Why all this ritual? God only cares about our heart, right? And the early Christians they detested ritual too, right? Tonight God teaches us these ideas are not only complete fairyland, but anti-human and ungodly.
Firstly because tonight’s liturgy was instituted by God himself. That’s what tonight’s Scripture tells us! It was before the festival of the Passover: Jesus himself valued the 1000-year old rites of the Passover. And then he added to it. He got up from table, removed his outer garment and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. Do you see what has happened here? Jesus Christ himself thought up this ritual, created these rubrics, and commanded this liturgy. Clearly God wants us to meet him in truly human bodily, as well as spiritual, fashion.
And the early Christians thought the same. Before 100AD St Clement of Rome was already talking in detail about the specifics process of the leitourgia – the liturgy. St Paul himself commanded the rubrics of liturgy be followed: This is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you: that on the same night that he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me.’ In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’
But that God wants us actually participating (participatio actuosa) body and soul in the liturgy should not surprise us: because he wants you. He loves you. You may not think much of your body, or the state of your soul. God loves your body. He aches for communion with your soul. This is the whole point of this Eucharist he instituted on this night: to be able to love you body and soul.
Because what is love? If I was to ask you what is love?, what would you answer? Because God is very precise about what he means about love. In today’s Gospel it says but now he showed how perfect his love was. This is not what the original Greek actually says – it goes far further than this. εἰς τέλος ἠγάπησεν αὐτούς: he loved them to the end. This is what Jesus does, and asks of us.
This end, τέλος, means three things. Firstly, he loves you so much that he was willing to die for you. Already, there are very few people in your life who would do that. And this isn’t just anybody – this is your Almighty Creator, ok? Secondly, he loves you so much that he loved you to the limit – which, given he is the co-eternal Son of God, is infinitely. That, my friends – no one in your life can ever give you. And third: the fact that it is the Author of Being who loves you so well means that, unlike anyone else’s love, it actually accomplishes its aim: your salvation from otherwise good reasons for anxiety, despair evil and eternal death.
So reflecting on the Holy Mass, the question is not is it actually important? but rather why are you even thinking about missing out on the most beautiful and liberating part of life? Let us ask the Lord to help us love him, to love the transformation he makes in our hearts – and to never miss Holy Mass ever again.