Homily for Holy Thursday 2023

By: Pierbattista Pizzaballa - Published: April 06 Thu, 2023

Homily for Holy Thursday 2023 Available in the following languages:

Beloved brothers and sisters,

We are celebrating today great and ineffable mysteries: the institution of the priesthood and the Most Holy Eucharist, the new commandment of love. We are celebrating the risen Life of Christ, communicated to us by the Spirit in the Church. This year, I am particularly struck by the time, the climate in which they were instituted, almost founded: “on the night when he was betrayed” (cf. Jn. 13:2). We all know that the intention of the authors here is not simply to provide us with chronological information. Theirs is a theological indication, a “spiritual note”; the hour of Christ coincides with the hour of darkness.

I would thus like here to contemplate with you this great mystery, right where “it became dark over all the earth”, and where the angels later announced the Risen One.

The night of the Supper was also the night of Judas, who came out of the Upper Room to go and sell Jesus. The night of Christ’s memory entrusted to His apostles was also the night of Peter’s denial. The night of the Eucharist was also the night of the flight of the apostles, who abandoned the Master. The night of the new commandment was also the night of the sad sleep of the friends.

Yet we, here and now, do not want to dwell on the dark side of that night and of every night, personal, political, social and even ecclesial. That side we know well, all too well, to the point of perhaps having grown used to it. Our life, with its passages and crises, our Holy Land, with its violence and injustices, the Church herself, with her labors and contradictions, familiarize us every day with the heavy atmosphere of that night, during which the Lord was betrayed.

I would instead like to contemplate, with you and for you, always amazed and grateful, the way Christ went through that night, the way He responded to the disintegration and disbandment of His own, His reaction to fear and discouragement.

The evangelist John writes that Jesus, knowing everything and aware of the power the Father had given Him, when already the devil had placed in Judas’ heart the intention of betraying Him, “got up from the supper, laid aside His outer garments, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel that was around Him.” (Jn. 13:4).

This narrative is too solemn to be random. There are seven verbs, as many as the days of creation, those during which the Father pulled the world and man out of primordial chaos. They are the verbs of true love, the verbs of Easter, which serve Christ to recreate man, bringing him out of his night and sin. They are the new actions of the Incarnate Word, which oppose the mechanisms of disintegration and division; the dynamism of communion that arises from the gift of self driven to forgiveness.

They are indications of life that the Master left as an inheritance to His disciples, to us, the little flock of the Holy Land, perhaps today a bit frightened, but who know that they will never be abandoned and left alone.

He got up. To get up, without sitting in resignation, without being paralyzed by discouragement, without closing in one’s own loneliness, which is today one of the new forms of poverty. I am thinking in particular of the many priests who often feel and are alone, unheard, disoriented by sudden changes in their communities.

He laid aside His outer garments. To lay down the robes of one’s own proud entitlement and individual advantage, of the claim to always be right and to never question oneself, of closure to listening and welcoming.

He wrapped a towel around His waist. To gird oneself with the other’s life, assuming it as one’s own. To make the other become the subject and not the object of one’s action. I think of the many people and priests who spend their lives in the service of the Church and their communities, of their inevitable fatigue, but also of the consolation in making their lives a gift of self.

He poured water. To pour out one’s life by gathering it into one’s own hands, without dispersing it in sterile recriminations and nostalgia, without losing oneself in ideological polemics of any kind, but instead trying to make unity in oneself, to gather and focus only in Christ and in the Gospel.

Rather, to resolve to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters, to accept their limitations and not to back off in the face of the fatigue brought by relationships, a fatigue that, here in the Holy Land and in Jerusalem, we known only too well. When everything becomes suspicion, mistrust, betrayal, Jesus responds by washing the feet of everyone, even Judas, showing to us too the way out of the night: stoop down and wash the feet, even of those whose hearts are far from us.

Dry them. To dry, not only the feet but also the tears, rehabilitating, strengthening what is weak, without leaving anyone behind.

Therefore, for us, for everyone, the night of death can be transformed into the night of life found, because it is given. For true love, that which comes from God and leads to God, that which finds its essence in the gift of self, has the power to transform darkness into light, betrayal into forgiveness, abandonment into return, death into new life. True love recreates communion in and through our divisions and wounds, because God is Love and we believe in Love.

Dear friends, in our hands, too, God has placed all the power of His love; we too know that our vocation and priesthood, baptismal and presbyteral, come from God and lead to God (of this the holy oils remind us). We too, then, made partakers of Christ, can transform a night of disunity into a night of greater communion, if we make our own the Word’s verbs, Christ’s actions. Here is the profound meaning of “agere in persona Christi capitis.” We cannot and must not restrict such great grace to the necessary liturgical service. There is an existential and ecclesial dimension of the sacraments that needs to be rediscovered and deepened.

Synodality, which the Holy Father proposes to us as a way of being Church today, and which involves us all everywhere, is nothing but a response of communion to a time of disintegration and confusion. Without this spiritual perception, synodality itself, indeed the whole Church, is reduced to a functional strategy, incapable of recreating herself and recreating the space and time for a renewed joy of the Gospel.

Best wishes then to all of us! Best wishes to the Church and the world: may the Lord’s Easter renew and recreate communion, and enable us to walk together on the path of true love.

†Pierbattista Pizzaballa
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem