Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Supper

(Exodus 12:1-8.11-14; I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15)

Lent begins in the dead of winter. But the word does not mean “winter.” It means “springtime.” Lent takes us from winter to springtime, from slavishness to self-control, and from selfishness to consideration of others. Some say that we shouldn’t give up anything for Lent but concentrate our efforts on charitable works. But we need to do both -- deprive ourselves of comforts and attend to others’ needs -- so that we might become more sensitive human beings.

On Holy Thursday we receive a similar dual mandate. In the second reading, St. Paul’s tells us how Jesus instituted the Eucharist on the night before he died. He took bread and wine, gave thanks for both, and said, “This is my body…This cup is the new covenant of my blood. Do this…in remembrance of me.” Out of obedience to Jesus’ “Do this...” we celebrate mass this evening and every day with the exception of tomorrow, Good Friday.

The washing of feet is the second of Jesus’ Holy Thursday commands. Interestingly, the foot-washing tradition appears only in the Gospel of John where Jesus does not offer bread and wine on the night before he dies. Does this gospel ignore the Eucharist? Not at all; only John gives the “Eucharistic discourse,” Jesus’ long reflection on eating his body and drinking his blood. We all remember his mystical words, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”

At the last Supper in the Gospel of John instead of taking bread, Jesus takes a towel and ties it around his waist. Instead of pouring wine, he pours water into a basin and begins to wash his disciples’ feet. Then he tells them something much like, “Do this in remembrance of me.” He says, “…as I have done for you, you should do for each other.” Of course, Jesus does not mean that on one day each year the priest should wash a few parishioners’ feet, much less that all of us wash each other’s feet everyday. No, he intends that we serve one another.

How do we do that? Workers should do the best job possible for the company as well as for its clients. Employers should strive to provide health care benefits and other essentials for human dignity. Retired people should not think of time as exclusively their own but dedicate it to God and neighbor. Parents should take care in providing the right mix of soft and tough love so that your children grow into caring and conscientious persons. Children should do their chores and study before watching television.

We’ve all heard the slogan, “You are what you eat.” It reminds us to limit our intake of calories and fats. But we Catholics take the slogan a step beyond. When we eat the flesh of Christ and drink his blood, we have his life within us. This life moves us from slavishness and selfishness to self-control and consideration of others. It enables us to fulfill Christ’s command to serve one another. It gives us eternal life.