Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Supper. April 6, 2023


Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Supper. April 6, 2023

Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-15


Theme: Holy Eucharist, Priestly Order, and Fraternal Charity

With this Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we have started the Paschal Triduum (this is the three Holy Days namely the Holy Thursday, Holy Friday (Good Friday), and Holy Saturday) which will close with evening prayer on Easter Day. The Holy Thursday Mass is the commemoration of the first-ever Mass Jesus celebrated with his disciples at the Last Supper Meal. “Last Supper” refers to the last time Jesus celebrated the Jewish feast of “Passover” with his disciples, the night before he was arrested and crucified. The first reading that we heard describes how the chosen people, by God’s command, celebrated this Passover feast for the first time. In our second reading, Saint Paul tells us that at the Last Supper meal with his disciples, our Lord Jesus instituted two sacraments: the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Priestly Order. In addition to these two sacraments, Jesus also left to his disciples and us the commandment of Fraternal Charity when he washed his disciples' feet as John reports to us in his version account of the Last Supper that we heard in the Gospel reading.   

The first reading we heard has two parts. The first part (Exodus 12: 1-8) is God’s prescription of the Passover Ritual. Here, God explained the instructions to Moses and Aaron regarding the annual celebration of Passover for generations to come. The second part (Exodus 12: 11-14) is the “Promulgation of the Passover”. God ordered Moses and Aaron to implement some of these instructions immediately the night before the execution of the tenth plague upon Egypt. That was the first Passover meal. Each family was recommended to slaughter a one-year-old unblemished lamb, apply its blood to the doorposts of every house of the Israelites, and eat the roasted meat of the Lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. While eating, they were commanded to have their loins girt, sandals on their feet, and their staff in hand as if they were in flight. This meal was called “Passover” for more than one reason. First, the blood of the lamb that the Israelites applied to their doorposts led the angel of the Lord to “Pass Over” their houses (their firstborns were not killed) when God killed the firstborn males of the land of Egypt. Second, the Passover also symbolized the beginning of the “passing over” of the people of Israel from Pharaoh’s authority to God’s protection, from slavery to freedom, and from death to new life. Even today, each spring, the Jewish community celebrates this feast of Passover as a memorial of their ancestors’ liberation from bondage in Egypt.  A lamb is sacrificed in the Temple and the sacrificial repast is followed at home. This memorial is much more than just looking back to the past. They identify themselves with those who did leave Egypt. From generation to generation, every Jew must consider himself as having personally gone out of Egypt and being delivered by God. Past and present coincide. We, Christians, celebrate the feast of Passover in the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist that Jesus instituted on this day.

As a Jew, Jesus too celebrated the feast of Passover every year. Saint Paul (second reading) and Saint John (Gospel) talk about the last time Jesus celebrated this Jewish memorial feast with his disciples. That was the night before his arrest and crucifixion. Saint Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth and each of us of the actions and words of the Lord during this Last Supper: Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. He did the same way with the cup. He said that this cup is the new covenant in his blood”.  He then recommended his disciples to do the same celebration often and often. He told them that every time they eat this bread and drink the cup, they proclaim his death until he comes again. With these words and actions, Jesus instituted the sacraments of the Eucharist and Priestly Order. This is what we continue to do until today in the liturgy of the Eucharist and in the ministry of the priesthood. We need to know that whenever you and I participate in Mass, we share the Body and Blood of Christ and proclaim the death of the Lord Jesus, our Paschal sacrifice who offered his life to free us from the bondage of sin. This is the vertical dimension of the Eucharist.

Saint John gives us his version of the same Last Supper account in our Gospel. He mentions another event that Jesus did before he instituted the Eucharist and Holy Order. For Saint John, Jesus got down on his knees, washed the feet of his disciples, and commanded them to do the same to one another. (John 13: 15). In addition to the Eucharist and Priestly Order, here Jesus left us a commandment of Fraternal Charity which is the horizontal dimension of the Eucharist. The “Passover” gets another meaning here: We are called to “pass over” from our self-centeredness to other-centeredness.

Tonight, as we celebrate the mass of the Last Supper, Jesus commends us to continue celebrating the same Mass in his remembrance. So, every time that you and I attend the liturgy of the Eucharist, we know now that we do it in Jesus’ remembrance. Like the Jewish Passover, our Mass also is much more than just looking back to this first Mass in the past. Rather, at each Mass we attend, we identify ourselves with the disciples and participate in the present to this first Mass that Jesus celebrated at the Last Supper. In other words, each Mass that we attend is this Mass of the Last Supper that Jesus himself celebrates through the priest.

May the liturgy of this Mass of the Lord’s Supper inspire us to always “remember our Lord” by participating in the celebrations of the Eucharist (especially on Sundays) as well as doing the works of fraternal charity to other people. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

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