Into the Sacred Paschal Triduum

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At the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle

Thus far our Paschal Triduum has been sublime, and wonderfully peaceful. Yesterday and today we sang Matins and Lauds entirely, including the nine responsories; these are the highest expression of the Church's contemplation of the Passion of the Lord.

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For the first time in twenty-five years of priesthood, I celebrated the Vesperal Mass In Cena Domini as the father of a humble monastic household. This meant, of course, that I had the privilege and grace of washing my brothers' feet.

After Holy Mass, we carried the Blessed Sacrament in procession to the altar of repose prepared in our library. The repository was simple: the tabernacle placed on a table draped in white, abundant candlelight, flowers arranged with grape leaves from our own little vine, and a few lilies. We remained in adoration until midnight, listening, from time to time, to the reading of Our Lord's discourse at the Last Supper in Saint John's Gospel, chapters 13--17. Shortly before midnight, I read John 17, Our Lord's Priestly Prayer.

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I lifted the enclosure for the occasion so that guests could join us in keeping watch before Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love. The atmosphere was, almost paradoxically, one of quiet joy. This year, Our Lord seemed to be inviting us to meditate His words in John 16:4: "Ask, and you shall receive; that your joy may be full." I will share more on this later.

For the moment, here is the homily I preached last evening:

MAUNDY THURSDAY
1 Corinthians 11:20-32
John 13:1-15

Brothers, we approached the Altar of the Lord singing a humble song:
"For us, no boasting" (Gal 6:14).
No boasting, that is, of anything that is ours.
For who am I and who are you to boast
in the presence of the Mystery?

Who am I and who are you to boast
on this the night of God's doing,
the night of the covenant?
"Father," says the deacon to the priest
at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy,
"it is time for the Lord to act!"
And so, it is all His doing, not ours.
It is time for the Lord to act!

"For us, no boasting,
but in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who is health and life and resurrection to us,
by Whom we are saved and set free (cf. Gal 6L14).

If you are sick; He is health.
If you are in the grip of death; He is life.
If you have stumbled and fallen low,
once, twice, three times or more,
He is resurrection.

If you are bound up and fettered,
if you are pushed down, or held back,
if you are constrained by fear,
or laden with burdens too heavy to bear,
He is deliverance and freedom.

If you are oppressed in sin's narrow place,
He takes you by the hand
and tonight, yes, tonight,
He leads you out into the vast and spacious place
of His prayer to the Father.

"This Father, is My desire,
that all those whom Thou hast entrusted to Me
may be with Me where I am,
so as to see My glory, Thy gift made to me,
in that love which Thou didst bestow upon Me
before the foundation of the world" (Jn 17:24).

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This, brothers, is the birthnight
of Eucharistic adoration,
for tonight God reveals His Face
concealed beneath the sacramental veils,
and we, recognizing the One we see
are ravished into the love of Him
upon whom the Angels themselves long to gaze.

This is the night of a hushed amazement,
the night of believing disbelief
the night of wordless wonder.

This is the night of God at table with man.
Not only does this Companion-God sit at our board to share our bread:
he becomes Bread in every mouth.

This is the night of the Blood of the Lamb:
the birthday of the Chalice,
the first wave of that immense crimson tide
that tomorrow will flow gushing from the pierced side.

This is the night of the astonishing humility of God.
the night of God bending low
to wash,
to kiss,
to perfume the very feet
that will run from Gethsemani in the night,
and from the proud praetorium,
and from the Cross terrible against dark and heavy skies.

"Before you run from me,
O you whom I have chosen to run after me,
let me wash your feet,"
says the Lord,
"and mark them sweetly with the imprint of my kiss.
You did not choose me, but I chose you (Jn 15:16).

This kiss to your feet is the pledge of my paschal absolution.
My feet, you will see them pierced by a nail;
yours, I would pierce with a kiss,
that turning, you would come back to Me
who have come so far in search of you.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn back,
turn back to the Lord your God!"

Tonight, in the Cenacle, our Priest begins His ascent:
the solemn procession to the high place of His preaching:
the noble Tree
from which His voice will go out through all the earth.

Tonight our Priest, without leaving us,
goes into the hidden sanctuary beyond the veil (Heb 6:19);
He appears in the presence of God on our behalf (Heb 9:23),
taking not the blood of goats and calves
but His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Heb 9:12).

