This evening we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. All Masses are commemorations of the Last Supper, but this Mass is a special commemoration, a true anniversary as we focus in a particular way on Our Lord in the Upper Room and on all that he did there on that most holy night before he died. The Last Supper ought more properly to be called the First Eucharist because it was the institution of the Eucharist—the Mass—whose celebration is the hallmark of all true believers in Christ.
On that night Jesus took the bread, blessed it and said: This is my body which will be given up for you, do this in memory of me. By this action we believe that ordinary bread is changed in a mysterious way into the Body of Christ. And we further believe that every time we repeat this action in the celebration of the Mass, the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Our Lord.
This is, what theologians call, a very high theology of the Eucharist, and it isn’t accepted by all Christians. And yet this is how the Apostles understood what Our Lord that night, and it was the universal belief of Christians until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. We Catholics remain firm in our faith that the bread and wine offered at Mass, through the action of Christ and the priest who celebrates Mass, do really become for us the Body and Blood of Christ.
This food for our bodies becomes food for our souls: this tiny host and this mere sip of wine could never satisfy our physical hunger, but they bring our souls more nourishment than we can possibly imagine.
We are not literalists or naïve fundamentalists and we don’t see and taste actual flesh and blood. But we firmly believe that what has the outward form of bread and wine is transformed by God into the most intimate union with Christ his Son—it is in its very essence his true Body and Blood.
The Eucharist is the deepest communion that we could possibly experience with the Son of God. And yet we celebrate it here day-in-day-out and it never grows stale, we are never bored—in fact what grows in us is an ever-greater yearning for complete union with God.
The other significant action of Our Lord at the Last Supper was the washing of the feet of his disciples before the meal took place. In this gesture we see Our Lord showing us how to live out our daily lives as Christians. We see him kneel on the floor before his disciples and bathe their feet, performing the work of the lowliest servant in the household and yet making it the greatest of honours.
This wonderful symbolic act is all-of-a-piece with Christ’s sharing of his Body and Blood later in the meal and his total and complete submission to the will of his Father in his Passion and death on the Cross the following day.
And after the meal we go with him to the Garden of Gethsemane. We keep vigil with our suffering Saviour. We keep vigil with him on the night before his death as he suffers deeply from the realisation of what was to happen the next day: the hardest, the most awful and yet the most glorious day of his life, and indeed of all our lives.
This is why we rejoice on this Holy Night. We celebrate the Last Supper of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we glory in the marvellous wonders he has achieved, and we unite ourselves with the powerful mysteries we celebrate. I don’t think we can ever fully grasp the depth of these mysteries, but their profundity amazes us and inspires us with faith in the wonderful way that God has chosen to demonstrate his love for the world.
And our prayer is that Christ will soon bring to fulfilment in our lives all that he has promised; and that through our celebration of this Mass we will become totally at one with him. His mandate that we should love one another will become then, not an act of will on our part, but our spontaneous reaction to everyone we encounter. And the Kingdom will be no more a vision and a hope, rather it will have become an ever present reality in our daily lives.