Faith Matters

Holy Thursday: The Mass of the Lord's Supper

How can we begin to understand the love Our Lord has for us, asks Fr Edward O'Donnell on Holy Thursday

Fr Edward O'Donnell

Pope Francis has declared this year to be a Jubilee of Mercy.

The Pope writes, "Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God." An ancient prayer text for Holy Thursday proclaims: "He who tamed the fury of the seas, now pours water into a basin; the Master washes the feet of the servants. He who wraps the heavens in a cloud girds himself with a towel. He, in whose hand is the life of all things, kneels down to wash the feet of mere men."

Everything in Jesus speaks of mercy, and on the evening before his crucifixion he gave his disciples the supreme proof of his love. Even though he knew their frailty and their fears, even though he knew that they would abandon him and Peter would deny him, nevertheless, Jesus expressed his love for them, in unforgettable terms, through the menial task of washing their feet - "the Master washes the feet of the servants!"

It was a demonstration of what he meant when he told them, "love one another as I have loved you". He washed their feet with water, but it was his love that he poured over them.

This evening, as we gather for The Lord's Supper, we believe, we know, that Jesus our Lord is with us. When we come before him, when we come into the church we go down on our knees, we genuflect. We are reverent before our Lord - that is as it should be. But then we remember that Jesus is here among us "not to be served but to serve".

In an extraordinary reversal of roles, Jesus gives proof of his love for us, he goes down on his knees before us, he kneels before each of us and asks, "love one another as I have loved you".

How can we begin to understand the love Our Lord has for us? On the cross, from his pierced side, that love, symbolised by blood and water, was poured out in abundance, sacrificed to the last drop. This same love continues to pour out upon us through the Eucharist, the memorial of his total self-giving on the Cross.

At that Last Supper, when Jesus gave the bread and took the cup, the disciples ate his "love", drank his "love", fed on his "love". One of the great fathers of the early Church, St Ignatius of Antioch, made this startling statement, "For my drink I crave that blood of His which is love imperishable".

In the Eucharist, we too drink from the imperishable love of Jesus Christ; we too eat of his love. And he asks us, as he asked Peter and the others, "Do you understand what I have done for you?"

At the Last Supper, by washing the disciples' feet, Jesus gave them a sign that they could see and understand. This made it possible for them to understand that even greater sign of his love, the giving of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

Love is always given, is always shared, and is always poured out for others: "If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other's feet."

In the Eucharist Jesus draws us into a loving friendship with him, and with one another, a communion of souls; truly a holy communion. "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them." (John 6:56)

Jesus says to us: "I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you."

St Paul, writing to the people of Ephesus, outlines this Eucharistic way of living. He said: "Be kind to one another, each of you generous to all, as God in Christ has been generous to you. As God's favoured children, you must be like him. Order your lives in love, upon the model of that love which Christ showed us when he gave himself up on our behalf." (Ephesians 4:32; 5:1-2)

Lord Jesus, you kneel before me and ask: "Do you understand what I have done for you?" Yes Lord, I do! My love for you must be evidence in my love for all. You have shown me that loving mercy is "the beating heart of the Gospel".

:: Taken from a Holy Thursday sermon delivered at St Brigid's in Belfast at the Mass of the Last Supper.

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