Tonight the Lamb without blemish is set before us.
Tonight His Blood is given,
not to be smeared on doorposts and lintels,
but to sanctify our lips
and moisten every parched tongue;
to warm every heart grown cold
with a libation of fire;
to give sweetness for bitterness,
and boldness for fear.

Those marked by the Blood of Lamb,
those with the Blood of the Lamb wet upon their lips
and fragrant on their breath
have passed from death to life.

Every mouth sanctified by the Blood
is, in the Father's eyes, the mouth of the First-Born Son.
Every prayer uttered from Blood-blessed lips,
every kiss offered,
every sigh and every groan,
the Father receives
as coming from the Son.
"In that day you will know
that I am in the Father,
and you in me, and I in you" (Jn 14:20).

The psalmist too sang of the Chalice and of the Blood:
"I will lift up the chalice of salvation,
and call upon the name of the Lord" (Ps 115:13).
Lifted up, it is our thanksgiving: a sun blazing red against the sky.
Pressed to our lips, it is our salvation: the antidote, the remedy,
one drop of which is enough to cure this weary world of every ill.

The Apostle handed on to us
what had had been handed on to him.
O humble and glorious Tradition!
Ours it is to receive what he received,
(to transmit and not to betray,)
to cherish what he cherished,
to obey the commandment he obeyed,
to adore the mystery he adored.

"This is My Body which is for you.
Do this in remembrance of Me. . . .
This chalice is the new covenant in My Blood.
Do this, as often, as you drink it, in memory of Me" (1 Cor 11:24-25).

This is the night of the new priesthood.
Awed are the Apostles,
not quite understanding
and not quite misunderstanding
the fearful spectacle of God bent prostrate at their feet.
He, sinless, kneels to absolve the sinner
while the sinner, seated,
has nought to offer but two bare journey-worn feet
and the story they tell.

Your feet too, brothers, tell a story,
and so too do mine:
the story of our lives,
the story of places we have known,
of places to which we have run,
of places from which we have fled.

Our comings and goings
-- those that we remember with joy,
those that we would rather forget,
and those to which we would gladly return --
all of these places have left a dusty film on our feet.

He who knows the secrets of our hearts
will kneel before you tonight
in the person of His priest
to wash away your weariness,
to heal your bruises,
to fit you for the walking that you have yet to do
and for the journey that lies ahead of you.

"What I am doing you do not know now,
but afterward you will understand . . . .
For I have given you an example,
that you also should do as I have done to you" (Jn 13:7, 15).

His priests,
carrying out what they received from His Apostles,
will wash feet even as He did,
kneeling before them,
but even more than feet,
they will wash hearts caked with the hard crust of sin,
and polluted souls,
and faces bearing the traces of blood and tears.

Then we did not know what he was doing,
but now we understand the mystic absolution.
"Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven;
if you retain the sins of any they are retained" (Jn 20:22-23).

For us, no boasting but in what Love has left us:
the Bread and the Chalice making present His Sacrifice;
and priests with feet washed clean and anointed hands
to pronounce the Absolution,
to lift high the Oblation.

And behind the sacramental veils
shines the Face for which we yearn:
the Face of immolated Purity,
the Face of Beauty humbled,
the Face of the Priest,
the Face of the Victim,
the Face of Holiness,
the Face of Crucified and Triumphant Love.

In looking, adore Him.
In adoring, look at Him.
And so, brothers, pass over
from what is old to what is new,
from the land of heavy burdens to the land of freedom,
from darkness to life,
from sin to holiness,
from groans to jubilations,
from tears to laughter,
from sorrow to bliss,
from combat to peace,
from struggle to rest,
from death to life
It is the Passover of the Lord (Ex 12:11).


1 Comments

Thank you , Father.
When Jesus asked Peter about his love for the Master, he responded three times in affirmation. And the Master three times replied :
"If you love me, feed my sheep....".
Yes Father, I see that your love is indeed great for the sheep of your "virtual fold" here in the Cenacle of Our Lady, for you continually feed us with great care and tenderness, by the intimate sharing of your lives. Our hearts are touched and we are grateful, for we hunger for the Truth and Beauty that are found here.
Blessed be God, now and forever.
Mater Dolorosa, ora pro nobis....

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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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