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.