April 9, 2017

Reflection on Holy Thursday | The Mass of the Lord's Supper: "Love One Another as I Have Loved You."

Last Supper
The Last Supper, Juan de Juanes, 1562, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Holy Thursday

Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, April 13, 2017

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois 

Ezekiel 12:1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116:1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15 

“I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, 
you should also do.” (John 13:15)

As a child growing up at Sacred Heart Parish in Bennington, Vermont, I remember one particular Holy Thursday Mass in which Holy Cross Father Richard Sullivan, former president of Stonehill College and a longtime friend of Sacred Heart Parish, preached that Holy Thursday was the birthday of the Eucharist. There would be no birthday cake or candles; this birth would be celebrated by going back to the roots of Christianity, to the Lord’s Last Supper, to that night in which Jesus instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood.

Indeed, Holy Thursday is sometimes lost among the more popular feasts of Good Friday and of course Easter itself. The Sacred Triduum begins with the Mass of Holy Thursday evening. The opening procession, much like any Sunday opening procession, includes the server or deacon walking in with the crucifix. It is the beginning of a great celebration that will conclude with the final Easter blessing of the Easter Vigil Mass, three nights later. The server or deacon will re-emerge with the crucifix at the recessional at the Vigil Mass of Easter. Holy Thursday evening Mass, the Good Friday service of the Lord’s Passion, and the Easter Vigil together form one continuous prayer service, celebrating the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Let’s not diminish Holy Thursday in the midst of the other great feasts that weekend. It commemorates the evening in which the Lord celebrated the Passover supper with his apostles. The Eucharist is situated in the midst of Passover. He took the unleavened bread of the Passover meal and declared it his body, and the cup of wine, also integral to that meal, as his blood. He then instructed his apostles to continue this tradition. Thus the Eucharist was born, and the body and blood of Jesus, the very person of Christ, would be made evident for God’s people going forward, down to this very day.

It is interesting to note that the Church chooses the Last Supper from the Gospel of John for tonight’s feast. It is the only version of the Last Supper in which Jesus washes the feet of the apostles. Jesus takes the place of a humble servant, kneeling before another person and washing his feet. This was a common sight in the ancient world, as slaves would wash the feet of visitors coming into their master’s home to cleanse them of the desert sand. Jesus teaches his apostles that service to God’s people would be integral to the Church, the priesthood, and the Eucharist. He ties it all together in this intimate action of washing his apostles’ feet. Peter objects, as any of us probably would, but in the end, he allows it, only to learn the important lesson found therein.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated every year as the birthday of the Eucharist and the solemn entrance into the Sacred Triduum. It is a night for God’s people to reflect on the importance of the Eucharist in their lives. Today, the Eucharist is celebrated day after day, week after week. It can become very routine and lose its primary place in one’s life. In the Eucharist, the faithful are fed with the Lord himself, under the appearance of bread and wine. One is nourished with the Eucharist, so as to feel the presence of Jesus. The faithful are unified with Christ whose presence is felt and known. It is the foundation of all prayer and service, and participation in the Eucharist is the core of what it means to be Catholic. Yes, it’s that important!

So let’s be sure we try to attend Holy Thursday Mass this year, in addition to Good Friday and Easter. It is the birthday of the Eucharist, the most important prayer and action of our faith. There will be no birthday cake at this feast. But under the appearance of bread and wine, your Lord and Savior will be found, that you might have life and hope. What a marvelous birthday celebration!

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