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Holy Thursday, April 2, 2015 Lectionary index # 39

Twenty-second digests for the congregation: Arrange with your liturgy committee to have these brief historical introductions read to the assembly before you do each reading.

Best practice: Let the presider say them from the chair. Let the lector turn toward the presider and listen.
Print this page, cut it at the blue lines, and give the introduction paragraphs to the person who will speak them.

Holy Thursday, evening Mass, April 2, 2015
Before the first reading:

As the struggle of the Hebrews to escape slavery in Egypt came to its climax, God instructs them to do a ritual that will become their way always to remember that liberation.
After the psalm, before the second reading:

For an audience not yet accustomed to celebrating the Eucharist and appreciating all its meanings, Saint Paul gives a basic lesson.
Before the gospel acclamation:

[Do not introduce this gospel proclamation.]

First reading, Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Historical Situation: Why is this story unlike any other story in the Hebrew Bible? It's the setting, which you should keep in mind when you prepare to proclaim the story. The descendants of Abraham had been forced by famine to leave the land promised to Abraham. They went to Egypt, where, within a few generations, they were no longer guests but slaves. Finally God raised up Moses who challenged Pharaoh to "let my people go." The Egyptians resisted. The climax of the struggle is here. God gives the Hebrews two instructions: Our Liturgical Setting: It's not hard to see the themes here that resonate with our seasonal themes. Proclaiming It: Note the different logical sections of this passage:
  1. The detailed instructions for the meal
  2. The instructions, puzzling at first, about marking the house with the lamb's blood
  3. The resumed meal instruction, with emphasis on eating as if preparing to flee
  4. The prediction of the destruction of all the firstborn among the Egyptians
  5. The explanation of how the lamb's blood will mark the Hebrews' homes as exempt from the destruction
  6. The final instruction making the ritual meal an annual institution

While reading this aloud, mark the differences by pausing, changing your pace, and changing your tone of voice. For example, for the first set of detailed instructions (1), use a staccato, matter-of-fact delivery. Then slow down (2), as if you expect your hearers to be puzzled by the orders to apply the blood to the doorposts and lintel. The next sentence (3) is, on its surface, odd for a different reason: we think of ritual meals (whether Sunday mass or a secular honorary banquet) as dignified, stately affairs that last longer than ordinary meals, with periods of inactivity. But these diners are to eat with one foot out the door. Make sure your listeners see that image in their minds.

The next sentence (4, "I will go through Egypt, striking down ...") introduces an entirely new idea, so don't let it just blend into the prior sentence. The sentence after that (5) is also startling; be sure to express clearly how the marked doorways win the Hebrews exemption from the slaughter.

The final summary sentence (6) is meant to tie later readers of the book, with their now institutionalized Passover ritual, to the original event. It deserves a solemn, triumphal rendering.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Historical Situation: Passion (Palm) Sunday's Lector's Notes spoke of how the great Christological hymn, Philippians 2:6-11, predated Paul's conversion. Today Paul quotes another source in the tradition that was handed to him upon his conversion. He even says he received this "from the Lord." This suggests that celebrating the Lord's supper was an unbroken tradition from the very beginning of the church.

But interestingly, the larger context of this passage, in the first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11, especially verses 17-34, shows that some early Christians needed some serious instruction about how to celebrate the Eucharist properly.

Proclaiming It: Paul implies that the purpose of celebrating the Eucharist is to proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. He may mean simply that Christians remind themselves and one another of the death and resurrection of Jesus, by this ritual act. He may also mean that Christians prepare themselves, by this ritual meal, for missionary proclamation of Christ to the world at large. You as lector need not decide, but you should not let this sentence get lost. Rather make it sound like the climax that it is.

Several other commentaries on these passages. All are thoughtful, all quite readable, from the scholarly to the popular.
Links may be incomplete more than a few weeks before the "due date."
Comments on Holy Thursday (and Passion Sunday) readings by Roger Karban Bible Study pages of Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, Mississippi The Text This Week; links to homilies, art works, movies and other resources on the week's scripture themes Reginald Fuller's article at The Center for Liturgy of Saint Louis University.

(Caveat lector. As of February 26, 2015, Lector's Notes' author is speculating about the exact URL of SLU's offering, since it's not yet posted. If you get a 404 Not Found, try here).

The Lectionary selections in the frame at the left, if any, are there for your convenience. The publishers of the page in that frame have no connection, except for membership in the one Body of Christ, with the publisher of this page. Likewise the publishers of the pages on the links above.

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Last updated February 26, 2015