Dawn leaves work early, and I leave just after five, so that we can get to St. Matt’s and get a seat. I’m just into the pew and kneeling down when Dawn arrives. It’s not even quarter after, fifteen minutes before starting, and there’s still some room left. We’re in a pew generally meant to hold four people, but by Mass’s start we’ve got five squeezed in. Lots of other pews filled up like ours too. The choir sings Nos autem gloriari oportet, the Proper Introit, by Palestrina. “Let our glory be in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The booklet says it’ll be Cardinal McCarrick, and in fact it is this time. The processional hymn is At That First Eucharist. The booklet has the words, but I look it up in the Worship hymnal for the music as well. I can use what I learned about reading music, when I played the clarinet in grade school. I can at least tell quarter notes from half and full notes, know how long to hold a note, and whether the next one is higher or lower. About all I can do. I don’t really feel like I’m in especially good voice tonight, though. Some days I feel like, although I can’t sing, I can pretend like I can sing. I can imitate singing. Is partly why we sit so near to the choir.
The Gloria is of recent vintage, apparently by one Peter Jones. I think it’s a mess.
The first reading is from Exodus, God establishing the Passover with Aaron and Moses. My dashing young protege at work and I were talking about the Last Supper, about how it was a Passover meal. She said that the highlights were the bread and the wine, but I disagreed. Yes, that’s what we do now, those are our highlights. But at a proper Passover seder, it’s the lamb and the bitter herbs along with the bread and the wine and prayers and remembrance. Christianity takes a whole lot from it, most especially for us Catholics its establishment of the Eucharist. Christ declaring the bread his body and the wine his blood and giving it to his disciples, to us. But I like to think that it was also a proper seder, a proper order, as well. We learn from all of it.
The psalm of the responsorial psalm is Psalm 116, but the response itself is from First Corinthians, Chapter 10. I wonder how many times we do that, mix them up like that. And then the epistle is from First Corinthians, Chapter 11. I think of it as a pretty straightforward recitation of the Last Supper from any one of the Gospels. But I’m reading it again from the New American Bible on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, and a footnote innocently notes that it is the “earliest written account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament.” And it’s like a light bulb going on for me, something that’s so obvious that it’s too obvious. It’s like, so, duh.
St. Paul’s letters were all written before any of the Gospels. He died in 67 A.D. or so, and St. Mark’s Gospel is dated around 70 A.D. So of course all of his letters pre-date the Gospels. But I never really thought about it before. Like I said, I took tonight’s epistle reading as a simple recitation of the Last Supper from the Gospels, but it’s so much more profoundly important than just that. And now I want to read a whole lot more about Paul. I’ve read Bokenkotter’s Concise History of the Catholic Church, and I swear I remember reading Hans Kung as well, although now I’m not so sure, but anyway, I should really know the timeline and understand Paul like way better than I do. So back to the books for me.
The Gospel is from St. John, where Christ washes the feet of the disciples. And His Eminence washes the feet of twelve parishoners as well. I recognize Kirse as one of the washees, and I feel for her. I was one of the washees in 2003. It was totally nerve-wracking, to have the Cardinal wash my foot. I mean, I certainly recognize the humbleness of him doing it. I appreciate that. But being up in front of the packed cathedral, with this poor old man bending down and pouring water over your foot and having to hand him a towel. Ack. Totally frightening. After Mass I ask Kirse how it was, and she says she wanted to pass out.
And in St. John, Christ not only washes their feet, but stops and takes time to let them, to let us, know how important this all is. “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me,'” he tells Peter. “Do you realize what I have done for you?” he asks.
In so many places in the Gospels Christ speaks in parables, telling us the Kingdom of Heaven is like this or that. No parables here. No similies. Just action and straight talk. ” I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
He slows down, speaks to us patiently, so that we really get it. No fooling around. Tonight he just flat out tell it to us. The bread is his body. The wine is his blood. Do this in remembrance.
You should also do, he says.
And then, while I try to sing the impossible Pange lingua gloriosi, the Blessed Sacrament is carried out of the Sanctuary, entombed in the St. Anthony Chapel until the Easter Vigil Mass. Dawn asks that we wait for a while. The we stay and witness this. This is her favorite part, when they strip the altar bare and turn out the lights.