NOT JUST BYSTANDERS, BUT PARTICIPANTS!
Maundy Thursday 2013
Mass of the Lord’s Supper
NOT JUST BYSTANDERS, BUT PARTICIPANTS!
What I like about the Paschal Triduum that we begin in earnest at this Mass is that you all are very well motivated and, therefore, very participative and attentive. For the most part, when all the rest of the seasonal Catholics have all hied off to some more seasonable area of rest and relaxation, those of you who are here with us now, with the priests who serve you and work with you, have obviously decided to stay, and even more obviously chose to journey with us though our own version of the passover – the Church’s version, I must add. You have chosen this and not some fanatic and misguided trip to San Pedro Cutud, to witness the gory and bloody, and shallow dramatization of what now we re-enact and make present here and now, but in a totally different way.
Even as I speak, feverish preparations are being done in Cutud in Pampanga. There will be the same protagonists in the much-awaited drama, replete with horses and costumes that would shame Bollywood or Hollywood, in color and pageantry. There will be hordes of bystanders and oglers – and an increasing number of curious incredulous tourists, who will tell the same deriding stories about something that is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The best story-line they possibly could come up with is the same, old, by now stale watchword: “It’s fun in the Philippines.”
Thank God, you are here with us. This is our day, first as priests and ministers who journey with you. Thank God you are here. For with your presence, you show us that our day does not mean anything without you sharing the day for all its worth. For without you, there can be no service worthy of the name. Without you, there can be no meaning to the washing of the feet. And without you, the mandatum where we get the name Maundy, will have no finality, no goal, no recipient, and thus, no significance. Without you, wihout the mandatum of service and love in service, all this would just be, well … exactly like the empty crucifixions at Cutud in Pampanga … full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!
Thank God, you are here and you are not simply bystanders … the usual crowds that just stand as inconspicuously outside the Church as is possible, ready to bolt out of the Church perimeter, just as soon as they hear the words “Go forth, the Mass is ended!”
Thank God, you are here and you are here to join us all through these three days of the Triduum, in this one, seamless, single, and continuing celebration. We open this celebration in joy.
Why so? For one simple reason. We acknowledge receiving a gift, a package, that we are now slowly unwrapping. And what does this package contain?
Several things … First, we received a mandatum – to love and serve each other. But wait … that mandatum was first given by the giver through a concrete and personal example – the Lord Himself showed us the way, like Pope Francis shows us the way. And it is through service, as symbolized by the Lord washing the feet of the disciples. But there is a second layer to that gift. That mandate presupposes a front-liner, an officium, a munus, a task, a ministry. With that mandatum comes the other gift of priesthood, the very reason why today is a day of priests, a day for priests, and a day when priest and people gather together once each year to offer together the best that the office of priesthood can offer.
And this leads me to reflect on the third layer of that package – the third gift that can only take place with the prior gift of priesthood – the Eucharist!
But let me clarify some important points. First, whilst it is true that we priests alone can preside over the Eucharist, and that Eucharist, Church and the priesthood are intimately united, the Eucharist is not solely for us, but for God’s people. This is eminently leitourgia, the ergon laou, the work of the people, you and I. You are not bystanders, but participants.
And this is why we rejoice at your presence and participation.
Second, and this is most important. People in Cutud will do a dramatization. No doubt some will find the event moving, as they find telenovelas moving and Sir Chief’s character appealing. But unlike the Last Supper of the Lord, and the memorial of the Last Supper of the Lord that we do here and now, that of Cutud has no point of reference, either in the past or in the future. There is no lasting effect. There is no dynamism involved. There is no growth expected. After the drama, the protagonists will go back to being who and what they were, looking forward to the next adrenaline shot during the next Good Friday. The Philippines will simply be less fun until that day comes again, and there will be the same traffic clogged streets by Monday next week, and Sir Chief will once again hog our facebook walls, unless ABS-CBN comes up with another gimmick that is more than three months old, waiting in the wings to become the next blockbuster event.
But the gift of the priesthood and its ministry of service to God’s people, the gift of Eucharist that, at one and the same time points back to an event of the past, and points forward to an ongoing event of salvation, is something that we sincerely can do again and again, without us getting tired, for we are not just not bystanders. We are participants and stakeholders and continual recipients of all the train of goodness that comes with the Eucharist.
And this leads me to the third and last point. The Eucharist is the hub and center, the hub and center, the node and apex, the source and summit of everything else we do in Church. All else revolves around the Eucharist – the social ministry that our parish does very well, the ministry to the sick that a number of you do so laudably and so selflessly, the youth ministry that still others are trying to revive and put back into the mainstream, the catechetical ministry that a bigger number of you so heroically do with so little support and appreciation even from us … The list is long.
Thank you for being here with us this evening. We celebrate the promise and pledge of our glorious future, even as we look back and point back to the sacrifice that took place on Calvary. The Church, this Church, this community is at its best when doing Eucharist.
And your presence speaks best of this deep theological fact. For you are not just bystanders, but participants!