Bishop Edward Malesic celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, April 1, in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, marking the beginning of the sacred triduum, a three-day liturgical period that ends with evening prayer on Easter.
“It is good to be here as we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the sacrament of the priesthood and the commandment to love as Christ has loved us in the living parable of the washing of the feet,” he said.
The first reading described the initial Passover, which the bishop said is the context of the Lord’s Last Supper. At the first Passover, a lamb was sacrificed and eaten to provide strength for the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. The Israelites were told to use the lamb’s blood to mark their doorways so the angel of death would pass over them. Those living in unmarked homes experienced the death of their firstborn that night, so the Egyptians would beg the Israelites to leave, he said.
The Jewish people continue to celebrate Passover. In fact, Bishop Malesic said he recently participated in a virtual Seder with Cleveland’s Jewish community.
“Tonight, we remember that Jesus has given us a new Passover at an even higher level, but with the same direction. Jesus would pass over to the Father in heaven – and pass from death to eternal life,” he said, describing how on the night before he died for us, Jesus took the Passover bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ Jesus made himself the Passover lamb to be sacrificed,” the bishop said.
“It is his body, the holy sacrifice of every Mass, that gives us strength for us to journey with him and to pass over to the Father with him. We actually move with Jesus to heaven in a mystical way at this and every Eucharist.”
Next, he said Jesus took the cup of Passover wine and said, “‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ The wine would become his blood, the blood of the lamb, that we drink to mark us as those saved from the angel of ultimate death,” Bishop Malesic said.
St. John wrote, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”
The bishop said the exchange of bread for Christ’s glorified body and wine for his glorified blood occurs at each Mass because with God, all things are possible. “It is not our work, but God’s work that makes this happen,” he added.
By remembering the sacrifice of Christ, the offering of his body and blood on the cross, we become present to his passion once again, he said. “Here is God’s love poured out for us. But what to do with this love? Jesus makes it clear that for us who receive God’s love, we must share God’s love.”
The bishop also talked about how Jesus humbled himself, taking off his cloak and doing the work of a servant by washing the feet of his disciples. “Normally, we genuflect before God, but in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus genuflected before his people. What a different type of God we have – one who serves rather than be served. Jesus empties himself of his equality with God to become one of us – even less than one of us – a slave – to serve us, to heal us, to redeem us,” he said.
Jesus showed us a new way to live, the bishop explained, noting that he teaches us to serve rather than to be served; to think of other people before we think of ourselves and to be selfless in the face of so much selfishness in the world. “This is what love is and we must continue to be a servant Church if we want to dine worthily at the altar table where we receive the body and blood of the God who not only invites us to dine with him, but also becomes the sacrificial meal that we consume.”
He said we must serve each other as we have been served by God.
“May the food we eat tonight, the bread, become Christ’s body and the wine become Christ’s blood, give us the strength to do as we have been commanded: to love one another as Christ has loved us,” Bishop Malesic said.
During the Mass, he washed the feet of six people from the congregation, imitating what Jesus did at the Last Supper.
After distribution of Communion, the Eucharist was taken to an altar of repose where it will remain until the Easter Vigil. The altar was stripped and the congregation was able to spend time in adoration until night prayer.