HOLY THURSDAY: Commemoration of the Eucharist During the Last Supper
THE NEW COVENANT
At the heart of Holy Thursday is the commemoration of Christ’s institution of the Holy Eucharist. Everywhere the Evangelists, particularly John, connect the Lord’s Supper with the Jewish Passover. Jesus transforms the Jewish Passover into a commemoration of his sacrifice as the Lamb of God on the Cross. He is the new Moses who leads God’s people on a new exodus, not from slavery in Egypt and bondage to Pharaoh but from slavery to sin and captivity to Satan. It will be his Body that will be our bread from heaven in the wilderness of this world and it will be his Blood that will protect us from death.
In sharing Jesus’ Body and Blood through the Eucharist, we become what he is, a child of the Father. The Eucharist is our family meal, it is when we dine together in family fellowship and share communion. By it, we are incorporated into the eternal family of the Blessed Trinity. It is a foretaste of the eternal banquet of the beatific vision of God in heaven.
THE NEW COMMANDMENT
In John’s Gospel, the foot washing sets up Jesus’ issuing of a “new commandment.” This is why Holy Thursday is often called “Maundy Thursday”—“maundy” deriving from the Latin mandatum, which means “command” or “law.” Mandatum novum do vobis or, “A new commandment I give to you,” says Jesus, “that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Interestingly, this new commandment occurs in between Jesus foretelling Judas’ betrayal and his prediction of Peter’s denial. The passage turns on the questions of Jesus’ departure—“where I am going you cannot come” – and the “glorification of the Son of Man.” This new commandment, then, is once more not merely about being kind and loving, but especially about the glorification of Christ through his Church. Christ calls his new priests to be a brotherhood, not self-interested or self-preservationist like Judas or Peter. Christ’s glory will be known in the world through the unity of his Church, the love which his priests and people have for each other.
THE NEW BETRAYAL
After the Communion on Holy Thursday, the priest and ministers take the Sacrament to an “altar of repose” usually decorated like a garden. It’s a representation of the way in which—after the Lord’s Supper—Jesus and his apostles left the Upper Room and went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Anytime people are in a garden in Scripture, we should immediately think of the famous Garden of Eden. Indeed, we have just discussed how the Eucharist is the reestablishment of the covenant with God, a returning of heaven to earth, a return to the original Garden of Eden.
Yet, as always, there is a new betrayal. Of course, Judas will betray Christ with his infamous kiss. But there is another forsaking. The apostles can’t keep vigil with Jesus as he prays to the Father. They fall asleep, having to be woken twice by Christ. And when Jesus is arrested and put on trial, they all abandon him.
At this moment in the liturgy, we are invited to keep watch with Christ by adoring the Blessed Sacrament. We are encouraged not to flee out the parish doors, but to stay a little while and pray with Christ, to linger in the Garden of Eden of the Holy Eucharist.
All material courtesy of The Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.