Holy Thursday: Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
April 1, 2021
Our readings tonight begin in the time of the first Passover, that saving time when the Lord set his people free from slavery in Egypt. More specifically, today’s passage gives instructions on how they are to celebrate the Passover with the sacrifice of a year-old male lamb that is without blemish. (We do not give second-rate stuff to God).
They were to “take some of its blood and apply it to the doorposts” to mark the homes of Israelites so that their first-born sons would be spared. The blood marked them as God’s people.
They used unleavened bread. Why? In the first Passover, they ate unleavened bread as a people in flight.
This was the first Passover but it would not be the last. God declared it as a “memorial feast…a perpetual institution” to be at the head of their calendar, celebrated each year. As a “memorial” it was not just a historical reenactment of a past event. Rather, God made present in a way only God could what happened at the first Passover.
Raised in the Jewish tradition, Jesus kept the Passover. It was no coincidence that Jesus chose the time of the Passover as the time for what we begin to celebrate tonight. We call it our Easter Triduum.
As a “triduum”, we celebrate over three days but it is one united event we celebrate. It begins tonight with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, with the Institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood. Tomorrow, we celebrate Good Friday with the reading of the Passion of Jesus, his sacrifice for us. Then the Resurrection will follow.
With the Institution of the Eucharist, Jesus did not cast offall the practices of the Passover celebration. In fact He kept them. We still use unleavened bread as in the Passover celebration as a people in flight.
The Eucharist continues to be a sacrifice of a lamb but it is a different lamb. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is without sin, the unblemished lamb.
The Eucharist is a sacrifice that involves blood, Jesus’ blood that is shed in his Passion. As a sacrifice, a priest is needed to preside. Hence, the Institution of the Priesthood. The Israelites marked their doorposts with the blood of the lamb. In Baptism, the Sign of the Cross is made on our foreheads, marking us with the sacrifice of Jesus shedding his blood for us on the Cross.
The Eucharist is not an invention of the Catholic Church. It is, as Paul describes it in his First Letter to the Corinthians, what he “received from the Lord” and “handed on” to us. What Paul describes around 56 A.D. is still what we celebrate in the Eucharist. It is the words of Institution that we use in the Eucharistic Prayer at the Consecration when Jesus “took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you…This cup is the new covenant in my blood…do this in remembrance of me.”
When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are doing what Jesus told us to do. When we profess that is the Body and Blood of Jesus it is from Jesus’ own words, “this is my body…this cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
Just as God made present the saving action of the first Passover in each celebration of the Passover, our celebration of the Eucharist is a “memorial feast…a perpetual institution” that makes present in a way only God can Jesus’ actions of 2,000 years ago. For, as Paul wrote, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
The Eucharist is Jesus giving himself to us.
Receiving this gift, we should ask ourselves what the psalmist asks, “How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me? ”.
What did Jesus do when He “knew that his hour had come?”
God had “put everything into his power.” What did He choose to do with the power?
He washed the feet of his disciples.
He took on the role of a servant.
Receiving the Eucharist, we are called to follow the example, the model that Jesus has given us to follow.
Strengthened by the Eucharist, we are called to go out into the world to serve others.
When Mass concludes, there are three options given for the dismissal after the final blessing. The first is “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” The second gives us some work to do, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” Do you share the good news of the Lord?
The third is “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
“How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?” We are called from what we receive in the Eucharist to glorify the Lord by living as He calls us to life.