Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday), Year A 2023 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Exodus 12:1-8,11-14; Psalm 115(116):12-13,15-18; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15
My dear friends,
“A new commandment I give you. Love one another as I have loved you”. These words of our Lord after he has washed the feet of his disciples are the origin of Mandatum or Maundy Thursday. They also give meaning and context to the most cherished ritual in our Catholic faith, which is the Eucharist. It is rightly called by the Catechism as the source and summit of the Christian life. The Eucharist nourishes us with the life and love of God totally poured out in Christ so that we can love and serve one another as he commanded us.
We cannot understand the Christian Mass without reference to its roots in the Old Testament. In the first reading, taken from the Book of Exodus, we hear the description of the Jewish Passover meal. In this ritual, our Jewish forebears celebrate the deliverance from slavery and renew their commitment to build a post-Exodus society. They are commanded to form a covenantal community in which the care of the most marginalised was to be the essential distinguishing feature. At their best, Israel developed some of the most rigorous safety nets and a very sophisticated care economy in the Ancient Near East. Instead of the exploitation under Pharaoh, they enacted a divine mandate that protected those at the bottom of the society such as the orphans, widows and strangers.
At the Last Supper, Jesus transforms the Jewish Passover meal. It is no longer just a celebration of freedom from bondage in Egypt. Jesus anticipates a new kind of exodus by his death and resurrection. He is the Passover Lamb, bringing about a new and greater exodus—leading us not to an earthly promised land, but to the reign of God’s justice and love. Hence, to participate in the Eucharist is to make present Jesus’ liberating and transforming power in our lives and relationships, especially those of the poor and the dispossessed.
To eat his flesh and to drink his blood is not just a privilege. When we say “Amen” as we receive communion, we don’t simply shut ourselves from others. The “Amen” actually obliges us to be like Christ, becoming the body broken and the blood poured out for others. It is also a profound statement of commitment and solidarity with all who suffer throughout the world. This is not something we do alone, but as a community, in communion with Christ and with our brothers and sisters who form his Body on earth.
The gesture of foot-washing is profoundly connected to the Eucharistic sacrifice and self-giving. Jesus uses this Jewish custom to demonstrate the depth and intensity of his love for his disciples. He subverts the worldly notion of greatness, power and leadership by taking on the role of a servant. He illustrates powerfully to us what it means to be his follower. It is a relational paradigm or a model of living and being in the world, that is rooted in kenosis, that is in self-giving love as opposed to self-preservation. It is the visual demonstration of the Beatitudes. It is in emptying ourselves for the sake of others that we become rich. It is in bearing pain, that we find joy and in dying that we rise to new life.
Maundy Thursday is also traditionally regarded as the birthday of the ministerial priesthood. Jesus presents a model of ministry that must be reclaimed unequivocally. We need to go to the drawing board which is the Gospel of service exemplified by Christ’s radical immersion in the coalface realities of life.
While ordained for service, the priest remains not apart from but a part of the faithful in need of support, ministry and community. Though he preaches, he listens with an open heart to the wisdom of others. Though he blesses, he also bows his head to receive the blessings of others. Though he ministers, he also recognises the ministerial charisms in others and works with them collaboratively for the good of the community. This is why Pope Francis is moving decisively towards a new way of being church, called the synodal way which empowers every baptised person to contribute to its mission.
My dear friends,
Tonight’s celebration highlights for us what it means to be a disciple and what it means to be a body of Christ. Given that we are likely to be a minority in the future, our response to an increasingly secular society is not to batten down the hatches and circle the wagons but to cast out into the deep in active and intentional discipleship. It is to act like leaven in the dough. Tonight, we give thanks for this gift of Christ’s body and blood. As we celebrate and share the Eucharist, let us commit ourselves to the journey of transformation. May we grow daily into the Eucharistic Lord who reaches out to all people and leads them to the heart of God. May we be known as Jesus’ disciples by our love and service, especially to the poor and forgotten of this world.
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