This Hour of the Priest

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Vesperal Mass of the Supper of the Lord

April 9, 2009
Cathedral of the Holy Family
Tulsa, Oklahoma

We have entered the Upper Room,
the Supper Room, the Cenacle.
The hour is come "for us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ
in Whom is our health, life, and resurrection" (cf. Gal 6:14).

All is in readiness.
The table is set with fair linen.
The lamps of evening shine.
The incense has shed tears of joy
over coals ignited by a flame that speaks of love
and the fragrance of the evening sacrifice hangs in the air.
The bread is set out in readiness
for the brooding of the Spirit and for the word that will make it His Body;
the wine itself breathes in anticipation of becoming His Blood.

We are in the Cenacle,
"Holy and glorious Sion, the Mother Church
of all the churches of the world" (Liturgy of Saint James).
The far-off there and then of a Paschal moon in Jerusalem
over two-thousand years ago
has become our here and now;
and our here and now
has been assumed into the long-awaited Hour
immeasurable in terms of time.
"Lord, it is good for us to be here" (Mt 17:4).

"Jesus sent Peter and John, saying,
'Go and prepare the passover for us, that we may eat it.' . . .
Tell the householder, 'The Teacher says to you,
Where is the guest-chamber,
where I am to eat the pasch with My disciples?
And he will show you a large upper room furnished;
there make ready' (Lk 22:8-12).

Our cathedral church,
filled with the sights and sounds
of the ancient and ever-returning Pasch of the Lord,
is that Upper Room made ready, at last.
The vaults over our heads and the walls around us
rejoice to imbibe the mystery of it.
The bones of the saints thrill from the place
where they are hid beneath the altar.

In a few moments, there will be cleansing water for our feet
and the kiss of forgiveness;
thus are we made ready for the Bridegroom's kiss
of welcome and of holy love,
even as we shudder to think of that other kiss, the kiss of betrayal.
"With desire have I desired to eat this pasch with you
before I suffer" (Lk 22:15), says the Master.

He summons us to His table;
here all are welcome, here all are embraced.
This is the banquet of "the poor and maimed
and lame and blind" (Lk 14:21).
The traditions of the Church have given a litany of names to this day,
to this gathering around the altar,
to this festival:
it is called the Supper of the Lord,
the Great Fifth Day,
the Birthday of the Chalice,
the Day of the Tradition,
and the Institution of the Holy Priesthood.

We came in rejoicing, and then,
opening the Sacred Scriptures to the book of Exodus,
we found the place where it is written,
"It is the Passover of the Lord . . .
You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord;
throughout your generations you shall observe it
as a perpetual ordinance"(Ex 12: 11, 14).

We listened to the ancient rites of passover entrusted to Moses and Aaron and kept alive in Israel, from generation to generation,
in view of their wondrous fulfillment in the Cenacle.
The blood of the Passover Lamb,
the blood marking doorpost and lintel,
the blood that meant life to the houses it marked,
is the Blood that, in a few moments,
will fill the Chalice of our Great Thanksgiving.
This is why we sang,
"Our Chalice of blessing is a communion
in the Blood of Christ!" (cf. 1 Cor 10, 16).

This is the Chalice of which David sang, "My cup overflows" (Ps 22:5).
The Church takes and drinks of it each day:
when she makes present the first and last Supper of the Lamb;
but never with greater exhilaration and thanksgiving than today,
'the birthday of the Chalice.'
So often as the Church drinks from the Chalice
she is inwardly quickened and altogether renewed.
No mere cup the Chalice.
It signifies what it contains
and contains what it signifies:
the Mystery of Faith,
the Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant.

"I will take up the Chalice of salvation," says the Church,
"and call upon the Name of the Lord" (Ps 115:13),
for this is the cup which makes the foolish wise,
the cup of every priest's sober inebriation in the Holy Spirit,
the cup that strengthens martyrs for the outpouring of their blood.
This is the marvelous cup, the Chalice containing fire,
the antidote to every poison,
the healing draught held to the lips of the weak and the sin-sick,
a divine infusion of hope
for those caught in the downward spiral of despair.

We listened as the apostle handed on to us the mystery
that he himself had received:
the mystery of the handing-over, the "traditio" of the Lord.
"I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus on the night He was handed over,
took bread, and giving thanks, broke and said,
'This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.'
In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying,
'This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me'" (1 Cor 11:23-25).

This is the Day of the Tradition
because today the Lord hands himself over to the Father
for the accomplishment of His will,
because today the Lord hands over for us
the mysteries of His Body and Blood,
because today the Lord is handed over -- betrayed --
into the hands of sinful men to undergo the torment of the Cross.

In the Gospel we were given the image of God kneeling at our feet,
of the God-Man making himself lower than those He created,
lower than those who in Him live, and move,
and have their being (cf. Ac 17:28).
Before offering us the Chalice of His Blood,
He offers us the humble service of His hands
to wash away all our filth,
to soothe feet bruised and scarred
from having toiled among the "thorns and thistles" of sin (Gen 3:18).
Before giving us His Body and Blood, food and drink for the journey,
He tends to our feet so that, with swift pace and light step,
we might, on the first day of the week before the rising of the sun,
make our way with the holy women to the empty tomb.

Between the Upper Room and the empty tomb
lie the mysteries of His agony,
of His prayer to the Father "with loud cries and tears" (Heb 5:7),
of His betrayal, His arrest, His bitter sufferings,
His death, and His burial.

Between the Upper Room and the empty tomb
there is the compassion of His Mother,
standing with John at the foot of the cross.
There is the immensity of her silence and of her Great Sabbath hope.

Between the Upper Room and the empty tomb
there are the burning tears of Mary Magdalene
and a grief known only to those who love much.

Between the Upper Room and the empty tomb
there is the fear of the apostles and their shameful flight;
there is Peter's denial of His Lord three times.

Between the Upper Room and the empty tomb
there is the fearful spectre of all my sins and of yours,
the painful reality of so much brokenness.

Finally, between the Upper Room and the empty tomb
there is the gift and mystery of the priesthood:
the Sacrifice making necessary the priesthood,
the priesthood making possible the Sacrifice,
and the Sacrifice bringing the Church to birth,
not once, but again and again.

In three months time, on June 19th,
we will enter into The Year of the Priest,
a gift of Pope Benedict XVI to the Church.
Were it not for this Hour of the Priest
there could be no Year of the Priest.
Listen then "to what the Spirit is saying to the churches" (Ap 2:29).
We are about to enter into a gratuitous outpouring of grace
upon the priests of the Church, a kind of priestly Pentecost.
Pray that no priestly heart remain closed to what God,
in his infinite mercy, desires to give;
and that no priestly heart will refuse
to be purified, and healed,
and quickened in the grace that has its origin in the Cenacle
and in this most holy night.

By the gift of the priesthood,
it is given us to taste already,
even before tomorrow's nails, cross, lance, and tomb,
the sweetness of the Resurrection.
Once the words of consecration are uttered over the bread
and over the Chalice of wine mixed with water,
the entire Mystery is made present.
Bathe in its light.
Inhale its fragrance.
The Eucharist is the Church held in the embrace of the Cross,
rising from the tomb,
and set ablaze by the Holy Spirit.
O taste and see.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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