“Our celebration begins with this Mass of the Lord’s Supper in which Jesus bestows on his church the gifts of the Eucharist and the priesthood,” Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne said as he began the most sacred celebration of the church’s year.
He was speaking to the congregation of Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral at the start of the Triduum on April 18. The liturgy is a three-part celebration, which includes, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.
Archbishop Etienne noted that both the Eucharist and the priesthood were instituted through Christ’s actions at the Last Supper.
“The Eucharist is the perpetual celebration of the paschal mystery, of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus,” he said. “Through the Eucharist, Jesus shares his divine life with us, offering the grace and possibility that we be transformed more fully into him, into another Christ, that we are equipped for his work of proclaiming the Gospel of salvation to the world, through our words and actions.”
“As I was praying with these readings in my chapel one morning, I had an image of God calling to Moses from the burning bush, and I was immediately led to connect this account to the moment the priest stands at the altar at every Mass,” Archbishop Etienne continued. “The letter to the Hebrews says, ‘Our God is a consuming fire.’ The Eucharist becomes this burning fire in the midst of the church, approached and consumed by believers, yet never fully depleted in and of itself.”
He said the “consuming fire that is God in the Eucharist” accompanies the faithful just as the cloud and the column of fire accompanied the Israelites through their time in the desert.
The metaphor of God as a consuming fire continued to the analogy of the priesthood.
“The priest is not only called by Christ to serve God’s people; he is also to allow himself to enter the burning fire of God’s love in the heart of Jesus,” Archbishop Etienne affirmed. “The priest is like Daniel, who was cast into the fiery flames of the furnace. Placing his trust in God, the flames do not harm him, but rather, become the atmosphere of walking and conversing with God. In this furnace of God’s love, the priest is forged into another Christ, sent to serve God’s people. Within this consuming fire of God, every priest is called to allow this love to burn away all selfishness, pride, envy, fear, doubt, unhealthy attachments — in short, all that is not of God.”
Four priests and one deacon joined Archbishop Etienne at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
“Much like Moses and Christ himself, the priest is one who finds his identity in relation to God,” Archbishop Etienne said. “He is courageous and puts his confidence in the promises of God.”
The metaphor of God as consuming fire is complemented by Jesus’ action in washing the feet of his disciples, the archbishop explained.
“Jesus the high priest reveals much about the nature of the priesthood in his gesture at the Last Supper by washing the feet of his disciples,” he said. “Someone recently wrote me about this important symbol of the humility of Jesus, saying that this moment when Jesus washes the feet of the disciples does not get enough attention in the church today. He said that this act of Jesus should have also been made a sacrament. Well, it was, and it’s called the priesthood. If people do not see that, then clearly we as priests have much to learn and implement in the ways of humility and service.”
Still, the archbishop said, Jesus’ institution of the priesthood does not limit Christ’s call to ordained ministers only.
“I think this person, who so appreciates this moment of the Last Supper, desired it to be a sacrament for all in the church, not to just receive, but to practice,” Archbishop Etienne said. “This, I’m sure, was on the heart and mind of Jesus, who after this humble act of service, said, ‘Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me teacher and master, and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow so that as I have done for you, you also should do.’”
Immediately after the homily, 12 parishioners were invited forward. The archbishop knelt to wash the feet of each person, standing in the person of Christ in his vocation. Throughout the Mass, readings and music alike were provided in both English and Spanish.