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Holy Thursday 1979

Pope Saint John Paul II's Homily at the Mass of the Lord's Supper
Basilica of St John Lateran, 12 April 1979 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish    

"1. The "hour" of Jesus has come. The hour of his passage from this world to the Father. The beginning of the Holy Triduum. The Easter mystery is again clothed, as every year, by its liturgical aspect, beginning with this mass which — alone during the year — bears the name of "Coena Domini".

Having loved his own who were in the world, "he loved them to the end" (John 13, 1). The Last Supper is precisely the witness of this love with which Christ, the Lamb of God, loved us to the end.

On that evening, the children of Israel, according to the old prescription, ate the lamb given by Moses on the eve of their exodus from slavery in Egypt. Jesus does the same with the disciples, faithful to the tradition which was only the "shadow of the good things to come" (Heb. 10, 1), only the symbol of the New Covenant and of the new Law.

2. What does it mean: "He loved them to the end"?

It means: until that fulfilment which was to take place the following day, on Good Friday. On that day, God was to reveal how much he loved the world, and how, in that love, he had come to the extreme limit of giving, to the point, that is of "giving his only Son" (John 3, 16). On that day, Christ showed that "greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15, 13). The love of the Father was revealed in the giving of the Son. In the giving through death.

Holy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper, is in some sense the prologue of this giving, and the last preparation for it. And, in some sense, what was accomplished on that day goes beyond such a giving. It was just on Holy Thursday, during the Last Supper, that the meaning of: "He loved to the end", was revealed.

Rightly, in fact, we believe that loving to the end means until death, until the last breath. The last Supper teaches us, however, that, for Jesus, "to the end" means beyond the last breath. Beyond death.

3. This is, indeed, precisely the significance of the Eucharist. Death is not its end, but its beginning. The Eucharist begins with death, as St Paul teaches: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (Cor 11, 26).

The Eucharist is the fruit of this death. It recalls it constantly. It continually renews it. It always signifies it. It proclaims it. The death which has become the beginning of the new Coming: from the Resurrection to the Parousia, "until he comes”. The death which is the foundation of a new life. Loving "to the end" means therefore, for Christ, loving through death and beyond the barrier of death: loving as far as the extremes of the Eucharist!

4. It was just in this manner that Jesus loved on that last evening. He loved his "own"—those who were then with him—and all those who were to inherit the mystery from them.

The words he pronounced over the bread, the words he pronounced over the cup full of wine, the words we repeat today with particular emotion, and always repeat when we celebrate the Eucharist, are precisely the revelation of this love through which, once and for all, for all time and until the end of the ages, he shared himself!

Even before giving himself on the cross, as the "Lamb who takes away the sins of the world", he shared himself as food and drink: bread and wine, so that "they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).

It was thus that he "loved to the end".

5. Therefore, Jesus did not hesitate to kneel before the Apostles to wash their feet. When Simon Peter opposed it, he persuaded him to let him do so. It was, in fact, a particular need of the moment's greatness. This washing of the feet, this purification before the Communion in which they were henceforth to participate, was necessary.

It was necessary. Christ himself felt the need to humble himself at the feet of his disciples: a humbling which tells us so much of him at the moment. From that time onwards, by sharing himself in the eucharistic communion, would he not continually lower himself to the level of so many human hearts? Would he not always serve them in this way? “Eucharist" means "thanksgiving”. "Eucharist" also means "service", the reaching out towards man: the serving of so many human hearts.

I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you" (Jn 13, 15). We cannot be dispensers of the Eucharist unless by serving!

6. Now is the Last Supper. Christ prepares himself to depart through death, and through death itself prepares to remain. Thus, death has become the fulfilment of love: he loved us "to the end".

Would not the context of the Last Supper in itself be enough to give Jesus the "right" to say to us all: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12)?"

Papa San Giovanni Paolo's Homily at the Chrism Mass
Basilica of St Peter, 12 April 1979 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. Today, on the threshold of this Holy Triduum, we wish in a particular way to profess our faith in Christ, in Him, whose passion we must renew, in the spirit of the Church, so that all “shall look on him whom they have pierced" (Jn 19, 37), and the present generation of the earth's inhabitants bewail and lament him (cf Lk 23, 27).

