Holy Thursday

This year’s Oscars saw nine films nominated in the best picture category. Two of them were about the wartime Britain. ‘Darkest hour’ told the story of the early days of World War Two, when former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill battled with the dilemma of whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against Germany. The second film, ‘Dunkirk’ was an epic recreation of the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 that unfolded simultaneously on land, at sea and in the air. Both films were just the most recent productions. Since the end of World War II many, many more have been produced. Making films is a form of art, but it’s also a commercial enterprise. To a significant extent, financial success of the film is an important measure of its artistic value. So, when filmmakers decide to tackle a historical episode in their production they must believe the subject is interesting to wide audience, and can be told in an attractive, engaging way.

Films are a relatively modern medium of telling stories of the past. Sculptures, paintings, literature were precursor forms of art, reaching back as far as to the prehistoric times. Cave paintings are the earliest – known to us – ways of artistic storytelling. All that show that history is important to us. Our individual and collective identities are built on the past. It applies to the religious aspect of life too. Catholicism can be an individual’s personal decision as much as a legacy inherited from his or her parents. Our religious celebrations and services commemorate past events. However, there is one, but crucial difference between any forms of artistic representation of past events and liturgical, religious services.

When we take part in Mass, we don’t simply recall the event from the distant, unreachable past. We take part in that event as if we were there 2,000 years ago. You can think about liturgical celebration as a sort of time travel. Each time when we celebrate Mass, we sit with the Apostles at the Last Supper, we stand at the foot of the cross where Jesus died for us, and we look into Jesus’ empty tomb. How’s that possible? Let start with a passage from the Letter to the Hebrews that explains: ‘when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.’ (Hebrews 10:12-14) That one, perfect, ultimate sacrifice by Jesus is made effective to people of all time and everywhere by the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of the Eucharist. So, when we celebrate Mass, Jesus doesn’t ‘re-offer’ or ‘repeat’ his sacrifice. It’s us being ‘transported’ in time and space to become fully ‘included’ in that one sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross.

This weekend’s celebrations, starting tonight with the Lord’s Last Supper, are the way of finding deeper understanding of what we do every Sunday. Tonight we celebrate establishing of the Eucharist, the sacramental ‘time-machine’ by which we can bloodlessly receive the fruits of the bloody sacrifice made by Jesus. We also celebrate the establishing of priesthood, the sacrament in service to the Eucharist. At the end of this the Blessed Sacrament, the real Body of Christ, will be transferred to the altar of repose; a symbol of Jesus imprisonment on the night preceding his interrogation.

Tomorrow there will be the only day when Mass is not being celebrated. Once a year, on Good Friday, we recall the bloody sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross. Tomorrow we will hold a special service. Firstly we will listen to the prophecy by the prophet Isaiah about God’s suffering servant, followed by the reading of the Passion of Jesus, who was the fulfillment of that prophecy. Then we will venerate the cross as the tool of our redemption, followed by receiving communion, the Body of Christ offered for our sake. Tomorrow’s celebration will conclude when the Blessed Sacrament is returned to the altar of repose as a symbol of Jesus’ burial.

On Holy Saturday night, during Paschal Vigil, we will study the Holy Scriptures to see how God’s plan of salvation unravelled through the history, starting with the creation of the universe and reaching its climax with Jesus’ resurrection. That’s why we have a greater number of biblical readings at Paschal Vigil than at regular Sunday Mass. Those reading will be followed by the blessing of water and renewal of our baptismal vows to remind us that we died with Christ when we were baptised, to live with Him forever. The final act of Paschal Vigil will be the Eucharist, when bread and wine will be sacramentally transfigured into the Body and Blood of Christ.

These three days – Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Saturday night’s Paschal Vigil – reiterate in greater detail and in a specific way what we celebrate each Sunday. As it happens only once a year, so perhaps you can give heed to Jesus’ request: ‘Wait here and stay awake with me.’