In the Catholic and other Christian traditions, tonight begins the Triduum (a word which means “3 days”), the most solemn and important 3 days of the ecclesiastical year. These 3 days celebrate in solemn and dramatic fashion the Hour of Glory of Jesus – His giving of Himself, His agony, suffering and death, and His resurrection. The Triduum begins with the celebration of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The readings speak of the blood covenants which God established with the Chosen People. They also speak of signs of God’s love and total care for the Chosen People.
The 1st Reading from Exodus recounts the origin of the Passover Feast. Moses telling the Israelites to set this feast at the top of the calendar, for this is the event which brought their freedom from slavery and the beginning of a new life. They were to slaughter a lamb without blemish whose blood is to be put on the doorposts and sides of the doorway of their homes. They are to feast on the cooked lamb and celebrate the Passover of the Lord. Yet even in their celebration, they must be ready to move, for after the Lord has passed over their houses and saved them from death, they are to leave their old lives of slavery and move to journey to the Promised Land. They are to eat the meal with unleavened bread, because of their haste and because this is to be new bread, not mixed with the old leavened bread. This is the blood covenant relationship God is making with the Chosen People – and through the blood of the lamb, the people are freed from death and slavery, and are led by their God to a new life.
It is no coincidence that Jesus celebrates the Passover feast with His followers at His Last Supper before his death. St. Paul reminds us of what Jesus did the night He was handed over. While saying the prayer of praise and blessing over the unleavened bread, Jesus gives the bread new meaning. It is His Body which will be broken and given for His followers. They are to continue to break the bread and recognize the presence of the Lord Jesus when they break the bread in His memory. He will be there, feeding them with His Body whenever they break the bread. St. Paul continues to speak of what Jesus did at the meal of the Last Supper. At the end, as the cup of wine is passed, Jesus gives new meaning to the cup as the cup of His Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant. Jesus is the unblemished Lamb of God, Whose Blood will be poured out to set the Chosen People free from the slavery to sin and give them new life through the death of the Lamb. In sharing in the Blood of the Lamb of God this covenant relationship is manifested.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke parallel St. Paul’s account of the Last Supper and focus on Jesus giving His Body and Blood to His disciples. In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of Himself as the Bread of Life and the need of His followers to eat of His Body and drink His Blood. John’s Gospel focuses on the Last Supper in which Jesus gives Himself in service. Thus many churches also re-enact Jesus’ service of the washing of feet as a powerful demonstration of Jesus’ love for His followers. Jesus takes on the role of the servant, lovingly washes the feet of His disciples. Jesus tells Peter that it is necessary for Him to wash Peter’s feet, otherwise cannot be in relationship with Him. As Jesus returns to His place, He reflects on the action, reminding His followers (us) that it is right that they call Him the Master-Teacher and Lord, for that is Who He is. Yet, if the Master washes the feet of His disciples in an act of service, so all disciples are called to act in similarly, serving one another. Service is the hallmark of the disciple of the Master-Teacher.
The celebration of the Lord’s Supper normally ends with a procession with Eucharist from the church to an altar of repose. We are invited to journey along with Jesus as He leaves the Upper Room and goes into the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus asks His followers to pray with Him. He asks Peter, James, and John to stay awake and pray while He goes forward and asks His Father if He need not go through what is about to happen. Yet, Jesus submits to His Father’s will and undergoes what is necessary for our salvation. His question when He returns to find His sleeping disciples, can be asked of us, “Can we not spend at least a little time in prayer with our Master-Teacher-Lord?”
Adapted from Bob Kondrath, Formation Coordinator, St. Lorenzo Ruiz R.C. Church, Walnut California