There’s just one Mass celebrated at our parish today, and that’s a rarity: Even on weekdays, we’ve long been blessed to have our choice of times for the faithful to gather at the Lord’s table — 6:30 or 8:30 AM.
But not today, Holy Thursday: There’s just one liturgy scheduled — the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. And as I’ve written before, it is to my mind one of the most beautiful liturgies of the year.
I love Holy Thursday for all the wonderful memories it stirs up in me — of the many, many priests who have blessed my life through the decades; of the family and friends with whom I’ve broken bread; of the joy I’ve experienced walking alongside catechumens and candidates as they prepare for their full initiation into the Christian community.
Pleasant memories, all.
So it was a bit startling to be reminded today that the bread we share at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is unleavened for a reason. That light bulb went on over my head, when I read this passage from the Hebrew scriptures during my morning prayer:
‘For seven days you shall eat it with only unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, so that you may remember as long as you live the day you left the land of Egypt; for in hurried flight you left the land of Egypt.’ Deuteronomy 16:3
The bread of affliction: It’s flatbread, because the Israelites didn’t have time to let it rise if they were to stay ahead of their pursuers.
Recent events in the Middle East seemed to give those words the power to pierce my heart on this Holy Thursday. No doubt, there have always been Christians (and indeed, the faithful of many different religious traditions) who suffer for their beliefs. But the specter of ordinary folks being beheaded at the hands of ISIS terrorists simply because they’re Christians — well, that just grieves my spirit. My heart breaks for the families and friends of the 21 Coptics who will mark this Triduum without the companionship of their husbands, fathers, brothers, friends.
As I break bread — the bread of affliction — with my parish family this evening, I will be remembering in a special way these other, more distant members of the Body of Christ. I will be remembering, too, all who suffer as a result of tyranny or political oppression. But the hardest part — lest the bread of affliction become the bread of conviction — may be for me to find the grace to pray for their persecutors, as well.
We are all children of God, after all — even the ones among us whose hearts have become stony and fearsome with hate.
May the Lord — the One who is with us still, in and through this sacred food — console us in our grief…nourish us in times of affliction…and redeem us in our sinfulness. Amen.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.