Holy Thursday is one of my favorite days and nights in the church year. It always has been. It’s kind of celebration at the end of Lent. In the last eight years it’s become tradition for me to be at Mt. Irenaeus for supper with friends and then the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper in the chapel. Because of my schedule this week I didn’t think I was going to make it but it all worked out. I had to drive 150 miles round trip to meet with representatives of Dell Computer and then climb into my own car to drive the thirty or so miles to the Mountain.
I was running a bit late and at 6:10 pm I called Fr. Dan Riley, OFM and asked what time dinner was being served. He said they were just sitting down but not to worry that they’d save a plate for me. I arrived a few minutes before 7 pm. As I drove up Roberts Road toward Mt. Irenaeus and later walked from my car to the House of Peace I reflected on how my day had actually been quite hectic but that now I was home. Once inside I helped myself to some pork roast, mashed potatoes and corn. Fr. Lou offered to warm it in the microwave and I sat down amidst friends from near and far for dinner. I had a nice slice of berry pie and then I trudged up the hillside path through fresh snow to the chapel for Mass. Tears of happiness welled in my eyes as my week long wish to be here on this holy night had been realized. Before Mass I was asked to be part of the foot washing and I agreed.
Mass began and I found myself seated in the front row among a group of St. Bonaventure University coeds. Fr. Lou McCormick, OFM was the celebrant. He usually is on Holy Thursday. The liturgy was lovely, the homily and sharing were filled with insights and I shared some of mine too. The offertory and communion are always more meaningful on Holy Thursday as I imagine what it would have been like to be there that first night, in that upper room with Jesus himself. Holy Thursday is the birthday of the Eucharist. It’s a special celebration of the most mystical tradition in all of Christianity, the breaking of the bread.
Holy Thursday has always been a night joy and longing. As Mass ended and the benediction began I could smell the incense. As the procession made its way around the chapel and we sang the words of Pange Lingua.
Sing, my tongue, the Savior’s glory,
of His flesh the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our immortal King,
destined, for the world’s redemption,
from a noble womb to spring.
Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wondrously His life of woe.
On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He the Pascal victim eating,
first fulfills the Law’s command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own hand.
Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His word to Flesh He turns;
wine into His Blood He changes;
what though sense no change discerns?
Only be the heart in earnest,
faith her lesson quickly learns.
Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
Lo! o’er ancient forms departing,
newer rites of grace prevail;
faith for all defects supplying,
where the feeble senses fail.
To the everlasting Father,
and the Son who reigns on high,
with the Holy Ghost proceeding
forth from Each eternally,
be salvation, honor, blessing,
might and endless majesty.
As I sang the words “Tantum Ergo Sacramentum” my mind wandered back to those days when I was an altar boy in the procession with Fr. Pollard and later Fr. Connelly. I love this mystical night whose special character is equaled only by Midnight Mass and the Easter Vigil. I sat on the floor of Holy Peace Chapel last night somewhat cross-legged in the near silence in the presence of the Eucharist. The soft light and the ciborium on a pad near the front of the altar. I may never get to Gethsemani, but this night I am there in spirit. This holy night I am seated with the Master. He is present in the silence of this chapel in the woods.