“The Lenten journey finds its fulfillment in the Paschal Triduum…” Pope Benedict XVI
Celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on the evening of Holy Thursday marks the beginning of the Triduum, the three day observance of Jesus’ Passion, death and Resurrection, that closes with Evening Prayer on Easter. Of this ancient Christian observance St. Ambrose wrote: “During this Sacred Triduum… (Christ) suffered, rested and rose from the dead.”
As a symbol of the time that Jesus “rested” in the tomb, the bells, organ and other instruments in the church fall silent after the Gloria and remain so until the Easter Vigil.
Three of the great mysteries of our faith are commemorated during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the institution of the Eucharist, the establishment of the priesthood and the Christian’s call to service.
In the first reading, the Passover story from Exodus, we are told how the blood of the paschal lamb applied to the Hebrew’s doorsteps and lintels caused God to pass over their homes when the tenth plague claimed the firstborn of the Egyptians. The saving blood of the paschal lamb is a foreshadowing of the saving blood of Jesus.
The institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood is recalled in the passage taken from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (11:23-26) rather than from one of the synoptic gospels, Jesus offers the Apostles the bread and the cup, his body and his blood, saying “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” The Lord then adjures the Apostles: “…as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
While John’s gospel, which is read, has no institution text in the account of the Last Supper, it does contain the compelling story of Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles. In the foot washing account, which appears only in John, Peter, impulsive as always, declares “You will never wash my feet.” He could not comprehend Jesus performing the task of a slave.
Jesus replies, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me. “ Peter quickly acquieses blurting out, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” After washing the Apostles feet Jesus addresses them saying, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that, as I have done for you, you should also do.” John 13:1-15
Most parishes include the washing to the feet of chosen parishioners with the priest or the deacon taking the role of Christ with the basin and a towel. This reminds us of the third great mystery commenorated on Holy Thursday, the Christian’s call to the service of others.
At the end of the service, the Blessed Sacrament is taken in procession to the place of reservation, the altar is stripped and the tabernacle doors left open.
The day of the Lord’s passion has begun.