Exodus. 12: 1-8, 11-14; I Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-15
Have you ever noticed that in Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper everybody is on one side of the table? The other side is empty. “Why’s that?” someone asked the great artist. His answer was simple. “So that there may be plenty of room for us to join them.” Want to let Jesus do his thing on earth through you? Then pull up a chair and receive him into your heart.
As we celebrate this Mass of the Lord’s Supper we give thanks to God for the Priesthood and the Eucharist. The Priesthood was born during the Last Supper, as Pope John Paul II reminded us. There were many priests in the Old Covenant but there is one Priest, Christ, in the New Covenant and he has extended his priestly ministry to us his ordained priests.
While some find it difficult to talk of Jesus as Priest, Scripture is very clear that Jesus is the Priest of the New Covenant. A priest is someone who offers sacrifice. There were many animals sacrificed in the Old Covenant by the Jewish priests, but there is one sacrifice offered in the New Covenant, the sacrifice of Jesus in his priestly offering of himself on the cross.
Scripture talks of Christ’s death as a sacrifice because he is the Priest of the New Covenant; “Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God” (Eph 5:2) “you were ransomed…with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.” (1 Pet 1:18-19) During Mass that one sacrifice of Jesus as the Priest of the New Covenant is extended to us through time and made present to us. There is not a new sacrifice of Jesus on the cross during every Mass; it is the same one sacrificial offering of Jesus as Priest on Calvary but extended through time and made present to us now.
We have just listened to the account of the Last Supper in John’s Gospel. It described Jesus washing the feet of his apostles (John 13:1-15). That is only part of John’s account of the Last Supper. Part of the ordination rite of priests in the Old Covenant involved washing. (Ex 29:4; Lev 8:6). During the Last Supper, during
which the priesthood was born and Jesus consecrated his apostles as the priests of the New Covenant, he washed their feet. Jesus performs this action to teach his apostles to serve rather than be served (John 13:13-15).
The Stole and the Towel is the title of a book, which sums up the message of the Italian bishop, Tony Bello, who died of cancer at the age of 58. On Maundy Thursday of 1993, while on his deathbed, he dictated a pastoral letter to the priests of his diocese. He called upon them to be bound by “the stole and the towel.” The stole symbolizes union with Christ in the Eucharist, and the towel symbolizes union with humanity by service. The priest is called upon to be united with the Lord in the Eucharist and with the people as their servant. Today we celebrate the institution of both the Eucharist and the priesthood: the feast of “the stole and the towel,” the feast of love and service.
Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in the context of the Last Supper surely teaches us that the Eucharist is linked with service. Our celebration of the Eucharist should lead us to love all our brothers and sisters in a sacrificial way. Our celebration of the Eucharist sends us out from here to love and serve the Lord in others. Our meeting with the Lord here continues as we love and serve the Lord in others after our celebration here. That is also why it is during the Last Supper that Jesus gave his new love commandment, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34).
Today I invite you to take a few moments to thank God especially for the gifts of Priesthood and the Eucharist. I also ask you to spend some time reflecting how we all can become Eucharistic people by serving one another as Jesus taught us in our daily lives.