“Though we are apart, we have the wonder of technology to bring us together. And we can remember what happened on that first Holy Thursday,mindful that the Lord Jesus who gathered the apostles around the table in the upper room is present with us as we gather virtually this evening.”
PORTLAND---“Jesus’ Passion and death unfolded in the time of Passover. It was watched over by that same moon which watches over us tonight. There’s a particular beauty in realizing that. This spring moon has watched over the festival that we begin this evening for 2000 years. And it has watched over Passover for 3000 years. These are feasts of God’s love.”
Bishop Robert P. Deeley marked the beginning of the Easter Triduum on Thursday evening, April 9, with Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. In a scene played out in churches all over Maine on Holy Thursday, the celebration was live-streamed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Easter Triduum (Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ on Good Friday, and the Resurrection on Easter Sunday) are the three holiest days of the year for Christians and celebrate the forgiveness of all sins for humanity and the gift of everlasting life to all believers.
The bishop told the thousands of participants watching the Mass from home that he finds a certain comfort in the fact that we are united with 2,000 years of our Christian tradition under the bright light of a full moon, and the connections don’t stop there.
“Imagine the difficulties and trials that people have suffered over those millennia. Plagues, pandemics, wars, sickness of all kinds, financial depressions and economic challenges, and yet, under the first full moon of spring they would gather to remember how God showed his love for us in Jesus Christ, and draw comfort and hope in their hour of difficulty,” said Bishop Deeley. “In our dislocation of today, let us thank God for the goodness he shows us. Though we are apart, we have the wonder of technology to bring us together. And we can remember what happened on that first Holy Thursday, mindful that the Lord Jesus who gathered the apostles around the table in the upper room is present with us as we gather virtually this evening.”
Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples and is a celebration of Christ’s gift of the Eucharist, his true body and blood, and the gift of the Mass to the Church.
“It would seem, then, that the Church wants the focus to be on the Eucharist,” the bishop said during his homily. “The instruction for the Mass this evening tells us, however, that our reflection should focus on three themes: institution of the Eucharist, yes, but also the institution of the ministerial priesthood and the fraternal service of charity. It is not really surprising that all these themes are brought together because they are related. Eucharist depends on priesthood. Eucharist creates the communion of the Church and, then, calls that community to spend itself in service.”
Several traditional moments associated with Holy Thursday Mass were omitted this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Washing of the Feet, which is intended to highlight the “mandate” the Lord Jesus gave to his disciples at the Last Supper, “…as I have done for you, you should also do.” Washing each other’s feet becomes a call to loving service in the Lord’s name.
“What happened to the disciples in the moment when Jesus did wash their feet was not fully understood by them at the time,” said the bishop. “Jesus even tells Peter: ‘What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.’ The disciples could not have understood until the entire story was written. Jesus was not just talking about washing the feet of others. He was asking something more. Eventually they would come to understand what Jesus’ words and gestures meant.”
And as they did, they came to understand that Jesus was not asking them simply to repeat gestures that he had done.
“He was asking them to be willing to share themselves as he had shown them in his whole life. Eucharist, that moment when we remember Jesus’ self-giving love is the sacrament of his presence among us. As such, it is the sacrament of his love. And, inasmuch as it is the sacrament of love, it is also the bond of Christians in charity and care. What the disciples came to understand is that the Eucharist has to be connected to life. That is why we are given these three themes this evening to reflect on. In the Eucharist, we know God’s love. It is not for us to hold on to it for ourselves. Jesus’ command to do what he has done is a mandate. It sends us into the world to seek ways in which we can serve each other.”
With COVID-19 limiting Holy Week celebrations to live-streaming participation instead of full pews, Bishop Deeley described Maine Catholics’ inability to receive Holy Communion at present as a “painful loss.”
“What we can do, however, is receive him spiritually in our hearts and remember the many times we were able to be renewed in the sacrament of his love when we did receive Holy Communion. And we can ask Jesus in the silence of our hearts to help us to be able to be more like him, giving of ourselves for others. When we do, whether it be in our own homes with our families, or in the places where we serve others in the community, we will come to know that Jesus is with us, and strengthens us in our mission to bring his love into the world.”
All participating from home were invited to join themselves to Jesus by making an act of spiritual communion by praying: “My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.”
The solemn procession and transfer of the Blessed Sacrament from the main cathedral to the chapel was not held this year, also in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The main tabernacle in the cathedral will still remain empty until the Easter Vigil.
Special intentions were offered for the comfort of those suffering with or recovering from the coronavirus, flu, and other illnesses, and for the protection and support of medical professionals who risk their own health and safety to help others.
To find a list of live-streamed Masses and liturgies scheduled at Maine parishes during Holy Week, visit www.portlanddiocese.org/HolyWeekLiveStreaming. To view a special page dedicated to the latest news, live prayer opportunities, an updated list of drive-through confessions, and a variety of faith resources, visit the Diocese of Portland’s COVID-19 response page at www.portlanddiocese.org/content/response-coronavirus.
In addition, stories from many Masses and services, messages, and other resources throughout Holy Week will be posted on the diocesan website (www.portlanddiocese.org), the diocesan Facebook page (www.facebook.com/PortlandDiocese), the diocesan Twitter page (www.twitter.com/PortlandDiocese), myParish App, and on Bishop Deeley’s personal social media pages on Twitter (www.twitter.com/BishopDeeley) and Instagram (bishopdeeley).