“At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the centuries until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.” – Sacrosanctum Concilium 47
Holy Thursday is one of the most profound liturgical celebrations in the Catholic Church. On this night, we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist – the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ – as well as the inauguration of the priesthood. Holy Thursday not only marks the end of Lent, but the beginning of the Easter Triduum – the three days that have been set aside by the Church to commemorate the events of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
On Palm Sunday, we saw how Jesus came up to Jerusalem with His disciples to celebrate the annual Feast of Passover.1 Once they had arrived, He asked Peter and John to make all of the arrangements for the ritual meal. When the time came, the disciples met together with Jesus in the Upper Room – also known as the Cenacle2 – to celebrate what we now refer to as the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. It was to be the last meal that Jesus would eat with them before He died.
During the supper, Jesus took off His garments and lovingly washed the feet of each of His disciples. It was a menial task – normally carried out by the lowest of servants3 – and His action was a beautiful example of the humility and service to which each one of us is called. “Do you know what I have done to you?” He asked. “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:12-15).
Then, in the Gospel of Luke we read, “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk 22:19-20).
With these words, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion. His death on Calvary would not take place until the next day, but His sacrifice truly began in the moment of that first Eucharist – when He voluntarily laid down His life for us in the sharing of the Bread and the Wine. “How can Jesus distribute his Body and his Blood?” writes Pope Benedict XVI. “By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, he anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart, and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence – the Crucifixion – from within becomes an act of total self-giving love.”4
But Jesus’ sacrifice at that first Mass was not meant to be a one-time event. With the words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus gave His disciples and all their successors – each one of our bishops and priests – “the power to renew this marvel until the end of the world.”5 Each time we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, we renew and perpetuate the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. For, as St. Paul reminds us, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:23-26).
– Sharon van der Sloot
“In the Cenacle Our Lord anticipated sacramentally what on the following day He would carry out on the hill of Calvary – the offering and immolation of himself – Body and Blood – to the Father, as the sacrificial lamb which inaugurates the new and definitive Covenant between God and man, and which redeems everyone from the slavery of sin and from eternal death.”6 – Fr. Francis Fernandez
1 The eight-day Feast of Passover is one of the most important Jewish celebrations. It commemorates how the angel of death claimed all of the firstborn sons of the Egyptians but “passed over” the homes of the Israelites, sparing their children. This miracle convinced Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt.
2 According to an ancient Christian tradition, Mary, the mother of St. Mark, owned the house of the Cenacle. – The Navarre Bible, trans. Michael Adams (New York: Scepter Publishers, 2000; 2nd edition, 2008), 302.
3 Fr. Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God vol. 2 (New York: Scepter Publishers Inc., 2005), 276.
4 Pope Benedict XVI (August 21, 2005), YOUCAT, trans. Michael J. Miller(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 124.
5 Fernandez, In Conversation with God vol. 2, 278.
6 Ibid., 277-278.