At the start of these three sacred days, known through the centuries as the Triduum Sacrum, the Church commemorates the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist and the Sacred Priesthood. Each time we come to the Mass we hear in the words of consecration uttered by the Priest of how “on the day before he was to suffer” the Lord took bread and wine, and offered it to his eternal Father before sharing it with his disciples. “In pronouncing the blessing over the bread and wine, [the Lord] anticipated the sacrifice of the Cross and expressed the intention of perpetuating his presence among his disciples” in his Real Presence in the Most Holy Eucharist. In the liturgy of this night we hear more specifically: “On the day before he was to suffer for our salvation and the salvation of all, that is today.” Today is thus the pre-eminent feast of the gift of the Most Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of unity in which we find not only our vocation to holiness—what Saint Thomas Aquinas calls “a pledge of future glory”—but also the very meaning of what it is to be the Church. As Christians we are baptised into the Mystical Body of Christ. We are, quite literally, incorporated in Christ. In the Most Holy Eucharist it is that one and the same Body that is offered and received. As Pope Benedict XVI put it: “The Eucharist is the mystery of the profound closeness and communion of each individual with the Lord and, at the same time, of visible unity between all.”
Almost 40 days ago we began our Lenten pilgrimage toward the great feast of Easter. We began with the dust and ash of Ash Wednesday, and we shall end with the living water and rebirth of Easter Sunday. This is a journey from death to life; from slavery to sin to true freedom in the perpetual light and beatitude—blessedness—of the heavenly kingdom. In walking this way we have followed the example of the Israelite people, who travelled for forty years through the desert from slavery to the Egyptians in a foreign land, to liberation in the Promised Land. Our journey does not take us from physical place to physical place, but it does bring us out from exile to the true Promised Land—our native land; the kingdom of heaven.
No person alive will ever celebrate again Good Friday as we do today. It will be over 140 years until, once more, the Church commemorates the Passion of the Lord on this date, 25 March. And whilst this may not, in and of itself, appear to be of particular interest or importance, we might recognise its significance when we recall that it is on this date that we usually celebrate the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord to Our Blessed Lady: that is, the day of the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to Our Lady, and Christ’s conception in her womb. Exactly nine months before the feast of the Lord’s nativity, this feast serves not only as a signpost that directs our gaze toward the coming of Christ as man, but also to recall the inalienable dignity of every human life, from conception until natural death: a sign that God in Christ has infused our human nature with his very self.
Given on Good Friday 2014 at Saint John the Evangelist, Calgary
There is perhaps no single day when the Church’s rites and ceremonies speak more profoundly and clearly of the faith she professes, than this. In every solemn gesture and action, she expresses in ritual form today the very essence of her life in a sacramental way: an exterior sign of an interior reality. The purpose of the sacred liturgy is never to teach the Christian faithful, but to shape them by their participation in the very life of the Blessed Trinity. By the worship that we offer here we are formed and conformed in a physical way to the via crucis, the way of the cross, along which we tentatively tread. We are united to the passion of Our Lord so intimately and so completely, that we share in his sufferings in a more than merely figurative way.
This homily was given at a Solemn Mass at the church of Saint Mary, Mother of God, in Chinatown, Washington, D.C.
After our pilgrimage of forty days through the desert of Lent, our own exodus from bondage to the Promised Land, the Christian Church arrives today at the gates of the city of Jerusalem. This is the place where first we join our voices with the children of the Hebrews and acclaim, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, and yet also the way by which we enter into the mystery of the Lord’s saving acts: the institution of the Eucharist and the sacred priesthood, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary, and the great joy of his resurrection. In short, the coming days of the sacred triduum present us anew with the fullness of life in Christ, a life which is found in the communion of his holy Church.
It is fitting that Jerusalem is the location for these profound events. It is here that the first temple stood as a sign of the covenant between God and the people of Israel – a temple destroyed and yet rebuilt in Christ, who is the priest, the altar, and the lamb of sacrifice. It is here that the psalmist and prophets tell us that the Messiah will come to begin his work of restoring God’s people to their rightful place. And it is to here that Moses led the people of Israel to freedom from slavery in Egypt, as God vanquished and overcame their oppressors.
This homily was given at Old Saint John’s, Silver Spring, Maryland, at a Low Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite:
It is difficult to believe the transformation from the joy and consolation of last Sunday’s festivities to this. Holy Mother Church now stands in solemn anticipation of the passion of her blessed Lord, as her preparation in the weeks of Septuagesima merge into those of Lent itself, and now unfold into Passiontide. The sacred liturgy today is marked by an increasingly sombre mood; each of the texts evokes the impending drama of road to Calvary. The church is draped in mournful violet – not just the Priest and the altar, but so also the figure of the crucified Lord himself. As we read in the gospel, the Lord ‘hid himself and went out of the temple’, so our representation of him is poignantly removed from our sight as we fix our eyes not simply on a sign of his sacrifice, but that sacrifice itself.