On Holy Thursday, as Lent ends and the Sacred Triduum begins, we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. During this Mass, the Church commemorates the Lord’s Passover: the institution of the Holy Eucharist that continues his sacramental presence among us, the institution of the priesthood by which Jesus mission and sacrifice are perpetuated in the world, and the institution of His unconditional love.
In the first reading from Exodus (12:1-8, 11-14), we are reminded in the Old Testament of the origin of the Passover Supper, which the Lord shares with His Apostles, and of Jesus’ identification with the Paschal (Passover) lamb whose blood saved the Hebrew children from death.
St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Church at Corinth (11:23-26), gives us the only narrative of the Lord’s Supper outside the gospels. The passage not only describes the institution of the Eucharist but also Jesus’ command to continue it, for which he instituted the priesthood. This passage from Paul also attests to the beginning of Sacred Tradition where Paul notes that he had received “from the Lord” the account of the Last Supper. This is the earliest description of that event in the New Testament, as the First Letter to the Corinthians was written before any of the synoptic gospels.
John’s gospel, which contains no record of the institution of the Eucharist in his narrative of the Last Supper, rather demonstrates Jesus’ witness of unconditional love when he washes the feet of the disciples. While the passage is understood as a mandate of service to others, it is primarily a reminder that service to others is done out of love and not out of duty or obligation. Jesus’ response to Peter’s reluctance to have his feet washed by the Lord is a reminder that we not only should give loving service to others but to accept the loving service of others with humility.
Of course, the Triduum recalls Jesus’ greatest gift of unconditional love, the giving of himself even unto death for our redemption.
Image Credit: The Last Supper by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834–1890), Wikimedia Commons
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