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Holy Thursday 2017

Jerusalem – Holy Sepulcher

Chrism Mass and the Lord’s Supper

Jerusalem, April 13, 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

We are gathered here in this Holy Place to begin together the Sacred Paschal Triduum. Three intense days of prayer, processions, ancient rites, but always evocative in a way that will lead us to encounter once again the Risen Lord.

We begin these three days with a special celebration and that, here in Jerusalem, because of historical events, is unique, because it combines what, in the rest of the Catholic world, takes place in two distinct celebrations. Here, we celebrate together the Chrism Mass and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We celebrate in a unique commemoration many mysteries, all very rich in meaning: the consecration, the anointing, the Eucharist, the mandate of the new commandment, the service. We dwell only on a few brief remarks.

Here we are in the place of the Paschal mistery, which a masterly restoration has brought back to new light, revealing its transforming power, capable of reuniting the dispersed, putting together diverse groups, and recreating communion within our divisions.

Here we are celebrating and welcoming the Paschal joy, which is a mature joy, strong, and I would say manly, that no one can take away, because it’s a joy that does not avoid nor hide injuries, but assumes them, faces them, and conquers them. The joy of the empty tomb springs up and increases, and here also we see it physically, in the shadow of Calvary. The oils that we will soon consecrate speak and announce this consolation that comes from the willingness to allow ourselves to be pressed, like olives, to give fruit.

Here, as Church of Jerusalem, and I say this with new emotion on this my first Holy Thursday as Bishop: I’m as a disciple with you, but also as a bishop for you, to make this Diocese a fragrant bride ready for the Bridegroom who is coming, and you who are with me, Auxiliary Bishops and priests, deacons and seminarians, religious men and women, faithful and pilgrims so that the Lord may wash our feet, purify our lives and make the Church of Jerusalem His fragrance among men.

Therefore, we let ourselves question everything by three signs too powerful to be overlooked: the Holy Place where we celebrate, the Liturgy that we celebrate, the City and the world for which we celebrate, all united by Christ’s Pasch, which gives them and us meaning and consistency.

In this place, where once and for all the Paschal mystery is fulfilled, we are primarily called to seek, to encounter and to recognize the One Who is the reason – and not the pretext – of our presence, our action and our feast. Here, everything tells and speaks of Him, of Christ dead and risen, of His unshakable trust in the Father, of His sure hope that does not yield in the face of contradictions and sin, of His disarmed and powerful love that in the end culminates in gift and forgiveness. Here everything tells and speaks of His victory, the victory of the Cross, which is not simply the victory of life over death, but is the victory of Christ’s love over death and all the strategies of power and interests that lead to death. Here power, success, money, partisan interests, ideology, violence in their apparent triumph show their weakness (cf. 1 Cor 1: 27-28); indeed they are unmasked as works of the devil and those who belong to him; whereas love, gift and forgiveness reveal their strength, the power of God. In a very concrete way, we will soon see in the gesture of the washing of feet, a God who bows down at the feet of humans! This is the aspiration of Jesus concerning us, His Church. He says it Himself, just now, in the moment of greatest intimacy with His apostles, during the last night of his life: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors’; but among you it must not be so; rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is greater, the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not perhaps the one seated at table? Yet I am among you as the one who serves” (Lk 22: 25-27). The Church is therefore the “Yet” of Jesus with respect to the world; it is the alternative, the new, the prophetic community which embodies the logic of the Kingdom that, while destined to “be embodied” in this world, it reveals the lie, the deficiencies and the sin of this world itself.

This is the true revolution that saves the world, this is the true strategy for communion and peace: learning to kneel down at the feet of our brothers and sisters, to be disciples of a God who is poured out like water at our feet that cleanses and renews, and like oil that consoles and soothes hurts.

And it is really the oil, together with the water, that makes the liturgy splendid, which we are celebrating here in communion with the entire pilgrim Church worldwide: it’s an oil that soothes our infirmities, gives strength to our witness, and, mixed with fragrance, makes the life of the Church beautiful. It is the gift of God; it is the fragrance of Christ; it is the oil of the Spirit that is given to us. And like water, oil is also made to be poured on the wounds and needs of humanity, as in the account of the Good Samaritan, as in Bethany, and as here, in the burial of Christ. And so the water, poured on the disciples’ feet, becomes the oil of witness and service for the life of the world. Baptism and Confirmation, Baptism and Ordination, Water and Spirit, Faith and Charity always go together. And so this liturgy, which may seem a little peculiar, calls us to a profound truth and educates us to the true Christian style. It is not enough to be with Christ in the Upper Room if we are not for the people in the world, and we cannot be truly men for others if we are not with Christ in God. The oils that we will soon bless send us into the world so that the anointing of the Holy One may consecrate the whole of humanity and make it a “perpetual sacrifice pleasing to God” for the salvation of the world.

And therefore the word “sacrifice” must not frighten us. We are in Jerusalem, where we celebrate the Paschal Mystery, where Christ, at the Last Supper and on Calvary, the true Paschal lamb, fulfilled the one and perfect sacrifice, that of His own obedient and donated life. We are here to commemorate that final evening and the divine words that gave body and blood to love and of that love which He gave fully in giving His body and blood. And so Christ became in person, sacrifice and priest. A love that does not become sacrifice does not change the world but ends up being sentiment or demagoguery; a Eucharist that does not lead to self-giving dries up in ritual, as much compensatory as vain; a priesthood that does not promote relationship and encounter is only a job and power. And let me here say a word to the presbyterate that has been entrusted to me, on this Holy Thursday where together we re-live the birthday of the priesthood and renew the promises of our Ordination. Let’s not forget that we were born in the Cenacle, that we have been anointed with chrism, and that the Eucharist has been entrusted to us. I mean we are ministers of a God on bended knee, sent to serve and heal, priests that not only offer, but offer themselves in sacrifice for the life of the world. The meaning and value of our vocation and our mission is simply this: in our capacity to give and to give ourselves so that those who meet us can see something of Christ, dead and risen. We point out, here and now, as never before, how a priestly life and ministry can be painfully conflicting with the things we believe and celebrate here if we priests seek privilege, self-interest, personal and social advantage instead of service and gift that sacrifices itself for the good of the Church and our neighbors. Rightly proud of our Christian and priestly dignity, “vicem gerentes Christi.” But we do not speak this word as the world speaks it. The world speaks and thinks of honors, first places, and power over others. We simply think about the truth of our being Christians and priests, able to act “in persona Christi”, namely “in the measure of Christ” who acted fully in love as He gives Himself. The Spirit that drove Christ to offer Himself on the cross is the same Spirit who acts in the Chrism urging each of us to offer himself in Christ, for the salvation of man. Being priests of Christ, being ministers of the Church, is therefore to put one’s trust in love and not in power; it is to wager one’s life on gift not on privilege; it is to open oneself to the world, not closing oneself in; it is to decide for Jesus, not Barabbas. Soon, we will promise again, committing ourselves to “unite closely to the Lord Jesus, model of our priesthood, impelled by the love of Christ renouncing ourselves… not allowing ourselves to be guided by human interests, but by love for our neighbors” (cf. The Roman Pontifical).

Water and oil, bread and wine: they can be empty signs of ancient rites and outdated traditions, or they can become, by the grace of God and our conversion, symbols and promises of a life, that by becoming gift and service despite many wounds, proclaims humbly and courageously paschal hope, in the certainty of the Love that is stronger than death.

+ Pierbattista

Original version in italian

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