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Cardinal Re at Vatican Mass: ‘Holy Thursday reminds us how much we have been loved’

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re presides at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in St. Peter’s Basilica, April 1, 2021 Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re presides at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in St. Peter’s Basilica, April 1, 2021./ Credit: Vatican Media.

Holy Thursday evening reminds us how much God loves us, a Vatican cardinal said at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Preaching at the Mass on April 1, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re noted that the Holy Thursday liturgy recalls the night when Jesus instituted the Eucharist and priesthood, giving his disciples a new commandment to love one another.

“Holy Thursday evening, therefore, reminds us how much we have been loved,” Re said in his homily at the Mass, celebrated at the Altar of the Chair.

“It tells us that the Son of God, out of His love for us, gave us not something, but He gave us Himself -- His Body and His Blood -- that is, the totality of His person, and that, for our redemption, he accepted to suffer the most ignominious death.”

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re presides at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in St. Peter’s Basilica, April 1, 2021. / Credit: Vatican Media.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re presides at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in St. Peter’s Basilica, April 1, 2021. / Credit: Vatican Media.

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Re, the dean of the College of Cardinals, offered the Mass which was celebrated last year by Pope Francis. The Vatican did not say why the 84-year-old pope, who suffers from sciatica, opted not to preside at this year’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Francis did, however, celebrate the Chrism Mass on Thursday morning in St. Peter’s Basilica.

For a second consecutive year, attendance at the Vatican’s Holy Thursday evening Mass was tightly restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic. Masked worshipers sat spaced apart and the offertory procession and the traditional foot-washing were omitted to limit the risk of spreading the virus.

Concelebrants at the Mass, which marks the start of the Paschal Triduum, included cardinals and bishops, senior Vatican Secretariat of State officials, and canons of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re presides at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in St. Peter’s Basilica, April 1, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re presides at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in St. Peter’s Basilica, April 1, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Re, an 87-year-old Italian cardinal, preached after the Gospel reading, John 13:1-15, which describes Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples at the Cenacle in Jerusalem.

He said: “The existence of the Eucharist can only be explained because Christ loved us and wanted to be near every one of us forever, even till the end of the world. Only a God could have imagined such a great gift and only an infinite power and love could have brought it about.”

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“The Church has always considered the Sacrament of the Eucharist as the most precious gift it has been endowed with. It is the gift through which Christ walks with us as light, as strength, as nourishment, as help in all the days of our history.”

Re, who served as prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops from 2000 to 2010, continued: “The Eucharist is the center and heart of the life of the Church. It must be the center and heart of the life of every Christian as well.”

“Those who believe in the Eucharist never feel alone in life. They know that in the dimness and in the silence of all the churches there is Someone who knows their name, who knows their story, Someone who loves them, who waits for them and who listens willingly.”

“And before the tabernacle, everyone can confide whatever is in their heart and receive comfort, strength, and peace of heart.”

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re presides at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in St. Peter’s Basilica, April 1, 2021 / Credit: Vatican Media.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re presides at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in St. Peter’s Basilica, April 1, 2021 / Credit: Vatican Media.

He urged Catholics not only to believe in the Eucharist but also to live it by serving their neighbors.

He said: “The Eucharist is a call of openness to toward others, to fraternal love, to know how to forgive and to help those in difficulty; it is an invitation to solidarity, to support each other, to abandon no one.”

“The Eucharist calls us to an industrious commitment to the poor, the suffering, the marginalized; it is the light to recognize the face of Christ in the faces of our brothers and sisters, especially in the wounded and most in need.”

Re was elected dean of the College of Cardinals in January 2020, succeeding Cardinal Angelo Sodano. He is serving a five-year term under new term limits established by Pope Francis in a motu proprio issued December 2019.

In his homily, Re described how Christ instituted the Catholic priesthood at the Last Supper.

“Christ, the true priest, said to the Apostles: ‘Do this in memory of me.’ Do this -- that is, the Sacrament of the Eucharist -- ‘in memory of me.’ And three days later, Easter Sunday evening, He also said to the Apostles: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven’ (John 20:23),” he said.

“Thus, Christ transmits on His Apostles the priestly powers so that the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Pardon might continue and be renewed in the Church. He gave humanity an incomparable gift.”

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Vatican liturgies throughout the Triduum will be smaller than usual due to the ongoing pandemic.

Good Friday will include both the papal liturgy of the Passion of the Lord at 6 p.m. local time and the Stations of the Cross with Pope Francis at 9 p.m. in St. Peter’s Square.

The pope will offer the Easter Vigil Mass on April 3 in St. Peter’s Basilica at 7:30 p.m. and will also celebrate the Easter Sunday Mass at 10 a.m. after which he will offer the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing.

Re noted in his homily that Holy Thursday is also an “evening of betrayal,” because Judas left the Last Supper with the intention of handing Jesus over to the authorities. The cardinal said that at the table in the Cenacle, “God’s love and man’s betrayal faced each other.”

“Holy Thursday is, therefore, also an invitation to become aware of our own sins; it is a call to put our lives in order a bit and to embark on the path of repentance and renewal to obtain God’s pardon,” he reflected.

“In the Eucharist, God drew so near to us that we must never feel abandoned, because we are always sought by Him, loved and invited to obtain the joy of His pardon with repentance and with the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to begin a spiritual recovery with hearts open more to God and hearts open more to all our brothers and sisters.”

After Holy Communion, Re carried the Eucharist to the chapel of repose as the congregation sang “Pange, lingua,” a Latin hymn written by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Feast of Corpus Christi.

As he censed the Blessed Sacrament, the congregation sang “Tantum ergo,” a Eucharistic hymn also attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas.

After a period of silent adoration, the cardinal returned to the sacristy and the congregation left the basilica in silence.

In his homily, Re noted that in many places Catholics are unable to remain for hours before altars of repose on Holy Thursday evening because of coronavirus restrictions.

“The dramatic situation created by COVID-19, and the unfortunate risk this year of contamination, does not allow this, just as it happened last year,” he said.

“Returning, however, to our homes, we must continue to pray with our thoughts and our hearts filled with gratitude for Jesus Christ, who wanted to remain present among us as our contemporary under the appearances of bread and wine.”

He continued: “We have experienced in a universal way how a small virus can bring the entire world to its knees. Until this tragedy subsides, we must have recourse to all the human means that science puts at our disposal. ”

“But another irreplaceable step is needed: we must raise a huge chorus of prayer so that the hand of God might come to our aid and end this tragic situation that has worrying consequences in the fields of health, employment, economy, education, and direct relationships with people.”

“As Jesus Himself taught us, it is necessary to go and knock loudly on the door of God, the Father Almighty.”

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