Know of my prayers for you all as we prepare to enter into the most sacred mysteries of our faith these next few days. I have included below homilies for Holy Thursday and Good Friday (and an ancient reflection on Holy Saturday), and I will send another message on Saturday with my Easter homily.
First, a few notices:
– A reminder of the details of Archbishop Costelloe’s live-streamed services for the Easter Triduum:
– Holy Thursday – 7pm, Thursday 9 April
– Good Friday – 3pm, Friday 10 April
– Easter Vigil – 6pm, Saturday 11 April
– Easter Sunday – 11am, Sunday 12 April
These can be viewed on the following platforms:
– As another option for those who might struggle with streaming online, Channel 7 will be televising live the Good Friday and Easter Sunday liturgies from St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney at the following times:
– Good Friday, 1pm (AWST): The Passion of the Lord – 1.00pm (AWST)
– Easter Sunday Mass, 8.30am (AWST)
I’ve attached a notice with the above details of Masses on TV and online, plus a sheet with several good ideas for celebrating the Triduum at home.
– Pope Francis recently recorded a special coronavirus message to families:
– Here’s another song I recently played on the piano: this one’s for everyone having to celebrate Holy Week at home this year: https://youtu.be/8XJnvaTaRgQ
– Here’s a beautiful video that may help you enter into the Easter Triduum – a spiritual pilgrimage through the places where these holy events took place: https://watch.formed.org/videos/triduum
– A few of you have asked for my thoughts about Cardinal Pell’s acquittal. I’d rather not say too much here, so I’ll simply note what I posted on Facebook:
“Yes, I’m glad that Cardinal Pell has been found not guilty (and will be able to celebrate Mass again). Yes, I think the Victorian Police and those who’ve led this witch-hunt have much to answer for. But this is not a time for gloating. There is plenty of real, self-inflicted mud in the Church, and plenty of real abuse victims. Prayer and fasting, repentance and penance, renewal (and, in this case, a little relief).”
– Finally, a thought about the inconveniences we currently face:
Wishing you all blessed Triduum!
– – – –
At the Last Supper, Jesus is already a dead man. His betrayer is at hand and the trap which was set for him is about to be sprung. His disciples do not seem to realise this, but Jesus himself knew it very well. And so his last words and actions are recounted with special devotion in the Gospels, reflecting the special reverence we naturally accord to a person’s last words.
Many people, as they approach death, in some ways tend to fade away, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. But it is not so with Jesus. On the night of his agony, he is not detached; rather, he is intensely present. Every word and action are carefully chosen – he has a mission to fulfil, and he gives himself over to it completely.
It is his disciples who seem to be absent in some way – as happens so often in the Gospels, they cannot fathom what he is doing. As he slowly and deliberately washes their feet, Peter especially is puzzled. He asks, Master, are you going to wash my feet? And Jesus replies, What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.
Tonight we must ask ourselves a question: namely, what do we understand of this washing, this strange and intimate—and yes, even uncomfortable—gesture. The answer is closely united with all the things we celebrate at this Mass: the Eucharist, the priesthood, and our very salvation.
When Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, he is essentially offering them a prophetic summary of his whole life and mission. On the night he was betrayed, he tells his disciples that he has come to lay down his life. He invites them to follow him in that way of sacrifice, teaching them by his own actions that whoever loses his life will save it. For a religion full of paradoxes—as Christianity is—this one perhaps takes the cake.
The washing of the feet is a mystery as well. The Master and Teacher stoops down to serve the student; the Lord of all becomes a slave. Christ does this as a preparation for the Eucharistic feast whose institution we celebrate today with special solemnity. Unless they are washed, the disciples may not eat at the table of the Lord. He does this because, through this washing, the disciples are received by Christ into an intimacy of communion with him. That intimacy will find its fullest expression for them—and for us—in the Holy Eucharist.
