Sermons

Summary: New insights into the meaning of the Scriptures must always conform to the full faith of the Church, preached always and everywhere by everyone.

Monday of Holy Week 2012

Verbum Domini

As we begin the most sacred week of our Church’s year of grace, we can again give thanks for the happy coincidence of today’s Word of God with the themes of the Holy Father’s exhortation, The Word of the Lord. Today the prophet Isaiah speaks for God to Jesus: “I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” (Is 42:6-7) Note that the prophecy is of one who would himself be “a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.” This is not just poetic license. Only in Jesus do we find one who fulfilled this prophecy. By His gift of Himself on the cross, and sacramentally in this Eucharistic communion, He became the covenant between God and man. We renew that covenant as His Church, His body, explicitly every day at Mass.

The Jewish leaders saw Jesus fulfilling all the OT prophecies, especially that of Ezekiel when Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb, Lazarus who had been dead four days and already reeked of corruption. They knew that if they left that alone through Passover, thousands would believe in Jesus as Messiah, there would be a revolt–whether Jesus wanted it or not--and the Romans would come down hard on them and deprive them of their power, even of life itself. So they plotted to murder Jesus and Lazarus. Moreover, they planned to have the Romans do the deed and thus label Jesus as a criminal. That, they reasoned, would rid them of this Jesus nonsense forever. Of course, God had other plans, as we will see next Sunday.

The third fundamental criterion for interpreting the Bible is “show respect for the analogy of faith.” What that means is that any novel interpretation of Scripture must align itself with the whole body of teaching of the Church. It cannot contradict what the Church has taught always and in every place. In some way it has to merely broaden our understanding of what the Church teaches.

Let’s give an example pertinent to this special week–Scott Hahn’s interpretation of the Last Supper. Most scholars believe that it was a Passover meal. During the meal, four cups of wine are shared. But Jesus institutes the Eucharist at the third cup, then sings psalms, and, instead of sharing the cup of blessing, says “I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” He then goes out to the garden and begins His ultimate sacrifice in prayer. In His prayer He asks the Father to take the cup away, if possible. The cup is the cup of obedience, the cup of sorrow, pain, death. The Father does not take it away. Jesus accepts it. During His passion, He refuses all offer of drink–even the narcotic drugged wine given to the crucified prisoners–until He is about to die. He takes the sour wine, says “It is finished,” and gives over His Spirit to the Church.

According to Hahn, the fourth cup is the cup we take each time we come to communion. It is the blessing cup which links this unbloody sacrifice with the bloody sacrifice of the Son of God on Calvary. The sacrifice begins in the upper room with the institution of the Eucharist, and is climaxed on Calvary with the sending forth of the Spirit with Jesus’s last breath. It is then continued in the Church, the Bride, each time we celebrate the Eucharist. Hahn’s insight is new, but it isn’t a novelty. It simply expounds what the Church has believed all along.

So the Last Supper was a Passover celebration, but it was the celebration of the new Passover. Jesus became the Passover lamb, the firstborn Son of God given for our salvation. What we celebrate, not just this week but at every Mass, is the true Passover, the one that really forgives sins. It looks forward and upward to the Great Passover celebrated in eternity in heaven, and brings us into sacramental contact with that celebration.

I pray that all of us celebrate this Holy Week with the Word of God, who is the Son of God. A very special way to keep the feast is to begin each day, Thursday through Saturday, praying the Divine Office, Tenebrae, in our Eucharistic chapel. Many people have told me that this service, which is chock-full of the Word, is a perfect beginning to each day, an ideal counterpoint to the solemn services of the week. Please join us each of those three days at 8 a.m.

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