HOLY THURSDAY, APRIL 17, AD 2014, Cathedral of Saint Mary, Diocese of Lansing, Michigan. I, a priest of Christ Jesus by the will of God, was in attendance with many of my brother priests, with the nave brimming to capacity from members of the standing-room-only assembly. My parishioners made the prudent decision to send a group of “pioneers” to ensure they got dibs on a pew close to the sanctuary. As a priest in residence (from “back East”) I had attended only one other service at the cathedral, the ordination of a seminary classmate in 2007, who now is my pastor. A novel setting for me, no less, and one I will remember as I carry it forward, God willing, to the Chrism Mass in AD 2015.
In his homily, Bishop Earl Boyea preached on the Spirit of the Lord who sets his seal upon the priest, anointing the priest for the work to which he has been called. The sight of the lengthy procession of the oils fills one with awe and wonder—that and the reaffirmation of the priestly promises that hits home because I don’t believe there was a priest among us that morning at the cathedral who ever grows wearing of reciting those promises. In doing so, we relive our ordination day, something none of us want to forget.
The readings given in three languages—Vietnamese, Spanish, and English—spoke of the inclusivity and the willingness to recognize that the gospel must be heard by all. I closed my eyes when the Mexican nun read the second reading, Revelation 1:5-8, “Christ made us a kingdom of priests for his God and Father” (5:6), because it took me back to earlier days of ordained ministry when I worked in Hispanic parishes. When the choir played “Pan de Vida” for the communion hymn, I felt choked up inside because this was the communion hymn at my first Mass of Thanksgiving in June 2011.
The Holy Spirit was with us. The Eucharistic prayer was profoundly poignant, worth the hush of the assembly as they listened to priests in unison, 200 strong, praying the consecratory formula that turns bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This same Spirit sustains the priest and fills him with the power to accomplish the task to which he has been called. The Eucharist is a mystery, but one many a priest is glad to pursue in the search for the face of the Lord. The Church, the Eucharist, and the priesthood began in the mind of God. These truths of the faith simply exist. Like Melchizedek, the priest-king who shared bread and wine with Abraham (Gn 14:18), they have no origin or end.
Around the world the successors to the apostles preach the truth. The stories of the Eucharist and the prayers of the consecration were passed on to successive generations and continue to be passed on today. Peter said, “It is impossible for us not to speak of what we have seen and hear” (Acts 4:20). By the time that Paul the Apostle put into writing the prayers of the Institution—and the priesthood by extension—stories had been circulating for years of the Lord’s final words to his disciples the night that he was handed over. He charged them, “Do this in memory of me” (1 Cor 11:24). Day after day, 2,000 yeas later, that continues to happen in churches, basilicas, oratories, seminarians, and cathedrals every day. The Mass never ends.
So with another Chrism Mass under my belt, I returned to the churches where I serve refreshed and reminded of who I am, where I came from, of what I am called to do. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday is the exclamation point on the testimony of faith professed in the morning at the Chrism Mass. In keeping with Jesus’s directives, we wash the feet of the faithful.
Today him who loves us and has freed us from sins by his Blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power for ever and ever. (Rv 1:5-6).