Homily of Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa for Holy Thursday 2021

Published: March 31 Wed, 2021

Homily of Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa for Holy Thursday 2021 Available in the following languages:

Mass of the Last Supper

Jerusalem, April 1, 2021

Dear brothers and sisters, dear bishops and priests,

May the Lord grant you peace!

I am pleased to find myself with you today for this important celebration. I particularly greet the priests of our diocese and those who have joined us on this momentous day.

The celebration of the Lord’s Supper at the beginning of Paschal Triduum is an opportune moment to reflect on some fundamental elements that build us as a people of God, as a Church of Christ.

First of all, I would like to speak about the sacramental dimension of the Church. The Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, states: the Church is, in Christ, in some way the sacrament, namely the sign and the instrument of the intimate union with God and unity of all humanity (LG 1). In other words, Christ entrusted to the Church the mission to sanctify all men and lead them to salvation.

This morning’s celebration is not just a remembrance of the last supper and the ministerial priesthood but also speaks of the common priesthood rooted in baptism. The blessing of holy oils reminds us of this sacramental dimension of the Church. The Church accompanies us from the cradle to the grave by her sanctifying mission to save us through these signs of grace. We continue the mission of Jesus, prophet, priest, and king by bringing the holy oils with us to our parishes and communities to help build the Church through the Word, the Sacraments, and the service of love to all.

I invite you all to remember this vital dimension of our Christian life: the sacraments are not a sort of magical formula of sanctification, but rather a sign of the healing force of Christ, which must also pass through the proclamation of the Word and the witness of the life. May our local Church grow in this awareness so that the Word reaches all levels of society, our children, our young people, our married couples, our families, our elderly, and ailing community members. Our pastors, starting with myself, can be a living and credible testimony of our union with Christ! In that way, the sacraments will genuinely become a moment of encounter with Christ and an occasion of sanctification and spiritual healing.

The second theme that brought us together here today concerns our ministerial priesthood and, consequently, our vocation of ministers of the sacrament of the Eucharist that Christ instituted the very evening he would be betrayed. For this reason, I would like to address part of my homily to my brother priests present here.

Dear brothers, during this celebration we will be invited to renew our priestly promises. We are doing this action publicly, in front of the people of God. We are not renewing some private promises that concern us only as priests or as a presbyterate gathered around its diocesan bishop. This public and ecclesial dimension of our priestly promises is vitally important. Being the shepherd of the People of God in our local Church, in union with the priests, the first collaborators in my ministry, I cannot forget that we are acting in front of the People of God entrusted to our pastoral care.

That is why the Rite of Renewal of priestly promises includes an invitation to the People of God to pray for the bishop and the priests. We also need support in our ministry, and so, we must be humble enough to allow our faithful people to challenge us, as they have the right to see us as courageous witnesses of the Gospel and signs of authentic living that speaks for itself, not through empty words or false pretenses. As priests, we take care of many things and risk losing the essence of what is really our vocation. As pastors of souls, we think we are to be saviors and forget to be saved. We think we are doctors and teachers of knowledge, but how often we are struck by the wisdom of simple people!

And this brings us to the third and final dimension of today’s celebration, which is the commandment of love and service in the Church. The liturgy of this Mass of the Lord’s Supper proclaims the Gospel of the washing the Apostles’ feet and the commandment of love. In truth, this action of Jesus is the true meaning of the Eucharist, namely, the sacrament of loving service, in obedience to the Father, unto death on the Cross. Jesus becomes the deacon of humanity. He serves with humility and love and wants his disciples to do the same.

The central moment that attracts our attention in this passage of John’s Gospel is undoubtedly the dialogue between Jesus and Peter. Faced with the humiliation of the Master, who bends to wash the disciples’ feet, Peter can only refuse; he cannot allow this gesture to be made to him also. And it is precisely here that Jesus affirms that without accepting this gesture, the fisherman apostle will not have a place in the Kingdom. Peter’s betrayal will not impede his participation in the Kingdom, but the refusal to have his feet washed, that would! Letting oneself wash feet means accepting a God who serves, exposing oneself to the world without fear and not fearing the judgment of others, allowing oneself to love.

In this last supper, Jesus is aware of the weakness and limits of his disciples, as He knows the poverty of all of us priests, who carry on his loving gesture. But that awareness has not stopped the love of Jesus. Like the disciples and like Peter, even we sometimes seem to refuse the grace of God, we do not accept to let Jesus wash our feet. But one thing is sure, Jesus continues to take risks in choosing us sinful men who are sometimes impervious to the grace that flows through our hands. Jesus is faithful to his choices, and through love, he invites us to renew our desire to belong to him day after day.

Jesus does not fear our sin, as he was not afraid of Peter’s betrayal, and as He is still not afraid to be touched or received in our priestly hands. What instead can genuinely stop Jesus’ action is the barrenness of our fragile hearts, the weariness with which we are sometimes in contact with the Eucharist.

Today, renewing our priestly promises, we renew our desire to live priesthood to the full. We want to leave the dust that, year after year, has stuck to our feet. Sometimes we are tired of walking along paths that certainly have a lot of joy and passion but also misunderstandings and poverty. We want to leave the dust that has also covered our hearts, distancing us from Christ’s heart. Now, as then, Jesus is willing to wash our feet, to forgive our sins, our infidelities, our poverty. He invites us to regenerate ourselves through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and repeats the exact words spoken to Peter: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

I thank God for all those who, in our local Church, testify to their service with humility and dedication. We can learn from these brothers not to be afraid to become vulnerable, to meet those among us who are weak and defenseless in the face of human suffering that we may be able to wash their feet, overcoming our selfishness. In this way, we will genuinely become icons of Christ, the servant of humanity.

Authentic service is often hidden and goes unnoticed by the media and social platforms. It is only the result of total self-donation to others. To do this, however, we must let Christ serve and wash our feet. If we resist, as Peter initially did, we will never understand what it means to be disciples.

Dear brothers and sisters, may this Holy Thursday be for all of us, lay faithful and clergy, an invitation to build the Church of Christ as a community of love. As we prayed at the beginning of this celebration (collect), let us “… draw fullness of Charity and life,” in the glory of the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, through which we are saved and liberated (Gal 6:14). Amen.

April 1, 2021

                                                                                             †Pierbattista Pizzaballa
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem