Back home, buried in a box of old photos, I have something that should be in a time capsule.
It’s an 8×10 black and white photograph of me when I was seven years old. The year was 1966.
But I’m not alone. It’s a class picture from my First Communion. I’m standing with 50 other children, lined up in front of the altar at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Olney, Maryland.
The picture doesn’t tell the whole story. I remember wearing a navy blue clip-on necktie and a suit that was too big. I remember the days leading up to it, when Sister St. Margaret made us practice how to receive communion.
I remember the mystery and the wonder of it all.
As I was putting together my thoughts for tonight, I found myself thinking back on that time in my life. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. This is a night saturated in memory.
It is a moment to recall how it all began, to think more deeply about the extraordinary gift that we received and that we continue to receive.
It is a night when we need to remember.
In fact, that’s where this sacred Triduum begins: before we do anything else, we are called to remember.
We hear it in the first reading, from Exodus, the Lord’s words to Moses and Aaron: “This day shall be a memorial feast for you … a perpetual institution.”
We hear it from St. Paul, who wrote the first account of what happened at the Last Supper, handing on what was handed to him and inscribing these words in scripture, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
And in the Gospel, after washing the feet of his apostles, Jesus tells them, “I have given you a model to follow.” He tells them, in effect: remember what I have done, and do this for others.
For decades, scientists and psychologists have studied the mystery of memory — how memories inspire us, shape us, define us.
One neuropsychologist wrote: “Memories form the basis of what we can imagine and create. We are what we remember.”
It becomes part of our story.
Well, tonight, this is our story, one of sacrifice and surrender and boundless love.
It is the story of what Jesus gave us on the night before his Passion — the very gift of himself under the appearance of bread and wine.
And it is a story being told because we are part of a long line of believers who have gathered on nights like this, in different places and times, in cities and villages and fields and catacombs, to live out his words: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
One place where they are gathering again this Holy Week is Ukraine.
Men, women and children are praying in churches and convents. They are coming together in basements and in underground train stations. There are Roman Catholic priests this Holy Thursday celebrating Mass by candlelight behind barricades and in bomb shelters.
They believe. They hope. They pray. Because they hear Christ’s words call out across history.
“Do this in remembrance of me.”
And so they do.
Here is faith in a moment of doubt, hope in a time of fear, peace amid the ravages of war.
Many of those priests have chosen to stay with their people, despite the danger. They will tell you: this is where they belong.
It is a humbling reminder, and it cannot be said often enough: pray for priests.
Especially here and now. On this night when we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, we also celebrate the institution of the priesthood.
Pray for all the men who answer the call to serve, including the men who are in this sanctuary tonight, my brother clergy, who walk this journey with us. I know as well as anyone that the last two years have not been easy on them.
Give thanks to God for the men who make it possible for the story, our story, to continue to be told with every Mass, every anointing, every act of reconciliation, every baptism and wedding.
Even now, a new chapter in the story is about to be written.
In just 48 hours, the Elect from RCIA who are here with us tonight will receive their First Communion.
Your First Communion will be a little different from mine. Among other things, your pictures will be in color. And you’re a little older now than I was.
As we begin this sacred Triduum, savor this moment. Cherish the story you are a part of. Keep telling it. With your commitment. With your lives. With your love for one another.
And with profound gratitude.
We are blessed, every one of us, to be here tonight — some of us, for the first time in a long time. It feels like home — like we are gathered again around the table for thanksgiving.
Which is exactly what we are doing.
The word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” How much we have to be thankful for!
Across these three days, we can only be humbled and overwhelmed, as we give thanks to Almighty God for something beyond measure, the gift of his Son.
We cannot forget that.
A French proverb says: “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.”
The heart remembers.
And so tonight, we remember once more.
In a special way this evening, we remember how it all began — that before he opened his arms on the cross for us, God got down on his knees for us.
“As I have done for you, you should also do.”
As we embark on the great journey of these three days, let us pray that we hold that in our hearts, so all that we do will be in remembrance of him.