The celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday began joyfully in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, but ended on a somber note as Good Friday and the remembrance Jesus’ impending crucifixion draw near. (See photo gallery above.)
During the liturgy, which marked the beginning of the sacred paschal triduum – a three-day continuous liturgy that ends on Easter – the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood are recalled. These are gifts presented at the Last Supper in the Upper Room by Jesus to his apostles and passed down since that time.
During the Last Supper, Jesus assumed the role of servant and washed the feet of his apostles. “Can you imagine if the person you looked up to out of great respect knelt before you to be your servant?” asked Bishop Edward Malesic. “How unbelievable is it that God left his throne on high to come to earth -- for me and for you? How surprised the persons gathered with Jesus in the Upper Room must have been when he put on that apron, poured water into a basin and washed their feet?” the bishop said, adding, “And that was only the beginning. The next day, he showed them just how much he loved them – the day the master died for the disciples.”
The bishop also asked if it was any wonder that on the same night Jesus’ washed his disciples’ feet he gave them the Eucharist as the memorial of his suffering and death. “It would be the sacrament of charity – the never-ending gift of his body and his blood for us. The Eucharist which is so central to our faith as Christians perpetuates what Jesus did for us on the cross. He gave himself over to death for our salvation – but then he rose from the dead, never to die again,” he said.
“In the Eucharist, Jesus continues to love us to the end by staying with us in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar and in the unbloody re-presentation of his sacrifice,” the bishop said.
He also pointed out that Pope Francis said, “The Eucharist is essential for us. It is Christ who wishes to enter our lives and fill us with his grace.” Bishop Malesic said the pope realized what we have come to know – that we need Jesus to sustain us – and he wants to give us what we need. He loves us enough to feed us with the best. Jesus feeds us with his own life as bread broken for us and wine poured out for us.
“The change of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is a reality which surpasses all human understanding,” the bishop said. “Still, we have faith that if God can speak the words that made the heavens and earth at the beginning of time, Jesus, the Word of God, can say, ‘This is my body’ and the bread becomes his flesh. He can say, ‘This is my blood,’ and the wine becomes the fruit of our salvation,” he added.
The bishop also noted that the institution of the priesthood occurred at the Last Supper when Jesus gave us priests to act in his person. “Our priests say the powerful words of institution over the bread and wine, the words that bring the sacred presence of Jesus among us at every holy sacrifice of the Mass,” he said. “Thank you to the priests among us who have said ‘yes’ to God’s call in their lives. They make the Eucharist possible for us. Pray for more men to answer the call of Christ to be one of his priests.”
The bishop said every time we celebrate the Eucharist at Mass, the Church is renewed. “Jesus becomes the host of the sacrificial meal,” he added.
In St. John’s telling of the Last Supper, which was this year’s Holy Thursday Gospel, the bishop said he did not detail the institution of the Eucharist. Instead, he focused on Jesus washing the feet of his followers and told us to do the same. “As Jesus has done for us – taken care of us – we must do that for each other,” he said.
He reminded the congregation of what Pope Francis said several years ago at a Corpus Christi Mass when he asked: “Do I let myself be transformed by (Jesus)? Do I let the Lord who gives himself to me guide me to going out ever more from my little enclosure in order to give, to share, to love him and others? Let us pray that participation in the Eucharist may always be an incentive to follow the Lord every day, to be instruments of communion and to share what we are with him and with our neighbor. Our life will then be truly fruitful.”
After the homily, the bishop removed his chasuble, put on an apron and washed the feet of eight people, including the sponsor of a catechumen and a young girl who will be making her first Communion.
As is customary after Communion, there was no dismissal from Mass. Instead, the liturgy was suspended as the bishop and others venerated the Blessed Sacrament and in a procession through the cathedral, he transferred the Eucharist to the altar of repose where it will remain until the Easter Vigil. The faithful were invited to stay for adoration after Mass. The altar was stripped, the candles removed and the main tabernacle is empty.
The paschal triduum will continue on Good Friday with Stations of the Cross at noon and the Passion liturgy at 3 p.m.
The Easter Vigil will take place at 8:30 p.m. on Holy Saturday.