Homily for Holy Thursday at St Mary of the Angels

This Mass of the Lord’s Supper could not be a better day for the first Mass to be celebrated in this newly strengthened Church.  These next three days are days of great solemnity, in which we celebrate the greatest mysteries of our Redemption, special celebrations in which we remember that Jesus and his friends were also holding a celebration at that time, the Passover. They were thinking back to Israel being set free by God.

The place where Jesus celebrated the Passover – or where it is remembered – is a sacred place in the city of Jerusalem. This Church of St Mary of the Angels is a sacred place. Here, we remember Jesus crucified, buried and risen.

Over the next three days there are three verbs, one of which applies to each day.

Tonight, Holy Thursday is REMEMBER.

Tomorrow, Good Friday is STAY.

Saturday evening and Sunday, the verb is REJOICE.

Many years ago I copied a paragraph into an exercise book. In preparing for this Mass I remembered it and luckily enough found it. It was written by a priest psychologist in the United States named Eugene Kennedy. He wrote:

“Human beings are sacred place makers, not to escape life but to memorialize it. We do this in our churches, at battlefields and in burned out towns. This, in the long run, is the great sign of our encounter with the sacred. We make sacred those places and symbols which say that here, in this place, we have known life in a fashion that is worth remembering, that we have been ourselves here, have learned to love others, and have found the Spirit at the same time.”

Human beings build sacred places to REMEMBER.

One hundred years ago various battles took place in France and Belgium during the First World War…in these four years people are assembling to remember what happened there one hundred years ago. In a couple of weeks thousands of people will gather at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli – to REMEMBER.

This Church of St Mary of the Angels – the third on this site – was built so that we could remember. At the very heart of this Holy Thursday Liturgy is the act of REMEMBERING, of bringing to mind the Last Supper – praying with the words of Jesus “DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME,” and imitating His example of foot washing service, REMEMBERING that he told us “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.”

We need our memorials, we need our Holy Places, we need our Churches, we need this Church, not as the quote says “to escape life”, but rather “to memorialize it.” In this case, here this evening, and over these days we need them to bring to mind what is at “the heart of the mystery of our salvation,” the life-giving Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

The verb for today is REMEMBER. Tonight, and every day in this Church we remember, and make present again Jesus giving his Body and Blood as food and drink, giving his Body on the Cross, and his blood poured out.

That quote I wrote out all those years ago said “here, in this place, we have known life in a fashion that is worth remembering, that we have been ourselves here, have learned to love others, and have found the Spirit at the same time.” That is what happens here. This Church is a place of great beauty, now strengthened and made safe, freshly painted and decorated:

  • This work was all done so that we who come to sacred liturgies here, and those who wander in off the street looking for a moment or two of peace and quiet – so that all who enter here may find the Spirit.
  • It was done so that through what happens here we may know life in a fashion that is worth remembering. That happens by hearing God’s Word, by participating in the Eucharistic Mystery – “The Mystery of Faith.”

It was done so that we could come here and be ourselves, learn to be comfortable with who we are in the presence of God. Sometimes we come here so that we will learn to love again.

Finances were raised and this work done so that we could come here to be together. It is in our Churches that people of faith learn to support one another, journey with one another and be reminded that our faith journey is not made alone. At times it may be lonely, but that is why we come and learn to be the Body of Christ for one another and for others.

The first Church was built on this site in 1843, known as “The Chapel of the Nativity of Our Lord” or “Fr O’Reilly’s Chapel.” That was replaced in 1874 with the first St Mary of the Angels Church, and when that was destroyed by fire in 1918 this magnificent Church was built and formally opened in March 1922.

The three churches on this site have all been for the same purpose.  People before us, as far back as 174 years ago, were sacred place makers. They did not want to escape life but to memorialize it. They did this on this site so that this Church would be a great sign of our encounter with the sacred.

They made this sacred place and used all our well known Catholic symbols so that today we can say that, here in this place, the Church of St Mary of the Angels, we have known life in a fashion that is worth remembering, we have been ourselves here, have learned to love others, and at the same time we have found the Spirit.