This very night throughout the world the Church begins three days of solemn celebration and remembrance as we journey with Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, through his Passion and Death for the Salvation of the whole world. Over the course of the Triduum the Church celebrates with great symbolism and startling contrasts to enter into these mysteries of Christ’s life. The ‘great’ three days will reach their culmination when we celebrate with great joy the Resurrection at the Easter Vigil, but it all begins this night as we recall the great command of love Christ himself taught us, by ’emptying himself’ for us; a love in which we all share.
Holy Thursday – The Mass of the Lord’s Supper
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper recalls Christ’s final Passover meal with his disciples before he is arrested and taken away. At that meal as an expression of his love, ‘ Jesus got up from table, removed his outer garment, put a towel around his waist and washed the feet of his disciples. We have to keep in mind that the feet were the dirtiest part of the body having been dragged through dust and all sorts of other particles on the long arduous walks people would make going about their business. Jesus, the teacher and Master of his disciples lowers himself to wash the feet of his followers, a sign of the purpose of what he was about to endure – ‘making us clean of our sins’.
We are told in the Gospel reading of the Mass that Peter found this difficult to take in and protested – ‘Never!’ said Peter ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ (Jn 13:8) But Jesus is adament ‘If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.’ (Jn 13:9)
After he had washed the feet of the disciples, Jesus went on to say:
‘You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.’ (Jn 13:13-15)
Here was an example for us that true Love has its expression in Service, in charity to one another.
Further still, that first Holy Thursday, Christ sat back at table and instituted the Eucharist for us, feeding us his body and blood, empowering us to love and serve like him, as him, as the Body of Christ … Christians. This reflects the common priesthood of all the baptised. The Institution of the Eucharist itself and the command to ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ are also a great celebration of the Ministerial Priesthood, as it is through the hands of the priest that Christ works to continue his saving action continuing today in the Sacraments.
At the conclusion of the Mass, Christ truly present to us in the Blessed Sacrament is removed from the body of the church to the altar of repose. Christ leaves the Upper Room and heads to the garden of Gethsemane to pray before entering into his Passion and Death on Good Friday. He invites his disciples to ‘watch and pray not to be tempted’, and so we stay with Our Lord at the altar of repose for silent prayer before we have to leave as he is taken away from us, and like the disciples we follow him to the events of Good Friday.
Archbishop George Stack led the celebrations this night at Cardiff Cathedral, the Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St. David, as priests led the celebrations throughout the Diocese and indeed the world.