This is the Christ: He in whom God comes to humanity as Lord of history: "I am the Alpha and the Omega... The One who is and who was and who is to come” (Ap 1, 8). This is the Christ "who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2, 20), Christ, who came to obtain for us "with his own blood… an eternal redemption" (Heb 9, 12).

Christ: the "Anointed", the Messiah.

Once Israel, on the eve of her liberation from slavery in Egypt, marked the doors of the houses with the blood of the lamb (cf Ex 12, 1-14). Behold, the Lamb of God is among us, he whom the Father himself anointed with power and with the Holy Spirit, and sent into the world (cf Jn 1, 29; Acts 10, 36-38).

Christ: the "Anointed", the Messiah.

During these days, with the power of the Holy Spirit's anointing, with the power of the fullness of the sanctity which is in him, and in him alone, he will cry to God "with a loud voice" (Lk 23, 46), the voice of humiliation, of annihilation, of the cross: "O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold" (Ps 17 (18), 2).

Thus he will cry for himself and for us.

2. Today we celebrate the liturgy of the Chrism, through which the Church, on the threshold of these holy days, wants to renew the sign of that power of the Spirit which she has received from her Redeemer and Bridegroom.

This strength of the Spirit — grace and sanctity, which is in him — is imparted, at the price of the passion and death, to men through the sacraments of the faith. Thus the People of God is continuously built up, as the Second Vatican Council teaches: "The faithful, by virtue of their royal priesthood, participate in the offering of the Eucharist. They exercise that priesthood, too, by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, abnegation and active charity" (Lumen Gentium, 10).

With this holy Oil, Oil of the Catechumens, the catechumens will be anointed during baptism, to be able to be then anointed with the Holy Chrism. They will receive this anointing a second time in the sacrament of Confirmation. They will also receive it — if called — during ordinations: deacons, priests, and bishops. In the sacrament of the sick, all invalids will receive the anointing with the oil of the sick (cf James 5, 14).

Today we wish to prepare the Church for the new year of grace, for the administration of the sacraments of the faith, which have their centre in the Eucharist. All the sacraments, both those whose sign is anointing, and those administered without this sign, such as penance and matrimony, signify an effective participation in the power of him whom the Father himself anointed and sent into the world (cf Lk 4, 18).

Today, Holy Thursday, we celebrate the liturgy of this power, which reached its fullness in the weaknesses of Good Friday, in the torments of his passion and agony, because it was through all that suffering that Christ procured grace for us: "Grace to you and peace... from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth" (Apoc 1, 4-5).

3. Through his abandonment to the Father, through his obedience until death, he also made us a "kingdom of priests" (Apoc 1, 6).

He proclaimed it on the solemn day on which he shared bread and wine with the apostles, as his Body and Blood for the world's salvation. Precisely today we are called to live this day: the feast of priests. Today our hearts newly respond to the mysteries of the Supper table, at which Christ, with the first Eucharist, said: "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22, 19), thus instituting the Sacrament of the priesthood. And thus what the prophet Isaiah had said centuries before came to pass: "You shall be called the priests of the Lord, men shall speak of you as the ministers of our God" (Is 61, 6).

Today we feel the warmest desire to be present at the altar for this eucharistic concelebration and to render thanks for the particular gift which the Lord has conferred on us. Conscious of the greatness of this grace, we further wish to renew the vows which each one of us, on the day of his own ordination, made to Christ and to the Church, depositing them in the hands of the Bishop. In renewing them, we ask for the grace of fidelity and perseverance. We also ask that the grace of the priestly vocation may fall on the ground of many young souls, and that it may take root in them as seeds which yield a hundredfold (cf Lk 8, 8).

Today, bishops in their cathedrals throughout the world do likewise, as is required of them. Together with priests they renew the vows made on the day of their ordination. Let us join with them with yet more ardour through brotherhood in the faith and in the vocation that we attained at the Supper table as the particular legacy bequeathed us by the Apostles.

Let us persevere in this great priestly community, as servants of the People of God, and as disciples and lovers of him who was made obedient unto death, and who came into the world not to be served, but to serve! (cf Mt 20, 28)."



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