Different Holy Thursday: A Celebration of Eucharist with No Priest

By Catherine Heinhold, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in São Paulo, Brazil. 

It’s Holy Thursday, my favorite mass of the year. I love the washing of the feet, the call to service, the power of MEMORY in the words of the institution of the Eucharist. I love the music too, though the music in Brazil is different and doesn’t call forth the connection of the songs I love from home.

Tonight I arrived at the parish for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper to find we had no priest. Our pastor was celebrating in one of our community chapels, and a priest who lives very far away was supposed to preside at the mass at the main church. It’s the eve of a four-day weekend, though, and he just couldn’t make it through the heavy traffic in time. So, our new deacon was called upon to lead us in a communion service.

I was pretty impressed with the deacon. This mass is one of the major liturgies of the year, and he’d never done it solo before. He had prepared a homily just in case he was asked to preach at the last minute, so he was all set there. But normally it’s the priest’s job to wash the feet of members of the congregation, so it was the deacon’s first time doing that part. Because it wasn’t a mass, there was no Eucharistic prayer. Normally on Holy Thursday this prayer stands out even more than usual as we remember in a special way the Last Supper, where Jesus commanded us to “do this in remembrance of me.” Not having a priest, we did not hear those words tonight, and I missed them.

At the same time, this experience of celebrating the Eucharist was a profound reminder for me that it is WE who are Eucharist, WE who are the Body of Christ. At one point during the celebration tonight, the deacon said we didn’t have enough consecrated hosts and we were going to have to break them into small pieces to have enough for everyone. At that point, someone ran to one of the parish chapels in the community and got some more consecrated hosts so we had enough in the end. But I almost wish we had run short and had to break the hosts.  Because isn’t that what we commemorate tonight?  Bread, broken and shared. Bread which is the body of Christ. The body of Christ, which is us. So WE are to be broken and shared, and given to one another. Washing one another’s feet – being Christ for one another.

Originally published at catherinebeyondborders.blogspot.com. Be sure to follow Catherine’s blog for many more excellent reflections!