Today is Holy Thursday -- the commemoration of our Lord's Last Supper with His Apostles, the institution of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, the first Mass, and the institution of the priesthood.
Today and tomorrow, Holy Thursday and Good Friday, are unique in Catholic worship. In order to illustrate the connection between -- perhaps I should say "the identity" of the Mass and the Sacrifice of the Cross, tonight's Mass is left, in a sense, "incomplete." Tonight, a second large host, consecrated at Mass, will be retained at our altar of repose, to be consumed by the priest (alone) on Good Friday. We see something similar in the Gospel readings: Every other time we have read the Passion Gospels this week (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), they have included both the narrative of the Last Supper and that of the Crucifixion. Tonight in the Epistle and Gospel we will hear about the Last Supper, but only in tomorrow's liturgy will we read Saint John's account of the Crucifixion. In this way, the Church helps us to understand that whenever Mass is celebrated -- whenever bread and wine are consecrated and we receive the body and blood of Christ -- we renew the our Lord's Sacrifice on the Cross
There is no coincidence in the fact that our Lord multiplied loaves of bread to feed five thousand just briefly before promising to give His followers His flesh to eat and His blood to drink -- you can read about it in Saint John's 6th chapter. Had He not done something like this, it would have been much more difficult for His followers -- us included -- to understand the ability that He gave to His Apostles on this very night. The Divine plan was for our Lord to spend thirty-odd years on this earth, leaving the governance of His Church in the hands of His Apostles and their successors. But without some special arrangement, only a very few of His followers would be able to witness the Sacrifice that He offered on the Cross -- the sacrifice that would replace the animal sacrifices of the Jewish Law -- the Sacrifice that would redeem all mankind, and offer forgiveness and salvation to all those who believed in Jesus Christ. But our Lord did make just such a special arrangement, by sharing His priesthood with the Apostles, allowing them and their successors to make Calvary present for untold generations of future Christians. Through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, our Lord renews His Holy Sacrifice, allowing us to be present, even though we may be thousands of miles and thousands of years removed.
I said that today we commemorated the institution of the priesthood. It might be more accurate to say that on this day our Lord "shared" His priesthood with His Apostles. You will recall that two Sundays ago we read that Gospel in which our Lord speaks of His eternity: "Before Abraham was, I AM."1 It is this very eternity that makes the Mass possible. Remember that we mortal creatures are limited by space and time, but God is not. There is only so far that we can travel, and our years are numbered -- at least in this life, we can neither look into the future, nor turn back to renew the events and the acquaintances of years ago, except, perhaps, through the dark glass of memory. But our Divine Lord suffers no such limitation: past, present, and future, near and far, are all present to God in the eternal here and now. The priesthood of the Apostles began on a specific date, just as each priest can recall the day of his ordination -- but the priesthood of Christ had no beginning in created time. Look at that messianic Psalm: "The Lord said to my Lord..." King David says of the Christ, "before the daystar I have begotten Thee.... Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech."2 Melchisedech, of course is the mysterious priest and king who offers a sacrifice of bread and wine for Abraham, back in the book of Genesis -- a foreshadowing, if you will, of the Sacrifice of the Mass. But where as Melchisedech became a priest in created time, like all mortal priests, our Lord Jesus Christ was a priest before the beginning of time, "before the daystar" was created , to use the poetic phrase of King David.
And, of course, our Lord's priesthood is eternal, we might say, "in the other direction" as well, for He will always be the intercessor between God and man, as will human priests be in a similar manner but lesser degree -- "Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech."
So tonight, all over the earth, wherever Mass is celebrated -- indeed, whenever, and wherever Mass is celebrated throughout the year -- we are privileged to see beyond the limitations of space and time; beyond the limitations of our proper human nature. And, perhaps it will make our attendance at Mass more fruitful in the future if we consider this carefully: That to attend Mass, and particularly to receive Holy Communion, is in some way to rise above our earthly limitations. For when we do so, with all of holy souls who have gone before us, and with all who will come after us, we stand at the foot of the Cross -- with the overwhelming and uncountable number of God's holy ones we stand at the threshold of eternity -- and, together with our priest, and all who have ever shared the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and with His blessed Virgin Mother, we offer to God the infinitely pleasing Sacrifice of our salvation.