The Lord calls us to love one another

LENT 2020 – Day 44

Readings: Ex 12: 1-8, 11-14; Ps 115: 12-13, 15-16, 17-18; Cor 11: 23-26; Jn 13: 1-15

Maundy Thursday is the first day of the Easter Triduum. The readings of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper form a bridge between the historic liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and the final liberation of the world from the bondage of sin.

The reading from the Book of Exodus points to the origin of Israel as God’s Chosen People. The Lord commands that this month be the first of the year, in commemoration of the beginning of their liberation. He ordains on how to observe the Paschal rituals. These foster a feeling of religious community through the sharing of the paschal lamb. The staining of doorposts with blood of the expiatory lamb is the stamp of the divine that wards off all evil. Unleavened bread eaten in haste accompanied by bitter herbs is a symbol of the suffering from which the Israelites had fled.

When the twelve Apostles celebrated the Passover with their Master, they followed the traditional rite evoking the old covenants. It was also a thanksgiving for God’s many interventions to rescue the Israelites. What the Apostles did not realize, however, was that the Last Supper marked a new beginning. Jesus had anticipated Calvary where He would be presenting Himself as the paschal lamb, the Lamb of God. He did so mysteriously, by converting bread and wine into His Body and Blood. The Son of God made this supreme act of love so as to redeem the sins of humankind. The Holy Mass thus established became the bloodless Sacrifice of the New Covenant.

The Eucharist is a masterpiece of Jesus’ love, the best proof of His love for humankind. He made the Apostles participants in His Priesthood and ordained them to carry out that mystery. He gave them responsibilities and authority: to bind and loose in His name, to forgive sins, to transform the bread and wine into His Body and Blood. This the ordained priesthood would do infinite times, until the Lord’s return to the world. Their role is vital in helping the faithful to carry out their baptismal priesthood.

There was no better occasion than the Last Supper for the Lord to command His followers to love one another. He said, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (Jn 13: 34-35) This new commandment is a summary of all of God's law and brings about the definitive liberation.

Speaking to the first Christians, St Paul reiterated that this liberation emerged when the Paschal Lamb, who is the Christ, was sacrificed. Given that we Christians aren’t always united in love, we must take seriously the reminder from the Apostle of the Gentiles: that the Eucharist and the Church – the Sacramental Body and the Mystical Body – are intimately connected. We should place ourselves at the service of our brethren, in humility and love, of which the washing of the Apostles’ feet by our Lord is emblematic. A Eucharist celebrated amidst division cannot be a sign that we are followers of Christ.