little bit about what this means. What’s going on here? Well, St. Paul says that the Lord then took the cup. He said, “this is the cup of the new covenant in my blood.” The new covenant in my blood.
So, what is a covenant? A covenant is an agreed upon relationship. So, there was a formal relationship between God’s people and God. And it started early on, right, with God calling Abraham. And God calling Moses, and God giving Moses the Ten Commandments. And he put it out there, “Will you agree to follow these Commandments? If you do I will bless you.” “We agree we will follow everything.” And they went right along to break all of the commandments. Ok. So, good thing, things haven’t changed, right? We’re all in the same boat. So, this was a covenant; this was an agreement. You follow the commandments, you follow the law, you will receive blessings. If not, you will be cursed. And so, what happened with the Israelites continued to turn to other gods, actually? Right away, even when Moses was still on the mount. There had to be some form of reconciling the people back to God. Because, they had abandoned the agreement, the covenant. And so, you have a number of covenants throughout the Old Testament. And they get more and more intense until the final, complete covenant in Jesus that we hear about, the New Covenant that he is establishing. So, think about this as far as the relationship that ends up in Marriage. A man and woman can kind of start to get to know each other. And there becomes some agreement between them. I don’t know if your school did this. In high school when I was growing up they sometimes exchanged promise rings, or whatever they were. I wore four of them! And so that is a level of commitment, a relationship, but that’s not too strong. Then you do what? It develops and grows, and then what, you have the engagement. That’s an even stronger relationship. In fact, there was civil law that bound engagements, in Church Law too, up until the 20th century, that there were rights and duties, that you couldn’t just break an engagement without some kind of penalty. So, an engagement makes things more intense. Well, I’m not going to make that serious commitment that means you’re living out, you know, two states away unless I have a ring on my finger. Then there’s what? There’s only one more step. And it can’t get any greater, that’s the marriage. The complete gift that the two make on their wedding day.
So, this is the model that we want to take a look at when it comes to our relationship with God. It started off a little bit as weak sauce, and we were definitely very unfaithful. And there had to be a reconciling, otherwise the relationship couldn’t continue. And so, one of those reconcilings happened with the Passover. The people were delivered from Egypt, and so you have the Passover meal, the slaughtering of the lambs, and the Passover is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. You also have the Covenant of Leviticus. Now, this happens with Moses and Aaron. And so, Moses, he is the one who is encountering God; He comes down after encountering God – people cannot even look upon him because he is so transfigured, because he’s been in the presence of God. And the temple was built, and he and Aaron are walking into the temple, representing the people, to reconcile them after they broke the commandments of God. And not just anybody can go into the temple. It was the job of the priest to walk into the temple to make the reconciling happen. And, in fact, Aaron just thought he could go in there all the time. God says to Moses, “Tell Aaron he just can’t come in here any time he wants to, alright!” And so, Aaron continues the Covenant.
[There are] all kinds of purification rituals he has to undergo before he is able to enter into the Holy of Holies of the Temple, and into the Sanctuary. One person could enter into the Holy of Holies one time a year. And the bull, the young bull, was sacrificed. And what the belief was is that Go d led the people by a cloud during the days in the desert. So, when you walked in to the Holy of Holies, up, only Aaron through the curtain, one time a year, in which he would pronounce God’s name, “Yahweh.” Only one time, one person per year. Anybody else would be struck down. Seriously. He sacrifices the bull and the idea was that the bull represented the people and their sin. It was a vicarious sacrificial offering, and the blood of the bull would touch the cloud of God’s presence and be cleansed and purified. That’s called the Day of Atonement. This is what happened, right.
So, Jesus fulfills for us, completes for us, what the Day of Atonement only prefigured, because what do we hear from the Letter to the Hebrews?: “the blood of bulls has no power to reconcile us with God.” It was only because the blood of the bulls was an anticipation of the blood of Christ, the Sacred One, the God-become-Man, [who] would be pleasing in God’s sight. So, think about this with the Mass. That this is the sanctuary. And this is the Holy of Holies. The priest enters in just like the High Priest, like Aaron did, the priest representing Christ. He walks up, and this is the way he faces. He faces East. This is not East (pointing to the front of the Church), this is Liturgical East. Churches 100 years before were built towards the east. He’s facing the East. He’s facing God. Did you hear what Jesus said, “I came from God and I’m going back to God.” That’s what we just heard. “I came from God, and I’m going back to God.” And so, here we have in the Mass, just like the High Priest, He’s making this offering, this spilling out of the blood of the New Covenant, right, to the Father. And he’s taking us with Him. Pope Benedict talks about at the Mass how Jesus, represented by the priest, by his sacred ordination, at times he represents God’s the Father, towards the people, so he’s facing the people. At other times he represents the people, taking on their sins, he has nothing to suffer for, he’s taking on their sins and sacrificing his blood to the Father. So, we’re going to do something a little bit different tonight when we celebrate Mass. We’re going to face towards God. The priest, representing the people, as Jesus represented the people and their sins, making the sacrifice to God the Father. Then, do you know what we’re going to do, just like Pope Benedict said, then afterwards the priest, Jesus represents the Father to the people, that the Father then gives us back His son, to purify us and to make us clean again. Wow! This is incredible. And very few people have an appreciation of what goes on here. This is not a feel-good experience to come to Mass. It’s a transforming, redemptive experience. It’s not seeking relief, it’s seeking salvation. This is what we are about tonight. This is what it means to be Blessed Sacrament.