Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Supper-March 28, 2024

 Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Supper-March 28, 2024

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


Theme: Holy Eucharist, Priestly Order, and Fraternal Charity

We are in Holy Week, which started last Sunday with the Palm Sunday Mass of the Passion of the Lord, and that will end on Holy Saturday, with the Easter Vigil Mass on the holy night. This week is called “Holy” because it is this week that we commemorate the significant events of the Paschal Mystery (the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ). During Holy Week, the Church celebrates the Paschal Triduum, the summit of the Liturgical Year. Note that the Paschal Triduum is a single liturgical celebration that starts from the evening of Holy Thursday to the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. Though chronologically three days, the Holy Thursday, Holy Friday (Good Friday), and Holy Saturday are liturgically one day during which we celebrate the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery. Thus, with this Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we start the first part of the liturgy of the Paschal Triduum.

This Holy Thursday Mass commemorates the first Mass Jesus celebrated with his disciples at the Last Supper. “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 Scripture readings of this Mass teach us how the chosen people, by God’s command, celebrated this Passover feast for the first time (first reading) and how Jesus, as a Jew, celebrated it for the last time (second reading and Gospel). From Saint Paul’s account that we heard in the second reading, we learn that through Jesus’ action of self-giving, which was expressed in the words over the bread and the cup, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. And by ordering his disciples to continue to celebrate that same liturgy in the future in his remembrance, he instituted another sacrament, the Holy Order. The author of the Gospel of John gives us his version of the same event. He said that before the Last Supper Meal, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and commanded them to do the same to one another. Jesus inaugurated the commandment of Fraternal Charity through this act of humility and love.

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. 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 because early in the morning, they left Egypt and started their long journey to the Promised Land.

This meal was called “Passover” for more than one reason. First, the name “Passover” came from the fact that the angel of God “passed over” the Israelite houses marked with the blood of the lamb while killing all the firstborn male humans and beasts of the land of Egypt. So, when the Jews eat the “Passover meal,” they commemorate the day God spared the firstborns of their ancestors. 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 in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, and from death to new life.

God instructed Moses to keep that first Passover meal as the day of remembrance, which future generations would celebrate as a statute forever (see Exodus 12: 14). That Is why, every year, the Jews celebrate this feast of Passover. As a Jew, Jesus, too, celebrated the feast of Passover every year. Saint Paul (second reading) and the author of John’s Gospel, each with his own version of the story, talk about the last time Jesus celebrated this Jewish memorial feast with his disciples, the night before his arrest and crucifixion.

Let us start with the version account of Saint Paul that we heard in our second reading. Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth and all of us of the actions and words of the Lord during this Last Supper meal of the Passover. He says, “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you.’” (vv. 23-24).  He did the same way with the cup. When he gave it to his disciples, he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (v. 25). Then, he instructed them to continue to celebrate this liturgy in his remembrance (vv. 24, 25). He said that whenever his disciples, including us, celebrate this liturgy, we proclaim “the death of the Lord until he comes.” (v. 26).

In this account, Paul emphasizes two things. First, through his action of self-giving, which is expressed in the words over the bread and the cup, Jesus institutes the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He transforms the celebration of the Jewish Passover into a Eucharistic celebration. While giving the bread and wine to his disciples, Jesus did not say, “This is like my body and blood.” Instead, he says, “This is my body,” and “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (vv.24, 25). So, instead of the Passover lamb slaughtered for the Jewish feast, Jesus gave his Body and Blood as the Sacrificial Paschal Lamb. This Last Supper Meal of the Passover is the first Mass Jesus celebrated with his disciples. Second, by recommending his disciples to continue to celebrate this same liturgy of the Eucharist in his remembrance, Jesus institutes the sacrament of the Holy Order. He ordained and empowered his disciples to act in persona Christi in the Eucharistic celebration. Jesus continues to ordain men today as priests so that this first Mass that he celebrated here might continue to be celebrated every day and everywhere in remembrance of his death until his second coming at the end of time. This is what we continue to do until today in the liturgy of the Eucharist and the priesthood ministry. At Mass, we listen to Jesus in the Scripture readings and receive his Body and Blood in the Holy Communion. The celebrant priest acts in persona Christi. This means that Jesus celebrates Mass through the ordained priest at each Mass. When we attend Mass, we 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.

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

Tonight, Jesus commends us to continue celebrating this same Mass in his remembrance. So, every time 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 is much more than just looking back to this first Mass in the past. 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 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) and doing works of fraternal charity for other people. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD


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