Welcome to Mass on Maundy Thursday by Fr Gabriel
I welcome you all to this Maundy Thursday Mass and to the beginning of this celebration of the Paschal Triduum. I welcome you on behalf of Fr Abbot and of the monastic community. Thank you for being here with us by video or audio streaming.
We miss very much those of you who were planning to be with us. It is in truth a very different sort of celebration without you, though at the same time we are conscious of a connection to more and new friends than would normally be present or even who would fit into this Abbey Church.
I am Fr Gabriel, and as Prior Administrator I will be the celebrant for the liturgies in these days, though you may be glad, as I am, to know that on a couple of occasions there will be different preachers. Tonight it is Fr Kevin.
These days focus on and celebrate the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who as we sang in our entrance antiphon is our salvation, our life and our resurrection, through whom we are saved and made free. This is our theme. We all in Christ have to endure our measure of suffering and ultimately our death; certainly this is true of the Ampleforth monastic community, which continues to experience much challenge and change, and certainly it is true for you all in different ways in your lives. But in Christ we too share in his resurrection and we will experience this together in these days. We pray for you all; please pray for us.
Homily by Fr Kevin
On the day before he was to suffer, for our salvation and the salvation of all, that is today, Jesus had supper for the last time with his disciples, those with whom he had shared the last three years of his life. They were a very ordinary, very human and imperfect group of people, who made many mistakes, had much to learn, who had allowed ambition, or selfishness or fear or doubt or lack of understanding to get in the way too often, and would continue to do so. Jesus knew them well in all their humanity. Just as he knows each one of us in all our humanity. And it is with them that he chose to spend this last evening of his life, just as he chooses to be with us this evening, perhaps especially this evening at this time of challenge and struggle and anxiety.
It is the calm before the storm. When this meal is over he will go into the garden of Gethsemane to prepare himself for his death, then he will be arrested, and tomorrow he will be crucified and die.
During the last meal that he shares with his chosen companions before he dies he does something extraordinary. We are told that “knowing he had come from God and was returning to God,” knowing that he was the revelation of God, that to have seen him was to have seen the Father - he got down on his knees, knelt before his disciples and washed their feet. An act of incredible humility and service. As he kneels there, he is saying: “This is who God is. This is the God I came to reveal to the world,” a God who kneels before them on this evening, in utter humility, at their feet, in all the humility of love. Just as he kneels humbly before us, to serve us. God has no pride – unlike us. He has no concern or care for his dignity; he has no ego to feed or protect; no concern for his own needs, for himself. Not even for what we deserve, or what is fair. In a simple love that humbly gives all, he kneels before us. This is what it really means to love, this is what it really means to be free. “Behold your God!”
When he got up after washing their feet he said: “Do you know what I have done for you, I have given you an example, that you also may do the same.” This is his last will and testament, his deepest wish, the most important thing he has to say, the summary of his teaching. Not a homily but a simple human act of humble service. Do this, let this be the life among you. This is what matters, this is the core, the essence. This is what I ask of you and wish for you – that you learn to love in this way.
Can I begin to love like that? What he is asking is in one sense very simple – no degrees needed, no special gifts or talents, just a choice - choosing to serve. Can I make that choice? And begin each day to serve?
“I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you.” This is the very heart of our vocation as Christians. This above all is what Christ wants from us and for us. Everything else finds its place in this. It is also our most fundamental and most important witness: “See how these Christians love one another.”
It is a choice, a simple choice, but one that will gradually transform us as people. It will also transform our relationships, our communities and our homes, making them places of humanity, service, freedom, joy and love. Making them places where Christ is truly present. Making them places of witness.
During that meal Jesus also did something else. He took some bread and said: “This is my body which is for you.” And the cup: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” I give you everything: my life is given for you, so that you too may begin to learn, step by step, act by act, day by day, how to give yourself for others…. “Do this in memory of me.”