And yet, Peter baulks at the idea of having his feet washed by Christ. As always, there is something of Peter in all of us. It is an uncomfortable thing to be cared for, especially when we feel unworthy. Peter feels this way because, according to the customs of the time, the washing of feet was done by a servant or slave. In the ancient world, roads were dusty and hard; sandaled feet took a lot of abuse from a journey. This was not a merely symbolic action, but a deeply practical act of care.
In his refusal, there is something Peter missed, a meaning he missed at first, but which later seems to have dawned on him as he exclaims, Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well!
Because there was one exception to the ancient custom. It is true, a rabbi would not let his disciples wash his feet, let alone wash the feet of his disciples. But he would allow his wife. That was her privilege: it was an act of intimate care reserved for the intimate relationship of husband and wife. And the wife did this not because she was a servant, but because husband and wife are one flesh, one body. In fact, throughout the Near East the washing of the feet was part of betrothal and marriage ceremonies, because it is an act of service, love, and self-sacrifice.
In a similar way, Christ says to Peter: Unless I wash you, Simon Peter, you will have no inheritance with me. At the Last Supper, Jesus Christ washes the feet of his bride, the Church; he washes our feet. In doing so, he at once lays down his life for us and claims us for his own. For us, he is both servant and spouse. Our hands become his hands; our feet become his feet.
And so this washing of feet is more than mere prelude to the Eucharist – it is a sign of the Eucharist itself. In the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, Christ gives himself to us — not as an object to be possessed, but as a gift to transform us. Saint Augustine expressed it beautifully, and here he speaks in the voice of Christ: I am your food, but instead of my being transformed into you, it is you who shall be transformed into me.
Our lives must become all about this washing of feet, just as surely as our lives must be centred upon the Holy Eucharist.
In this evening’s Mass, the Church celebrates the institution of the Eucharist. At the same time, she also celebrates the institution of the ministerial priesthood. The two are one: there is no Eucharist without the priesthood, and no priesthood without the Eucharist.
And so, in tonight’s Gospel, Christ speaks to us all, but in a special way he speaks to his priests. He says, I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.
The definitive posture of the priesthood is not one of power or prestige, at least not as the world defines such things. And there is perhaps no better model of the priesthood than the powerful ritual we normally perform after this homily on this night (though unfortunately for health considerations we can’t do it tonight). What I mean is that the priest must always be on his hands and knees, and he must always be washing the feet of his people. Christ himself was servant and spouse: so must his priests be!
As priests, our lives are lived in vain if they are not lived for God and his Church. No scandal, corruption, or bad example diminishes that mission. No human sin or stain of shame can separate what God has joined together. You, the People of God, are the inheritance that we have been given. You, and nothing else. You, and no one else. We will not be parted.
In that sacrificial service, there is a model of love for all the baptised to follow. At our baptism, we were each anointed priest, prophet, and king. And however we might exercise those roles in the Church, there is no other way of preaching the Gospel and furthering the Kingdom than by passing through the dust and mess of the world in which we live. Christ washes our feet, because to love means that we must get our feet dirty. And we must wash each other’s feet as well – to love, and to be willing to be loved in return.
The simple truth is this: none of us can love and preserve our lives. Sacrifice and salvation are bound up together in the covenant that God made with us in his own blood. Christ asked his disciples, Do you realise what I have done for you?
Could we ever?
– – – –
I’m always struck by how inadequate any words of mine are after the tremendously moving account of Our Lord’s passion and death that we read on this day each year. And yet I am obliged to offer a few words, so please bear with me.
There’s a long tradition within Catholicism of viewing the stark events of our Lord’s Passion through the eyes of Our Blessed Mother – I think for instance of the devotion of praying with the Seven Sorrows of Mary. Seeing these tragic events through her eyes helps make them real for us, and helps put us in the scene and experience something of their pain.
