Bishop O’Connell preaches the homily during the Holy Thursday Mass. Hal Brown photo
Bishop O’Connell preaches the homily during the Holy Thursday Mass. Hal Brown photo

On one of the holiest nights of the year, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., looked meaningfully about the faithful and emphasized just how much the Lord has the capacity to love.

“He knew that his hour had come. Can you imagine what must have been in his mind and in his heart that first Holy Thursday?” the Bishop asked during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper he celebrated April 1 in St. David the King Church, Princeton Junction.

“The night before he died for us … 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,” Bishop O’Connell said, recalling the Last Supper between Jesus and his apostles in the Upper Room.

“That is why tonight is holy. This night and everything about it … is him and from him and about him. The offering of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist and his continuing Real Presence is the heart of what we believe,”  the Bishop preached.

Photo Gallery: St. David the King Church

Photo Gallery: St. Joseph, Millstone

The Mass – which was livestreamed on all diocesan media platforms – marked the beginning of the Paschal Triduum, the three days that recount the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

The evening also marked the return of the faithful to in-person Masses for Holy Week and Easter. Last year, laity observed the holy season from home via video streams due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The joy of attending Mass in person was felt by the faithful around the Diocese of Trenton. In St. Joseph Parish, Millstone, for example, parishioner Kevin McKenna, said, “Last year was very difficult. Nothing is quite like being able to be in church.

“To receive the Eucharist and be able to see and wave to fellow parishioners is a blessing. The parish is a community, and I think people missed that [camaraderie],” said McKenna, who served as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at the evening’s Mass.

Deacon Christopher Chandonnet agreed. “It feels amazing to be back in church and be around our parishioners again. That is who I gain strength from because we are a people who worship in community … who strengthen and sustain one another.”

Father Mike Lang, parish pastor, reflected on the evening’s Gospel Reading from John 13:1-15 and how Jesus served the apostles with the washing of the feet.

“Holy Thursday is that reminder to serve one another, and if we continue to be people who try our best to serve – to take care of one another’s needs as we did when the pandemic first started … well, there was nothing that people were unwilling to do for one another. I hope that spirit remains because that is the true spirit of Holy Thursday,” he said.

Though the Holy Thursday tradition of the washing of the feet was suspended this year because of pandemic concerns, Father Lang stressed, “That doesn’t lessen our responsibility in any way to be people who are going to be committed to serving one another.”

Indeed, in his homily, Bishop O’Connell stressed how the custom of washing feet was a gesture of hospitality and respect in Jesus’ time.

“In tonight's Gospel, the gesture of foot washing has special significance,” the Bishop said. “As with so many other practices, Jesus used what was common to create a holy moment, a teaching moment … intended to make the point that we owe each other great respect and care.

“The symbolism of respect for another person by humbling oneself … and the sharing of one's life by giving one's life totally to another – which is what the Eucharist is, Jesus’ gift of his own Body and Blood – is the essence of what we celebrate together on this Holy Thursday evening.”

Similarly, he continued, “humble and loving service of our sisters and brothers is how we confirm and show and authenticate what we believe. My sisters and brothers, ‘Greater love than this no one has than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13). That is what he did this week. … ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ … until he comes again.”

During the Mass, Bishop O’Connell also offered prayers for those in law enforcement as well as an end to the recent violence across the nation including that against Asian-Americans.

In addition, he expressed gratitude to Father Timothy J. Capewell, parish pastor, who concelebrated the Mass. St. David the King, Bishop O’Connell explained, was the first parish in the Diocese in which he celebrated Holy Thursday after being ordained a bishop.

Video interviews from freelance photographer/videographer Mike Ehrmann contributed to this report.