Tomorrow is Holy Thursday, with the Holy Mass that is called “the Lord’s Supper,” which begins the Easter Triduum of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, culmination of the whole Liturgical Year.
The Triduum opens with the commemoration of the Last Supper. On the eve of his Passion, Jesus offered the Father his Body and his Blood under the species of bread and wine and, giving it as nutriment to the Apostles, he commanded them to perpetuate the offer in his memory. Recalling the washing of the feet, the Gospel of this celebration expresses the same meaning of the Eucharist under another perspective. Jesus – as a servant – washes the feet of Simon Peter and the other eleven disciples (Cf. John 13:4-5). With this prophetic gesture, He expresses the meaning of his life and of his Passion, as service to God and to brothers: “For the Son of man has come not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45).
This happened also in our Baptism, when the grace of God washed us from sin and we were clothed in Christ (Cf. Colossians 3:10). This happens every time we do the memorial of the Lord in the Eucharist: we enter into communion with Christ the Servant to obey his commandment, to love one another as He has loved us (Cf. John 13:34; 15:12). If we approach Holy Communion without being sincerely disposed to wash one another’s feet, we do not recognize the Body of the Lord. It is Jesus’ service, giving himself totally.
Then, day after tomorrow, in the liturgy of Good Friday we meditate on the mystery of the Death of Christ and we adore the Cross. In the last moments of his life, before rendering his spirit to the Father, Jesus said: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). What does this word mean that Jesus says “It is finished”? It means that the work of salvation is finished, that all the Scriptures find their fulfilment in the love of Christ, immolated Lamb. With his sacrifice, Jesus transformed the greatest iniquity into the greatest love.
There have been men and women in the course of the centuries, who with the testimony of their life reflect a ray of this perfect, full, uncontaminated love. I like to remember a heroic witness of our days, Don Andrea Santoro, priest of the diocese of Rome and missionary in Turkey. A few days before being killed at Trabzon, he wrote: “I am here to dwell amid these people and enable Jesus to do so by lending him my flesh … One becomes capable of salvation only by offering one’s flesh. The evil of the world is borne and the pain is shared, absorbing it in one’s flesh to the end, as Jesus did” (A. Polselli, Don Andrea Santoro, The legacy, Citta Nuova, Rome, 2008, p. 31)
This example of a man of our times, and so many others, sustain us in offering our life as gift of love to brothers, in imitation of Jesus. And there are also today so many men and women, true martyrs, who offer their life with Jesus to confess the faith; for that sole reason. It is a service: service of Christian witness to the point of blood. The service that Christ did for us, has redeemed us to the end. And this is the meaning of that word “It is finished.” How good it will be that at the end of our life, all of us, with our mistakes, our sins, also with our good works, with out love of neighbor, can say to the Father like Jesus ”It is finished!” However, not with the perfection that he said it, but to say: ‘But Lord, I did all that I could. It is finished’ Adoring the cross, looking at Jesus, we think of love, in service, in our life, in the Christian martyrs and also … None of us knows when this will happen. However, we can ask for the grace to be able to say ‘But Father, I did what I could. It is finished!’
Holy Saturday is the day in which the Church contemplates Christ’s rest in the tomb after the victorious combat of the cross. On Holy Saturday the Church identifies herself, once again, with Mary: all her faith is gathered in Her, the first and perfect disciple, the first and perfect believer. In the darkness that enveloped Creation, She remains alone holding the flame of faith lighted, hoping against all hope (Cf. Romans 4:18).
And in the great Easter Vigil, in the late evening, in which the Alleluia resounds again, we celebrate the Risen Christ, center and end of the cosmos and of history; we watch full of hope while awaiting his return, when Easter will have its full manifestation.
Sometimes the darkness of night seems to penetrate the soul; sometimes we think: “now there is nothing to be done,” and the heart no longer finds the strength to love … However, precisely in that darkness Christ lights the fire of the love of God: a flash breaks the darkness and announces a new beginning. Something begins in the most profound darkness!
We know that the night is darkest before the day begins. However, precisely in the darkness, it is Christ that conquers and lights the fire of love. The stone of sorrow is overturned leaving space for hope. See the great mystery of Easter! On this holy night the Church gives us the light of the Risen One, so that in us there is not the lament of the one who says “now …”, but the hope of one who opens himself to a present full of [promise for] future: Christ has conquered death, and we with Him. Our life does not end before the stone of the sepulcher! Our life goes beyond with the hope of Christ who has risen! – in fact, from that sepulcher. We are called as Christians to be watchmen of the morning, who are able to perceive the signs of the Risen One, as the women and the disciples did who went to the sepulcher at dawn on the first day of the week.
Dear brothers and sisters, in these days of the Holy Triduum, let us not limit ourselves to commemorating the Lord’s Passion, but let us enter in the mystery, let us make his sentiments are own, his attitudes, as the Apostle Paul invites us to do: ”Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Then ours will be a “good Easter.”
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Dear Brothers and Sisters: Tomorrow we will begin our celebration of the Sacred Triduum, as we commemorate Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. We begin the Triduum by celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, as we recall Christ’s offering of his body and blood to the Father, which he gave to the Apostles as food for their nourishment, with the command that they perpetually celebrate these mysteries in his memory. We recall also the Lord washing the Apostles’ feet, through which he showed that the purpose of his life and passion is to serve God and neighbour, a service which we are called to imitate by loving one another as he loved us. On Good Friday, we will meditate on the mystery of Christ’s death and we will adore the Cross. By his sacrifice, sin has been overcome through love, an immense love which we are called to live and transmit. On Holy Saturday, we will contemplate Jesus’ lying in the tomb, and with Mary, the Church will keep alive the flame of faith, hoping against every hope in Christ’s resurrection. Then, at the Easter Vigil, when the Alleluia resounds again, we will celebrate the Risen Christ, the centre and fulfilment of the universe and history. In these days, may we not only observe the Lord’s Passion, but truly enter into its mystery, making our own the sentiments of Christ. In this way, our Easter will indeed be blessed.
Pope Francis (in Italian):
I offer an affectionate greeting to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those fromEngland,Denmark,Indonesia,Japan, Hong Kong and theUnited States. May the Risen Lord confirm you in faith and make you witnesses of his love and resurrection. May God bless you!
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I give a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking faithful. I am happy to receive the university students gathered in Rome for the UNIV international meeting and the students of the Saint Vincent de Paul Institute of Reggio Emilia, who are marking 150 years of activity: I exhort you to grow in friendship with the Lord, because “what is useful is not a comfortable life but an enamoured heart.” I greet the participants in the Montfort International March of Verona; the members of the Union of Italian Criminal Chambers and parish groups, in particular the delegation of Pescia. I hope that for all the Easter Triduum, center of the faith and of the life of the Church, is an occasion to enter fully in the mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
A special thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Tomorrow is the 10thanniversary of the death of Saint John Paul II: may his example and witness be always alive among you. Dear young people, learn to face life with his ardor and his enthusiasm; dear sick, carry the cross of suffering with joy as He taught us; and you, dear newlyweds, put God always at the center, so that your conjugal history has more love and more happiness.