“Do This in Memory of Me”

Holy Thursday
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Did you know that a homily is different from a sermon? A sermon may be about whatever topic the preacher chooses, but a homily must be based upon the liturgy’s readings or prayers, or the particular feast celebrated that day. Rather than a sermon, the Catholic Church directs the preacher to give a homily at Mass, though she usually leaves it up to him to decide which specific theme or themes to highlight from the day’s readings, prayers, or celebration. The Mass of Holy Thursday is one rare exception.

For this evening, the Church requires in the current Third Edition of the Roman Missal: “after the proclamation of the Gospel, the priest gives a homily in which light is shed on the principal mysteries that are commemorated in this Mass, namely, the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the priestly Order, and the commandment of the Lord concerning fraternal charity.” In other words, tonight’s homily must be about Jesus beginning our celebration of the Holy Eucharist, his founding of the New Testament priesthood, and his commandment that we love one another. All three of these themes are reflected in Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance (or do this in memory) of me.

On the first Holy Thursday, the night before he died for us, Jesus gathered his disciples for a meal, the Last Supper. While at table, he “took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you.’” After that, he took a chalice and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Before being betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus hands himself over to his disciples. Before suffering his Passion, Jesus’ Body is broken and his Blood is poured. Before his death on the Cross, Jesus offers a sharing in his self-sacrifice. And Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me.

Ever since, this “Breaking of the Bread,” this consecrating of the Holy Eucharist, this celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass, has continued to our day. Read St. Justin Martyr’s Apology, an account from the 150’s A.D. describing how Christians worshipped together on Sundays. You will clearly recognize the elements and structure of the Mass. We have done this ‘in memory of him‘ from the era of the Acts of the Apostles to this very evening.

In commissioning his apostles to “do this in memory of me,” Jesus was ordaining them ministers of this new, Christian Sacrifice. He made them priests of the New Covenant, to lead, and teach, and sanctify his people. Without appointing clear shepherds for his Church on earth, Jesus knew his flock would inevitably scatter. Without priests, there would be no Eucharist to make us one in Christ. Please pray for your priests, please pray for more priests, and if Jesus may be calling you to ordination please do not ignore his call. The priesthood is that important for the salvation of souls.

Finally, in saying “do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus was not only telling his Church “do this sacrament until I come again.” And Jesus was not just telling his apostles “do this as my priests.” In saying “do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus was telling each of us to love like he does.

Did you know there are no words of consecration to be found in St. John’s Gospel? Jesus saying, ‘This is my body‘ and ‘This is my Blood‘ at the Last Supper is recounted by the other three gospel writers and by St. Paul in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians (as we heard tonight). So why does St. John leave this out? Perhaps, being the last gospel writer, he saw no need to repeat details others had already made well-known. Instead, John’s is the only gospel book which features the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.

This humble, beautiful act of Jesus helps reveal more fully the meaning of his Eucharist Sacrifice. He, the Master and Teacher, washes feet. He, our God and Creator, gives himself as food. He, the King and Holy One, dies on a cross. Jesus does these things for us because he loves us. He says, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do… Love one another as I have loved you… Do this… do this… in memory of me.

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