Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (2)

With this celebration, the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we inaugurate the Sacred Paschal Triduum. We inaugurate three days of life, suffering, passion, death, and Resurrection. We return to the upper room with Our Lord and his closest disciples, and we remember three inestimably valuable gifts that Our Lord gives us on this night: the Eucharist, the priesthood, and the commandment of love. Each one shows how much he loves us and should instill in us the desire to love him and others in kind.

In today’s First Reading Moses describes to the Israelites, still enslaved in Egypt, the importance of the Passover not only for that night, but for all nights to come. In the Passover the Paschal lamb was sacrificed and its blood spread over the doorpost and lintels to keep them from death. In the Last Supper the Lord states his intent to become the true Paschal lamb. He will be sacrificed on Good Friday and through his blood we will be saved from the spiritual death that sin inflicts. In instituting the Eucharist he asks us to perpetually commemorate his sacrifice: “do this in memory of me.”

The Eucharist, however, is something much more: it, simply put, is him. In every celebration of the Eucharist we re-offer in an unbloody manner what he once offered on the Cross: himself. Through the Eucharist he remains with us always and always offers himself for us, because he loves us. The greatest sign of love and friendship is when someone is always there for you. Our Lord is always there for us, through the Eucharist.

In today’s Second Reading Paul recalls Christ’s words to celebrate the Eucharist in “remembrance” of him, and that reminds us of who Christ gave us to continue celebrating the Eucharist in his memory: our bishops and priests. At the Last Supper Our Lord entrusted the apostles with the task of celebrating the Eucharist in his memory, and in this very action he consecrated them priests. They weren’t priests on their own account. Christ, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, is the High Priest. The offering they raise up to God the Father is Christ himself. All other bishops and priests participate in his priesthood, and through the sacrament of Holy Orders they’re changed, sealed in such a way that they can render Our Lord present in the celebration of all the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

Paul says simply that he is handing on what he received from the Lord. That’s what all bishops and priests strive to do. Christ handed on something to the apostles, who handed it on to their successors. The bishops are the apostles’ successors, and they’re aided in continuing the apostolic mission by priests.

This morning (or earlier in Holy Week, depending on the diocese) the bishop(s) and priests of the diocese gathered at the cathedral in order to consecrate new sacred oils for the year to come, but also to renew their priestly promises. Our priests renewed their commitment to “be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him,” “to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God,” and to be “moved only by zeal for souls.” This evening we too pray in gratitude for our bishops and priests so that they receive the grace and strength to remain true to these promises. Our Lord has chosen to bring his love to us through them.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord gives us an applied lesson in the last of three gifts that he gave us on the night of the Last Supper: the commandment to love. The washing of guests’ feet before a Passover meal was common Jewish hospitality at the time, but it was done by a servant, not by the host or head of the family. Our Lord is teaching a lesson he expects his disciples to imitate, which is why he is so hard on Peter when he balks at having his feet washed by Our Lord.

Our Lord’s response is interesting: “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” He is trying to give Peter something. Our Lord is not only trying do his closest disciples a service; he is teaching them to serve one another as well. If Peter had refused, would he ever have done it either? Perhaps an inheritance would have been lost, the inheritance of loving one another, in this case, through service, just as Our Lord did. In John’s account of the Last Supper this is just the first gesture showing the importance in Jesus’ mind of his commandment to love.

Readings: Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; 1 Corinthians 10:16; Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16c, 17–18; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15. See also Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

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Holy Week, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (2)

This evening’s liturgy begins the Easter Triduum, and Our Lord begins by bestowing three gifts on us: the Eucharist, the ministerial priesthood, and the commandment to love one another. This evening’s Gospel recalls when Jesus began the Last Supper washing his disciples’ feet, a menial chore usually reserved for a servant. When Peter balks, Jesus warns him that if he doesn’t accept this humble service, he’d be disinherited; Our Lord would deny him something he wanted to give him. Jesus’ gesture is even more poignant considered that he washes Judas’s feet as well.

In the Last Supper Our Lord institutes the Eucharist, celebrating it for the first time, and commanding his Apostles to celebrate in memory of him. In this supper Our Lord makes the apostles able to consecrate the Eucharist and offer it in Christ’s name and person on behalf of the Church, and they would hand this down to their successors, the bishops, and priests who worked with them. If washing the disciples’ feet was a menial gesture, imagine Our Lord being food and drink for us, standing vigil, at times alone, in tabernacles throughout the world, eager to be with his faithful through Holy Communion. In his actions Our Lord invites not just the ministerial priests of his Church, but all believers, to love one another as he has loved them. For a priest that translates into service, whether serving saints or sinners. Part of Peter’s inheritance this night was to receive the teaching of humility and service: if the Master should do such a menial chore out of love, his disciples should not consider themselves exempt.

The faithful who have not received Holy Orders are not exempt either; loving one another often means swallowing your pride and not putting limits or conditions on your self-giving, just as Our Lord didn’t. Let’s begin this Easter Triduum in gratitude for our priests and bishops, for the Eucharist, and resolved to reap the fruits of the forty days of Lent that have concluded to truly grow in our love for one another.

Readings: Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16c, 17–18; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15. See also Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

Readings: Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; 1 Corinthians 10:16; Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16c, 17–18; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15

In this evening’s Gospel Peter realizes that being clean means being pleasing to Our Lord, and so he asks Our Lord to wash him all over, not just his feet. We’ve been living Lent in preparation for these holy days that are about to intensify, and the dirty feet of the disciples after a long walk is much like how we are arriving near the end. The Lenten journey we have completed, surely with some stumbles and wrong turns along the way, has been pleasing to Our Lord. Even if it has not, it’s not to late to let him wash us clean.

Now is the moment to put our Lenten lapses into Our Lord’s hands and let him forgive us as we begin the Sacred Paschal Triduum. If you haven’t gone to confession yet, now is the perfect time. Just as Our Lord washes the feet of his disciples, we need confession to arrive at Easter Sunday not just showered and dressed in our Sunday best on the outside, but on the inside too. On Holy Thursday let’s thank Our Lord for the gift of priests who feed us with the Bread of Life and give us someone to confide in when we need spiritual guidance and an encounter with God’s mercy through their priesthood.