Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Sacred Heart Cathedral
29th March, 2018
Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26 Jn 13:1-15
Today we thank Jesus for giving us the Eucharist and the Priesthood. Both the Eucharist and the Priesthood “were born” during the Last Supper and the two sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders are so closely linked because without the Priesthood we would have no Eucharist. Today begins the Sacred Triduum, the three holiest days of the year, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
How did Jesus enter into the Passover of his suffering? He did so by celebrating with his disciples the meal that is prescribed in this evening’s first reading, a passage taken from Exodus 12. The Passover meal, solemnly established by the Lord’s own words to Moses, opens into all the events of the coming days and contains them all in advance under the form of signs.
You and I are accustomed to calling the first of these three days Holy Thursday, but it also has an older name that some of you may remember from the past: Maundy Thursday. The word, “maundy,” comes from the Latin “mandatum” and means “commandment” or “mandate” — in this case referring to Jesus’ commandment to “love one another.”
And the foot-washing that we have in today’s Gospel and will re-enact during this Mass not only symbolizes this love and service, it — along with the other events at the Last Supper recorded in today’s second reading — also sets the stage for all that follows on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
In other words, the Eucharist and the Priesthood instituted at the Last Supper are not only about Jesus’ real and enduring presence, body and blood, soul and divinity. They are also about the love and service with which Jesus gives himself to us, and as a consequence of which we are now commanded — mandatum —to pour ourselves out for others. Let us look at this a little more closely.
In St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and in the synoptic Gospels, we have the account of Jesus offering us his real body and blood under the sign of bread and wine, following his prayer of blessing or consecration during the Passover meal that was his Last Supper with his disciples.
St. Paul simply narrates what Jesus did at the supper “on the night he was handed over.” He introduces his account of what he tells by reminding the Corinthian community that their knowledge of this sacred meal is a question of tradition, that is, that St Paul received the account of the meal from the Lord himself and he handed it on to them. This faithful handing on of what Jesus did has continued through the generations to the present moment of our own celebration. We feel the presence of St Paul in our own assembly. His words are for us still the authoritative apostolic witness of what Jesus did. The words of Jesus over the bread and over the cup are repeated: “This is my body. This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” And with both bread and cup, Paul repeats the Lord’s command: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Hence, Jesus’ real presence, his real body and blood is offered to us in the Eucharist. Of course, to offer a sacrifice you have to have a priest. So in addition to instituting the Eucharist, Jesus also institutes the Priesthood, saying to the Apostles: “Do this in memory of me.”
The opportunity to receive Jesus’ body and blood offered in sacrifice for our salvation was not to be a one-time event at the Last Supper. Jesus now appoints his Apostles to continue to make him present for future believers in the Eucharist offered in his memory.
That is why in every Mass we have the Scripture readings and the Eucharistic prayer, in which we refresh our memory, recalling Jesus’ teachings and actions, and especially all that he did at the Last Supper and on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
On the other hand, foot washing is unlike the Eucharist and Priesthood because it has to do with a mandate rather than a sacrament. And the mandate is not about washing feet per se, but rather a command that we undertake acts of humble, selfless service as symbolized by the washing of feet.
Our Gospel says of Jesus: “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end,” which he modelled by washing their feet and then saying: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, so you also should do.”
On Holy Thursday all this comes together and then at the end of this Mass, just as Jesus leaves the Last Supper headed for his Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, we will transfer the Blessed Sacrament to the chapel of repose for a time of adoration, keeping vigil with the Lord at the very time when his Apostles were having a hard time staying awake.
And at the same time that the betrayer — identified as Judas in today’s Gospel — sets in motion the events that will lead to Jesus’ arrest and execution.
We enter into this Sacred Triduum in all sincerity of heart to worship God and to serve God in love for others. The worship of God and the service of God cannot be separated. We follow Christ and imitate Him in the worship of the Father and in love for one another.