Apr. 13, 2017

Mass of the Lord's Supper

"DO YOU REALIZE WHAT I HAVE DONE FOR YOU? (Jn.13:12)". 

The Feast of the Lord's Supper starts in high spirits but eventually ends in low mood. We start up very high but the celebration winds down too emotional. At the end, the altar is stripped and everything assumes a silent posture. The realities of the passion and death of Christ become obvious. Jesus asks the question above, "Do you realize what I have done for you?" 

One may ask, "What is the relationship between the institution of the Eucharist and Jesus washing of the disciples' feet?" Jesus washes his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. He gets to Peter who tries to reject the gesture. The master insists, "Unless I wash your feet, you will have no inheritance with me". As the Lord and Master, He takes the role of a servant in the midst of his disciples. He washes their feet to show that greatness lies in service. He reveals his action in the end when he says to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me teacher and master, and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet" (Jn.13:15). The evangelist John presents his account of the Last Supper differently. Rather than tell the story of the institution of the Eucharist, he presents the Eucharistic theology that depicts Jesus' servant role through washing of the disciples' feet. 

Today's liturgy has three major components: 1. The expression of love 2. The institution of the sacred priesthood and 3. The institution of the Blessed Eucharist. The Eucharist is the sacrament of God's love whereas the priest celebrates the Blessed Eucharist. The gospel narrates, "Jesus loved his own in the world and loved them to the end". It is this love that we witness in both the washing of the feet and his sacrifice on the cross. Jesus loves us even when our feet are dirty, he bends down to clean us up. Jesus keeps aside his dignity and washes the feet of his disciples. He leaves us an example to imitate, "I have given you a model to follow" (Jn.13:15). God's love is experienced in his creation. He endows us with resources to take care of life. In particular, He gives us Christ in the Blessed Eucharist. At the Last Supper, Christ instituted the Blessed Eucharist for the following reasons:

-To perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages.

-To entrust to his spouse, the Church, a memorial of his passion, death and resurrection.

-To institute a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet (CCC 1322-1323). 

The first reading foreshadows these images in the Jewish Passover meal. The Passover was a meal-sacrifice which God intended to strengthen bonds of unity between him and the Hebrew people, and also among the members of the community. God said to Moses, "If a family is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join the nearest household in procuring one and shall share the lamb in proportion to the number of persons who partake of it" (Ex.12:4). The Jews shared the Passover meal as a sign of love; a sign of God's love for which he set them free. The lamb is to be slaughtered with the whole community of Israel present. The blood of the lamb is to be sprinkled on the doorposts of the Jewish people signifying the covenant between them and their God. And the promise is, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you" (Ex.12:13). The Passover meal is thus a memorial for the Jews, not just in the sense of remembering what is past. It is a memorial of the freedom granted them in Egypt, a memorial of the saving acts of God, a memorial of God's love. 

Saint Paul explained to the Corinthian church what it meant to celebrate the Last Supper. We hear him talk to us today, the tradition which he received from the Lord. This tradition contradicts the unhealthy sense of division which arose among the Corinthian community of the time. Distinctions among those who gathered for the meal unfortunately became the norm for which Paul was uncomfortable. Thus, Paul meant to communicate not just Jesus' actions but their meaning and symbols. Jesus took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me". He took the cup and said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me" (1Cor.11:24-26). This is the great sacrifice on the Cross. Christ offered himself to be broken because "body and blood" signified the whole person in the New Testament. This is the institution of the Blessed Eucharist. 

The Catechism teaches us that the Eucharist is the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ in the appearance of bread and wine. The various names given to this sacrament depict the idea which the Last Supper presents. It is the Lord's Supper because it connects us with the Supper which Christ took with his disciples on the eve of his passion, and which anticipates the wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev.19:9). The Breaking of the Bread because Jesus used this rite as part of the Jewish meal, blessed the bread and distributed it at the Last Supper. The Eucharistic Assembly, because it is celebrated within the assembly which is the visible expression of the Church. The Memorial, because it is celebrated in remembrance of the Lord's passion, "This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as feast to the Lord..." (Ex.12:14; 13:9). The Holy Sacrifice, because it makes present the one and only sacrifice of Christ and includes the Church's offering (CCC 1328-1332). 

At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the holy priesthood. "Do this in remembrance of me", is a mandate for the celebration of the Blessed Eucharist. For this reason, the Blessed Eucharist is said to be the greatest gift of God to the Church, the "source and summit of all the sacraments". The priest celebrates the sacrifice of the mass in the name of Christ who is the Head of the Church. At Mass, it is Christ who presides over the Eucharistic assembly, the priest represents Christ and acts in His Person. When the priest says during the consecration, "Take this and eat", "Take this and drink", it is Christ who gives himself to us. The holy Mass is therefore a celebration of the Lord's Passion, the mystery of his death and resurrection. Lay members also share in the priesthood of Christ by baptism. Lay members serve as readers, bring the offerings, partake in the holy communion, exchange the sign of peace with one another. The catechism declares that the people's "Amen" at Mass manifests their participation. 

The sacrifice of the Mass is thus a celebration of service which we all render to God. The Holy Eucharist also sends us on mission to love, and to be servants. Jesus asked his disciples after washing their feet: "Do you realize what I have done for you?" (Jn.13:12) Do we realize what Jesus has done for us? Do we realize what we do at Mass? Do we realize the enormity of values and blessings that come from the Holy Mass? Do we realize the need to wash each other's feet? Do we realize that we should be servants to one another? Do we realize that we are agents of love? That's the invitation from Jesus on this feast of the Passover celebration. We should realize what God has done for us through the death of Christ, and in turn, take on the message of love through service to others. Let us be alive to the situations of those in need. Washing other's feet means recognizing that we all must serve according to the mind of our Lord who was Master and Teacher but above all, servant.