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Where Charity and Love Are, God Is There

March 28, 2024


Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est is the Latin for the title of this article, which is also the name of an ancient hymn still sung in the Church’s liturgy.

This eighth-century text, attributed to Paulinus of Aquileia, sets the tone for the Triduum. It is often sung during the Mandatum, or the washing of feet, on Holy Thursday at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Many parishes may sing a contemporary version written by Dom Paul Benoit, OSB, tonight and at Masses throughout the year. 

Mandatum simply means “command,” and the text of this ancient hymn reflects on our Lord’s command to love one another. Love is one of the three themes of tonight’s liturgy. As Jesus says to us just after washing his disciples’ feet:

“Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’  and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13:12-15)

Jesus admonishes his disciples tonight to love through acts of humble service. Tomorrow, we will be reminded of Love’s truth—Jesus will show us how far we should be willing to go to follow his example. Another text will accompany our procession as we venerate his cross. It is the text of the Improperia (also here), or the Reproaches in which we are reminded of what Our Lord has done for us because he loves us. He reminds us of his generosity and challenges us to reflect on our many betrayals: 

My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!

I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom, but you led your Savior to the cross. For your sake I scourged your captors and their firstborn sons, but you brought your scourges down on me.

My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!

I led you from slavery to freedom and drowned your captors in the red sea, but you handed me over to your high priests.

The liturgy is dramatic and rich throughout these days of the Triduum. It moves us to cry out: 

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

As St. Paul reminds us, Christ was made obedient for us, even to death on a cross (Phil 2:8), and our journey toward the cross intensifies tonight. The self-reflection begins tonight as he asks us to love as he loves, to celebrate the priesthood, and to honor the great gift of the Holy Eucharist—the sacrament of his abiding presence and love for his Church. 

Tonight, and throughout the Triduum, the liturgy stirs our memory and awakens us to all those lessons we learned in our childhood—lessons so easily forgotten in the busyness of the day-to-day. The liturgy almost screams for our attention in its explicitness. It says, “Wake up and remember!” The drama of Our Lord’s Passion is celebrated at every Mass, but do we remember? During these days, the events of Our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection are extended and amplified to awaken us, and to remind us once again how much he loves us. To remind us again to love others as he has loved us. 

How do we love with the love he asks us to embrace tonight?

Tonight, the Church invites us to choose: We can be attentive and keep watch with him, or like Peter, James, and John, whose spirits were strong but whose flesh was weak, we can sleep. We join Jesus here in the garden, in the peacefulness of the evening twilight where one of his friends will come to betray him with a kiss—not a kiss of love, but an act of infamy that has no equal in all of history. Judas’ mouth spoke love, but the same lips that proclaimed friendship betrayed their savior. Judas’ kiss was a treacherous act that made his name a synonym for betrayal—his despair and suicide a warning to us of the consequences of deceit. Of love feigned for position and material gain. A deception empty of Truth, because

Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.

God is here tonight. Our Christ, the Lamb of God who tonight sweats drops of blood in anticipation of the tortures he will endure tomorrow, accepts betrayal because he loves us. He knows we are weak and that we will continue to betray him. Still, he gives himself over to the soldiers willingly because he loves us. For this he has been born. For this he came into the world—to free us from sin so we can live in his peace without Judas’ despair or anxiety. 

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run;
He gave the blind their sight.
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
themselves displease,
and ’gainst Him rise.

They rise, and needs will have
my dear Lord made away.
A murderer they save;
the Prince of Life they slay.
Yet cheerful He to suff’ring goes,
that He His foes from thence might free.

Samuel Crossman

So, how do we repay his love? How do we love with the love he asks us to embrace tonight? 

He works tonight within his Church, calling us to conversion—to love by his example. The Mass is the source of our strength and the summit to which we climb each day toward heaven’s goal. Tonight, and at every Mass, he still teaches us and feeds us with his Body and Blood, giving us grace, the strength we need to do his work. He trusts us to use our hands to wash feet now. He has shown us how. 

By his example, he has taught us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and prisoners, bury the dead, and give alms to the poor—to wash feet. 

To care for the least of our brothers and sisters—the sick, poor, homeless, disabled, lonely, indigent—all those that the Master called to his banquet after the rich had turned him away (Luke 14:15-23). 

The Servant of God Dorothy Day wrote: “We are all members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we are all members one of another, and remembering this, we can never be indifferent to the social miseries and evils of the day.” “We cannot build up the idea of the apostolate of the laity without the foundation of the liturgy” (The Catholic Worker, 1936.5). 

Tomorrow, we will see Truth himself betrayed to pacify a crowd and to preserve status. Those attached to their riches and prestige often make bad choices. Tomorrow, the mighty will choose to spare the life of a murderer and nail their savior to a cross. In these troubled and acrimonious times within and without the Body of the Church, we are called to follow Christ: to be poor in spirit, to be peacemakers, to seek righteousness, and above all else, to love as Jesus loves. 

Tonight, we feast at his banquet, the source of our strength and sanctification, and then we will depart our churches and go out into the darkness. We will all carry within us the Light that can heal the world. Where charity and love are, there is God. Remember.