Synchronicity? Arriving at Carmel to-night for the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, I was pleased to see that the nuns have had Fr Greg McCormick, O.P., come to celebrate the Paschal Triduum for them. He is a careful celebrant of the liturgy, and a deep preacher, so it was a happy surprise.
Earlier to-day, my last day of work before the Easter break, I'd read the Day Hours; this evening, having the time, I turned back to read Holy Thursday Matins, which I finished off before and at Mass (one may as well pray howso is profitable during the Offertory and while waiting to take Communion - the nuns receive first, of course, and given where I'd chosen to kneel, I ended up being the very last); and while I drove to and from Carmel, I had playing a CD of to-day's Tenebræ Psalms, Lessons and Responsories by Charpentier, to set the proper mood.
Many words in the liturgy struck me, as did Fr's homily, and above all reception of the Blessed Sacrament. For Him I desire to lead a good life, for desire of the Sacrament... As our priest quoted St Augustine putting words on Our Lord's lips, Eat Me ye who desire Me, for you shall not convert Me into you, but you shall be changed into Me.
Fr Greg noted to begin with that Our Lord at the Last Supper was a dead Man - His betrayer was at hand (literally!), He was about to be delivered up and put to torment and death - and it is the usual case in human affairs that those who are about to die withdraw little by little, then more and more, from all their temporal concerns, taking leave of their friends, preparing for that final journey which we must all take, alone. But with Our Lord it was not so: it was rather his uncomprehending disciples who withdrew from Him, who abandoned Him in His agony.
Christ then washed His Apostles' feet: now, while this was indeed a gesture of service, it is not primarily that - consider that in His time, servants certainly washed feet (those enigmatic parts of the body, not generally sung of in romantic poetry so often concerned with other, more glamorous members of the human person! and yet, how worthy of hymning at a Carmel of discalced, that is unshod, nuns!), but more particularly, a wife would lave her husband's feet, not because she was downtrodden as his slave, but because in marriage they were one body: the apocryphal Jewish Tale of Joseph and Asenath has Asenath, wife of Joseph, make it plain that she and no other shall wash his feet, a gesture of intimacy profound, since "your hands are my hands, your feet my feet" (just so Ron and Nic, a husband and wife I know, have the significant nicknames for each other "Body of Nic" for Ron, and "Body of Ron" for Nic). Therefore, Our Lord's prophetic gesture, sacramental in the sense that it proclaimed what it effected and effected what it proclaimed, was most of all nuptial in meaning: washing His Apostles' feet, Christ was washing the feet of His Bride, the Church, that she might be unspotted and peerless, made by His Passion redeemed and regenerate to live unto life eternal.
Our Jesus is described as laying aside His garments, that he might bend down to wash feet soiled by the earth; this phrase "laying aside" (Fr continued) is written of in the original Greek with the same verb used by He Himself in His self-revelatory parable of the Good Shepherd, Who lays down His life for His sheep. (Truly, He laid aside His glory that He might offer Himself a pure Sacrifice, and so wash away the sins in which our feet have been mired by running evil paths against the guidance of our Shepherd.) Thus in this act His proximate utter self-sacrifice is revealed, unveiled, laid bare: to love is to serve sacrificially.
The pedilavium, then, is a proclamation of the mystery of the Eucharist, which is the Sacrament of our Christification, whereby we become one Body in the Lord. All this is for us the example we must live by, living as Christ lived and died: we must therefore live sacrificially and Eucharistically.
Just before Communion, while praying awaiting to go up to the altar rail (yes, the chapel still has them, Deo gratias), I read the last three lessons of Matins, which are taken from St Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians, xi, 17-34; while after making my Communion, I first prayed my usual aspirations - Ave in æternum, sanctissima caro Christi, mihi ante omnia et super omnia summa dulcedo! Ave in æternum, sanctissime sanguis Christi, mihi ante omnia et super omnia summa dulcedo! Corpus et sanguis Christi custodiant me in vitam æternam! Refecti Christi corpore et sanguine, te laudamus, Domine! Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto in sæcula sæculorum. Amen. - and then read Psalm 33, the favourite Communion Psalm of the early Church.
In both the Apostle and the Psalm, I found sober thoughts alongside consoling ones: St Paul says "For it is also needful that heresies be, that whoso also are proved, they may be made manifest in you" (I Cor. xi, 19) - how extraordinary, that here proximate to the very account of the Eucharist we have the warrant for all the dogmatic development in the Church, predicated upon the happy fault of heresies arising, that is, of opinions grown monstrous, in the face of the threat of which those who are Catholic are approved and made manifest as precisely those in continuity with the Apostolic Deposit of Faith. He goes on to point out not only that receiving the Eucharist unworthily is deadly dangerous, he openly tells the Corinthians that such alas is the case, and that therefore many have died and many are sick; similarly, the same Psalm that sings "Taste and see how sweet is the Lord" also fearfully proclaims Mors peccatorum pessima, "The death of sinners is the worst". Of set purpose the Scriptures parallel the blessings a due to the repentant-therefore-justified with the curses coming to the impenitent sinner.
Could it be that the sufferings and gangrenous state of the Church in our time are due to unworthy Communions?
I was struck, thinking back over my depressing sins - for I must take the beam out of my own eye ere ever I presume to sneer at my brother - by the history of Lazarus: "Lazarus, come forth!" the Lord commanded, and come forth from the putrid stench of the tomb of death he did. I prayed, "Lord, Thy friend is sick," and heard as it were His comment on appearing to delay in coming to help, heal and save: "This illness is for the glory of God"; that is, whatever of our wretched transgressions, Christ's redemption of us from them all gives great glory to God, vindicating His justice in the most extraordinary manner by not damning utterly, but converting and delivering sinners to become saints that may hymn in and through their own redeemed persons His glorious plan of salvation evermore.