Mass of Lord's Supper

From The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron, Archbishop | Issued April 21, 2014

The following is a transcript of Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s homily at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, celebrated on Holy Thursday, April 17, at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.

"St. Paul makes it clear that what we do tonight, what we do every Sunday, indeed every day that we come to the Holy Eucharist, is not our invention, but it is what was handed on to us from the Apostles, what they first of all received from our Lord Himself.  That, on the night he was betrayed, he instituted the Holy Eucharist. He did it in the context of Passover, the great ritual we heard about in the first reading. And to make clear what it all meant, he washed their feet.  To try and get a lens on all of this, I would like to suggest we think about the first sign, as St. John says, that Jesus worked — the transforming of water into wine at Cana in Galilee.  And I don’t think that what I’m doing here is arbitrary, some fanciful idea. But I think it’s what St. John himself wants us to think about.  Because you remember that when Our Lady asked the Lord to take care of the embarrassed bride and groom, he said it was not yet his hour.  But in the Gospel tonight, he does speak of “the hour.”  His hour had come, knowing that it was the hour.  So that, to think about the marriage at Cana is to understand that our Lord himself presented his work as that of a bridegroom, a spouse. God had, through the prophets, identified himself as the bridegroom of his people.  In a covenant, vowed each to the other, so that feast in Cana was a wedding banquet was really a sacrament of the wedding between God and his people.

And so the Eucharist — the hour, the sacrament of the hour — we know to be, we understand it to be, the covenant ritual.  We say that all the time, “This is the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.”  The Eucharist is the way that , time after time, year after year, Sunday after Sunday, the marriage between Christ and the Church is celebrated.  And not only spoken about, but it is consummated.  What is marriage?  It is the sacrament of two becoming one, each in marriage, giving not just ideas and time, but their very bodies, their very selves to one another.  And isn’t that what God does for the Church? That’s what Christ gives us. The two become one flesh.  He gives us himself, and we receive him in return.

This marriage is not something beyond each of us because as members of the Church, each of us is married to Christ, in a covenant with him.  He loves us.  As we heard in the Gospel, he wanted to love us to the very end.  Isn’t that what one would expect in a great, successful marriage? And that is the marriage between us and Christ.  And that’s how we understand the commandment, the new commandment I give you — that you love one another as I have loved you.

And he didn’t just mean washing one another’s feet and doing the services we do for one another, which we do as a way to serve him.  This love as I have loved is the love unto death.  The washing of the feet was also a kind of sign, a sacrament, of what he would do the next day.  And so we see that the works of love we perform — you husbands and wives, all the kinds of service you do for one another, what you do for your children, the way you care for your neighbors — all the things that we do out of Christian service, is what we might say supercharged with this Love unto the end.  Crucified love.  Love that has a very special name: charity.  That poor word, charity.  It gets a little dog-eared.  It can mean so many trivial things.  But tonight we understand how Jesus has defined charity.  That charity is this love that proceeds from his heart, the very heart of God.  This sacrificial love.  This spousal love.  This love unto the end.

The priesthood — and the ritual books say I should at least speak of it, about the ministerial priesthood, because it is given to us also this night at the last supper — the priesthood I received, your parish priests have received, is to be a sacrament of Jesus as the bridegroom. It really helps define the Church.  And that’s important because we live in a culture of voluntary associations.  We love to create clubs and parties and associations.  Church is not that.  She’s a little like it.  But we didn’t make the Church.  Jesus makes the Church.  And so one of the things my ministry does, and the ministry of your parish priest does, is serve as a marker, a sacrament, a sign, a proof, a pledge that belonging to the Church is not belonging to something you made or your neighbors made, but something that Christ has made – his bride.  And it is by belonging to the Church that each of us is married in an irrevocable covenant with God.  We are his.  He owns us.  How wonderful that is to be owned by God.  God who has made all of these galaxies and star after star, he delights in being owned by us.  That’s what we know tonight, here in the Eucharist.  Our blessing cup is, as we sang, a communion in the blood of Christ.  Why should we find this blood so awesome?  Because it’s God’s blood.  The son of God became a man and has blood, and flesh.  And by giving us a share in his own body and blood, we are owned by God and God owns us.

What is there as a consequence?  Oh, so many thing as a consequence to this!  This changes everything.  But tonight especially, let it simply move us to be thankful.  To be thankful to God, that God has loved us to the end.  That he did not think he was getting a bad bargain.  He thought he was getting a great bargain.  A great deal.  Even if it cost him his blood, his body, to win us, to win our love. Isn’t that what everyone would want from the bridegroom?  To be loved with that kind of love?  And it’s not an idea. It’s the truth.  We praise and we thank him for it.

We adore you O Christ and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world."