As all mothers can testify, there’s so much more to being a mother than simply carrying a child in the womb for nine months – they really do share the rest of their life with this person whom they have begotten with the Lord’s help. Mothers often feel the sufferings of their children more intensely than do their children themselves. They share their heartbreak and their pains in ways that we often fail to recognise – for to witness someone we love suffer can often be worse than actually suffering ourselves.
So when Mary gave her fiat—her great “yes”—to the angel at the Annunciation, she was not merely consenting to bearing a child within her womb. Without fully knowing where it would all lead, she was consenting to sharing in the entire mystery of the life of Christ – the entire mystery of redemption.
And Mary’s assent to God’s plan of redemption found its most radical expression in her participation in the events that we recount today – the Passion and death of her son. It is impossible to think of Mary as being a merely passive witness to these events. She has been with him all along, and almost since the beginning she has anticipated something that would come – as Simeon had prophesied, ‘A sword will pierce your heart…’ The anticipation that this prophecy no doubt stirred within her would have been, on many levels, agonising. As we all know, the anticipation of pain can often be worse than the experience itself.
Mary’s union with her Son is total. She does not watch on the sidelines, but experiences with him each stroke of the lash, each nail pierced into his flesh. We know that this is not the end—we can look ahead to the coming glory of Easter Sunday—but for Mary, this day is nothing short of catastrophic. The finality of it unfathomable.
Why does God allow such things to happen? How can a good God possibly allow it? How many times have we heard others ask such questions, or even thought them ourselves? Did Mary entertain such thoughts during the events of Good Friday? I mean, if any of us ever had an excuse to blame God or to reject him, it was Mary during the death of her son. Why do bad things happen to good people? Well, objectively speaking, this was the worst of things happening to the absolute best of people. Imagine if Mary had given up on God there and then – just as the tide was about to turn; just as the greatest defeat was about to be transformed into the greatest victory?
Thankfully for us, she remained. Somehow, she endured it, not fully knowing what it was all leading to. As horrific as it was, on some level, was she able to maintain trust that—somehow—God was in this?
Mary had been with Jesus since the beginning, and she is with him now at the end. And at this moment, at the point of his death on the Cross, her relationship with him is changed forever. We read that, at the moment of his impending death, Jesus addresses his mother – ‘Woman’, he says, ‘behold your son’, and to his beloved disciple John, he says, ‘behold your mother’. From this moment, she is to relate with her Son through her maternal love for his followers, the Church – personified in this instance by John. She, the mother of Christ, is to be mother of his body on earth, the Church.
For us, it is acceptance of her motherhood—and living as her sons and daughters—that solidifies our participation in Christ’s victory over death – in part, because she shows us how to remain with Christ in the presence of sorrow, and thus she can support us as we endure our own sorrows. This is why the Church has always invoked Mary in prayer – and we can turn to her in a special way as we endure our present difficulties due to the coronavirus.
So with trust that our Blessed Mother can support us through all suffering and death, until the Lord transforms them into new life, let us ask her to pray for us “now, and at the hour of our death.”
Virgin Most Sorrowful… pray for us.
For anyone wanting to pray along with the Good Friday liturgy, the Church has included a special prayer this year as part of the Solemn Intercessions prayed on this day each year:
IX b. For the afflicted in time of pandemic
Let us pray also for all those who suffer the consequences of the current pandemic, that God the Father may grant health to the sick, strength to those who care for them, comfort to families and salvation to all the victims who have died.
Prayer in silence. Then the priest / leader says:
Almighty ever-living God,
only support of our human weakness,
look with compassion upon the sorrowful condition of your children
who suffer because of this pandemic:
relieve the pain of the sick,
give strength to those who care for them,
welcome into your peace those who have died
and, throughout this time of tribulation,
grant that we may all find comfort in your merciful love.
Through Christ our Lord.
– – – –
A reading from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday.
What is happening? Today there is great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.
The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.
‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form, that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.
‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.
‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.
‘I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.
‘The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness, the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.’