I greet all of you as we begin the sacred Triduum of the Paschal Mystery, that is: the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. The Paschal Triduum is a three-day period that begins this evening with the Anniversary of the First Mass, that is, the Institution of the Blessed Eucharist and runs through tomorrow, Good Friday, and reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil of the Lord’s Resurrection. The Paschal Triduum concludes with the Vespers or Evening Prayer of Easter Sunday. These three days are liturgically fused together and are referred to as the Paschal Triduum. You do not have any more important days in your life as a believer than these three. An obvious characteristic of the triduum which many fail to notice is that once we start the triduum, the Mass never concludes until the Lord rises from the dead. The Good Friday celebration of the Lord’s Passion is a continuation of this Mass. Not only do we not have a Good Friday Mass, you will also notice that the Good Friday liturgy doesn’t even begin with the Sign of the Cross, and its conclusion is a gaping silence. Easter Vigil, unlike a usual Mass, begins with the lighting of the Easter Candle and continues with the peak of the Paschal Mystery, which is the Resurrection of the Lord.
Today’s Mass packs together multiple events, namely, the Last Supper of the Passover of the Lord, the Inauguration of the Priesthood, and the Anniversary of the First Mass or the Institution of the Blessed Eucharist. Each event is mentioned in the readings of this Mass.
The importance of the Last Supper of the Lord is that it points to and underscores the First Passover of the Jews in a foreign Land, namely, Egypt. By partaking in this new and ultimate Passover, the Incarnate Son of God fulfills the yearning of God’s people for true and final freedom from sinful oppression. Egypt mentioned in the first reading is only a symbolism for sin, oppression and slavery. Christ is the new Moses who institutes the true Passover and leads us out of Egypt into the Promised Land of Heaven. He is the true and innocent Lamb whose Blood is smeared, no longer on the doorposts of alien Israel, but on the doorposts and lintels of our soul to mark us out as REDEEMED, and to prevent the destructive blow of God’s wrath. “Seeing the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13).
Moses and Aaron were the prominent figures of the first Passover. But in the New Passover, Christ embodies the Passover itself and hands to His apostles the role to continue in perpetuity the memorial of this Passover. For this reason He instituted today the priestly office of the New Covenant. St. Paul alludes to this when he told the Corinthians: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (I Cor 11:23). Today is the 1987th anniversary of the priesthood and the First Mass.
Lest they forget the nature of their new priestly role, Jesus frames and dresses it with the garb of service – He washed their feet. Christ’s washing of His disciples’ feet is a parable, not with words but deed. Loving service becomes the soul of the priesthood. Take away service and there is no priesthood. In extension, stewardship is the central canon of the Christian life. We must be servants of God and servants of each other. Love calls us to serve, and when we serve, we must serve in love.
The final and perfect expression of Christ’s love happened when He took simple material substances: bread and wine and made them His Body and Blood in some form of mystical transformation, which we call transubstantiation. By this act, He anticipated His death tomorrow. What He would suffer on Good Friday in the hands of His enemies, He chose to do today by His self-immolation. Thus the bread and wine we receive in the Eucharist is the outcome of the sacrifice of Jesus that brought us new life. This is why it is heretical to divorce sacrifice from communion or to transform Mass into mere communion service, as if there can be giving of life without death (Sheen). Hence, whenever we come for communion, we are involved in an exchange. We must exchange something with the Body of Jesus. We give our nothingness, our death, our sin, our misery, the Coronavirus in order receive the fullness of life in Christ.