The Communion of the Apostles (La communion des apôtres) by French artist James Jacques Tissot. Tissot painted more than 300 paintings from the New Testament, a third of which are owned by the Brooklyn Museum, New York.
The Communion of the Apostles (La communion des apôtres) by French artist James Jacques Tissot. Tissot painted more than 300 paintings from the New Testament, a third of which are owned by the Brooklyn Museum, New York.

Editor’s Note: Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., will celebrate Mass on Holy Thursday, April 9, at 7 p.m. in St. Rose Church, Belmar. The Mass, which will be livestreamed without a congregation, can be viewed at TrentonMonitor.com, the Diocese’s YouTube channel and all other diocesan media outlets.

Following is Bishop O'Connell's homily for Holy Thursday:

The Thursday before Easter is called “Holy.” Some Christian communities use the expression “Maundy” as their reference, a term less familiar to Catholics – coming from French and Latin roots – meaning “commanded.”  It is a reference to the command of the Lord Jesus on that first Holy Thursday to wash the feet of his disciples: “As I have done for you, you should also do (John 13: 15).”  We hear that command in tonight’s Gospel of St. John.

Holy Week is a time in the Church year that is rich with Scripture and tradition, so rich that we who follow the Lord Jesus remember and commemorate it each year.  Holy Thursday is no exception.

Our readings tonight trace the history of our salvation from the Old Testament Book of Exodus and Psalm 116 through the writings of St. Paul to the Church at Corinth in the New Testament and conclude with St. John’s Gospel, written toward the end of the first Christian century. 

In Exodus, God instructs Moses and Aaron to establish the Jewish feast of Passover, the holy annual remembrance in a symbolic meal of the spilling of the blood of the Egyptians so that the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, could be set free from slavery to them. 

St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians renews that Passover celebration – but places it in the context of the Lord Jesus’ “Last Supper” – while St. John’s Gospel presents Jesus, at Passover, making the day forever sacred by his example of service, by instituting the priesthood, by giving us his own Body and Blood in the first Eucharist.

For more than 2,000 years, Catholics and Christians everywhere focus their attention on “Holy Thursday,” remembering the dramatic events that make this day in this week “Holy.”

There was a gathering, a Passover meal and celebration complete with prayers and hymns.  There was a sharing of bread and wine, the anticipation of the end of one life and the beginning of a life that would never end.  And there was an example given from a “teacher” that was instructive and unambiguous and forever: “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

My sisters and brothers, this night is Holy, not because of the things we do each year but, rather, because of the things He did – the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is He who gathers us.  It is He who gives us food and drink.  It is He who drops to his knees to wash the feet of his disciples.  He, the Lord Jesus Christ, makes this night Holy.  And what we do, we do in His memory.  

Calling to mind the whole of salvation history.  Celebrating the Eucharist.  Committing ourselves to the command to serve one another.  These actions blend together in memory of Jesus Christ, and not only do they represent who and what He was in memorial and ceremonial actions, they become and are and remain for us in the Church who and what He is. 

Tonight is the unambiguous and non-negotiable core of our Catholic faith, intrinsically and integrally sown together as the one fabric of our Christian lives: one divine cloth that can never be torn or ripped apart because this is what the Church is and why the Church was established and what the Church does.

In that Cenacle – in that Upper Room the night before Jesus died for us, that “Last Supper,” that Holy Thursday – the Lord Jesus Christ clearly showed us the source of our faith, the reason for our faith, the practice of our faith, the goal of our faith and the reward of our faith.  And that is why tonight is “Holy.” 

This night and everything about it, everything that we celebrate and remember, is Him and from Him and about Him.  The Passover from death to life in salvation history is the background for what we believe.  The offering of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist and His continuing Real Presence is the heart of what we believe.  Humble and loving service of our sisters and brothers is how we confirm and show and authenticate what we believe for, as the old song goes, “they will know we are Christians by our love.” 

My sisters and brothers, “greater love than this no one has than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  That is what He did and continues to do this week.  That is what makes it “Holy.” 

The circumstances of our Holy Thursday commemoration and celebration this year are unlike any other that we have experienced in our lifetime.  The “circumstances,” however, do not change the realities that make this night “Holy.”  That is why, even at a distance, we obey His command to “do this in remembrance of me,” and we spiritually receive Him … until He comes again.