Holy Thursday 2017
Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Exod. 12: 1-8; 11-14
I Cor. 11: 23-26
Jn. 13: 1-15
INTRODUCTION: John’s Gospel does not have an Institution Account. Instead, he has only the Washing of the Feet during his Last Supper with his disciples on the night before he died. We re-enact it this evening as we begin the Easter Triduum. Let us focus then on the Eucharist under its threefold dimension as (1) Meal, (2) Sacrifice, and (3) Service of Love. Let us unpack each of these three dimensions from the three readings these evening.
(1) Our problems began with a bad meal. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden took the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as their own prerogative. What God has wanted from the beginning was to feed humanity with his very life. That is why he placed man in the midst of a Garden! But here is the rub! The Divine Life because it is a gift can only be received as a gift but never to be taken as a possession. That was what went wrong with our first Parents. Throughout Salvation History, God is continually re-establishing the gracious Meal. From our first reading from Exodus, the defining activity of the Jewish People, even until today, is a meal once a year. That is why also for Jesus table fellowship is so important. Saints and sinners gather around a meal to undo the bad meal of Eden. That is why just before he died he gathered his disciples around for a meal and said in thanksgiving to the bread: “This is my body! Take and eat.” To the wine after supper he said: “This is my blood! Take and drink.” The Last Supper is the undoing of the Garden of Eden, the re-establishment of the great festive banquet. This is exactly what we are doing every time we gather together for Mass. We sit again for a meal to listen to the word of God and then to eat his body and drink his blood. That is why the center of the Mass is a table for eating! That is only a part of the Eucharist!
(2) In a world gone wrong, there is no communion (sacred banquet) without Sacrifice. If we are off kilter, not aligned, and we want to put back the balance, it will cost us some pain, even blood. It will be painful and difficult to put it back to where it was before. That is why every major covenant in O.T. is accompanied by sacrifice. The Passover meal itself is centered on a sacrifice . Note that God has no need of our sacrifice. We are not propitiating for a dysfunctional Father. Rather what happened to the animal should happen to the offeror. The Passover Lamb is not mentioned because Jesus himself is the Lamb of God as he was referred to by John The Baptist. “This is my body that will be given up for you.” This is pure Temple Language that is so clear from Paul’s own version of the Institution in I Cor. 11: 24-26. So Jesus announces himself as the Paschal Lamb not because the Father needs it but because we need it. That is why the locus of the Mass is also an altar for the sacrifice.
(3) John’s Gospel on the Washing of the Feet during the Last Supper adds another dimension on the Eucharist. Servants used to wash the feet of travelers and visitors. That night Jesus chose to be the servant of his disciples. Jesus did not intend merely to wash them clean and make them feel fresh. His washing their feet symbolizes their being purified in baptism and in the sacrament of penance or reconciliation. That is why Peter who initially refused to be washed by the Master was warned: “If I do not wash you, you will have no part in me.” (Jn. 13: 8b) At the end of this incident, Jesus explained the meaning of what he has just done: “If I wash your feet — I who am your Teacher and Lord — then you must wash each other’s feet.” (Jn. 13: 14) Service or the new Commandment of Love is the mission of those who participate at the Eucharist. They are charged with this mission in the world after every Mass when the priest tells after blessing them: “Go! The Mass has been offered!”
CONCLUSION: The Eucharist takes place at a table because it is a Holy Meal that God wants to share with his People; at an altar because it is a Holy Sacrifice that makes the meal possible in a fallen world and carries with it the mission of brotherly Love in the world! To appreciate the Eucharist, we have to keep these three dimensions in mind! What a wonderful Sacrament!
Most Rev. Antonio R. Tobias, DD
Bishop of Novaliches