Maundy Thursday

Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

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Every Mass is a commemoration of the Last Supper, but tonight’s 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 the 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.  As the Catechism, quoting Sacrosanctum Concilium, teaches us: “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian Life”. [1324]

On that night Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke 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 and miraculous way, into the Body of Christ.  And we further believe that every time priests repeat this action in the celebration of the Mass, the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

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 did 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, not just a representation of them.

This food for our bodies becomes food for our souls: the tiny wafer and a mere sip of wine could never satisfy our physical hunger, but in Holy Communion 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, Soul and Divinity.

The Eucharist is the deepest communion that we could possibly experience with the Son of God.  And yet we celebrate Mass 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.

And so that we could achieve this complete union with God, Our Lord instituted the Priesthood, so that what took place two thousand years ago in history, might be made present today through ministry of the priest.  We don’t just remember the past when we come to Mass, rather the past becomes present for us.  We are actually present at that saving event and, out of Christ’s love for us we receive in this, and every Mass, the life of the Lord himself.  And so, we thank God tonight for the Priesthood, and we think kindly of those priests we know personally.  At a time when there is a shortage of priests, we pray that our young men may consider a vocation to the priesthood, so that God’s people may never be deprived of the Sacraments and the graces they confer.

The third 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 his followers.  He humbles himself to kneel on the floor before his disciples and wash their feet, a task normally carried out by the lowliest servant in the household, and yet Our Lord makes 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 when Mass is over, 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 glory in the marvellous wonders Our Lord has achieved, and we unite ourselves with the powerful mysteries we celebrate in this Mass.  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 Mandatum – 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 future hope, rather it will have become an ever-present reality in our daily lives.

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