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Holy Thursday, 2019: For us and for our salvation

The truth about Christmas emerges in its fullness in the three holiest days of
the year, the Sacred Triduum, which begin today with Holy Thursday. In the
Creed we profess that the Son of God came down from heaven and took flesh
of the Virgin for us and for our salvation. What is meant by the words “for us”
becomes clear on this holy night.
Any man becomes what he loves. The Son of Man loved us with an everlasting
love and so became a man for ever. Any man who longs to be loved will go to
any lengths to win the heart of his beloved. The Son of Man has gone to the
extreme length of making his own humanity, and with it his divinity, our food
and drink so as to stir the appetite and thirst of our hearts for himself.
The gift of the Eucharist is unfathomable in its mystery. The Creator has not
only become a created man but, by his omnipotent power as Creator, the
created man he has become assumes the appearances of bread and wine.
Cannot he who created all things from nothing by his Word make one thing
present in another by that same power? Indeed, he can, for if he could not, he
would be neither Creator nor Redeemer. And he does it for us. And cannot he
who created each one of us as individuals unite us as one in his own humanity
and in his own divinity? Indeed, he can for his divine creativity desires it. For
us and for our salvation, that is precisely what he has done. His mortal body
rose as an immortal body. In anticipation of that event, by a new act of creation,
he makes his immortal body into his sacramental body. And by his sacramental
body, he is at every Mass creating and perfecting his mystical body, the Church.
Just as we cannot see the risen Christ hidden under the veil of the sacrament,
so we cannot see the full truth and glory of the mystical body of the Church as
yet hidden, alas, too hidden, under the veil of our mortal bodies. Only when he
returns in glory will we be revealed in our glory with him. As surely as he rose
from the dead, we, if we hold firm, will rise to find ourselves united to him, and
united through him with the Father. How glorious his Church will be!
But the work of creating and perfecting his Church, which he alone can do, is
also done through the flesh of the men he has united to his own flesh as Head
of the Body. As the Holy Spirit teaches us the truth through the words of men
in the Scriptures and in the Magisterium of the Church, so Christ the Priest
sanctifies and shepherds us through the flesh and ministry of weak and sinful
men on whom he confers the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Bishops and priests
exist primarily to preach and teach the Gospel, and to celebrate the
Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Sacraments.
The priesthood does not belong to priests; they belong to the priesthood,
because there is only one priesthood and one priest by right, Jesus Christ. As
he took bread and wine and in a new act of creation made himself really present in them, so he takes the humanity of the priest and confers on him a
sacred gift. This gift makes the priest capable of acting in the person of Christ
the Head of the Body. In the Eucharist once consecrated, the risen Christ
remains present until the bread and wine decay; in the human being of the
priest, the gift of holy orders bestowed on him by Christ remains for ever. Both
the priest and the people of God share in those other spiritual gifts given to us
for ever, the sacramental character of baptism and confirmation. The priest’s
special gift from Christ is to help his people to fan into a flame the gifts received
in baptism and confirmation, to feed it with the Eucharist and preaching, and
to protect it through confession and the anointing of the sick. The priest exists
not for himself, but for his people under the authority of Christ. In all this,
Christ the Head in the priest loves and cherishes Christ the Body in the people.
This communion of love and service between priest and people is the dream of
Christ’s love to build up the Kingdom of God. Whilst both priest and people
are servants, it is the priest who must above all show forth Christ’s service of
love and truth. It is a service that goes beyond feelings, important though these
may be. It goes beyond the model of earthly service and demand. It has to be
rooted in Christ’s own example, in Christ’s own power, in Christ’s own will.
For neither the Church nor the priesthood nor the Sacraments nor the Gospel
belong to priest or people. They are given as gifts of the crucified and risen love
of Jesus, gifts to be received, revered, to be accepted with a spirit of love and
obedience. Jesus had a purpose, a design, in giving us the Church as he gave it
and we cannot tamper with what he gave us unless we want to frustrate his
design of salvation. We cannot reinvent what Christ has instituted as was
attempted when the Church had too much secular power, or at the time of the
Reformation, or indeed in certain quarters today.
The men of the Church have all too often acted like political statesmen, like a
tightly controlled human organisation. And because of their fault, the whole
Church suffers. So many of the deformations of Christianity result from the
scandal and sin of those who ought to be the servants of the servants of Christ.
Instead of building her up, they have weakened and humiliated her with their
worldly agendas. But despite it all, Christ through his Spirit, through the
humble men and women of the Church, whether lay or religious or clerical,
has preserved his Church. She remains holy, not because of us but because of
the Spirit. She is sinful, not because of Christ but because of the sins of her sons
and daughters. That holiness, that tenacious humility and suffering fidelity of
millions of Catholics in the face of the abject failure of those who ought to be
helping them is what has allowed the face of Christ still to be perceptible in the
Church to the eyes of the world.
At the Last Supper, Jesus was surrounded by weak men, by treachery, denial,
insincerity and cowardice. Yet, he gave to them, as only his mad love would do, the Eucharist and the priesthood, because he knew of the millions in the future
who would stay with him and witness to him despite the shamefulness and
ignominy of the Cross.
Tonight, I invite you, and I invite myself, to a deep and renewed faith in the
Church as the Mystical Body of the Lord. I invite us to a deep and renewed
hope in the future of a humble and servant priesthood. Above all, I invite us to
a deep and renewed love for the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Sacred Body,
Blood, Soul and Divinity of our great and glorious Redeemer, Jesus the Christ,
the Son of the living God. May His holy name be cherished and praised by
every tongue, both now and for evermore. Amen.