The Lord's Last Supper

By Francis Fernandez

ICWG Holy Week – Holy Thursday

Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his Apostles.

Holy Thursday brings to mind the Lord’s Last Supper with the Apostles. As in previous years, Jesus celebrates the Passover with his own disciples. But this time the celebration would have singular characteristics, as it was to be the last Passover of the Lord before his transit to the Father and because of the events which were to take place immediately following it. Every minute of this Last Supper reflects both the Majesty of Jesus, who knows He is to die the following day, and his love and affection for men.

The Passover was the principal Jewish feast and had been instituted to commemorate the liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian domination. This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever. [1516] Every Jew is obliged to celebrate this feast to keep alive the memory of the birth of the People of God.

For the special arrangements Jesus turned to his favourite disciples, Peter and John. These two made all the preparations with the greatest care. They took a lamb to the Temple and made a sacrifice of it. Then they returned to the house where the meal was to take place, to roast it. They also prepared water for the ablutions, [1517] the bitter herbs (which represent the bitterness of slavery), the unleavened bread (in memory of their ancestors who had to interrupt their baking in the sudden flight from Egypt), the wine etc. They made a special effort so that everything would be just right.

These preparations remind us of the great pains we should take to prepare ourselves for each Mass we attend. Here the very same Sacrifice of Christ is to be renewed, wherein he gave himself for us; we too are his disciples, taking the place of Peter and John in their reverent and careful preparations for the Solemnity.

The Last Supper begins with the setting sun. Jesus recites the psalms in a firm voice and in his familiar regional accent. St John has told us that Jesus ardently wished to have this meal with his disciples. [1518]

Singular events took place in that period, which the evangelists have recorded for us: take, for instance, the rivalry between the Apostles, who began to discuss who was the greatest; think of Jesus’ surprising example of humility and of service when he carried out the menial task of the lowest of the servants – he began to wash their feet; consider, too, how Jesus went out of his way to show his disciples his love and affection. My little ones, he actually calls them. Christ himself wished to give that gathering such a fullness of significance, so rich in memories, scene of such moving words and sentiments, such new actions and precepts, that we will never come to an end of meditating on them and exploring them. It was, you might say, a testimonial dinner: it was an affectionate and yet a sombre occasion, a time mysteriously revealing divine promises and far-reaching visions. On top of that was the sad presentiment of death, with unprecedented omens of treason, of abandonment, of immolation; the conversation dies away, while Jesus’ words flow continuously in his gentle and winning voice, though there is an unwonted tension in his grave allusion to profound revelations, the matter of which hovers between life and death. [1519]

What Christ did for his own may be summarised in a few words from St John: he loved them to the end. [1520] To-day is a particularly appropriate day for meditating on the love Jesus has for each one of us, and how we respond to it: in regular dealings with him, in love for the Church, in acts of atonement and reparation, in charity towards others, in preparation and in thanksgiving for Holy Communion, in our desire to co-redeem with him, in our hunger and thirst for justice ...

Institution of the Holy Eucharist and priesthood.

And now, while they are eating, quite likely towards the very end, Jesus becomes at the same time serious and simple, simultaneously lucid and uttering deep truths in an attitude the Apostles recognise and know well. He remains silent for a few moments and then institutes the Holy Eucharist.

Our Lord anticipates in sacramental form – my Body ... given up: my Blood ... shed – the sacrifice which is to be consummated the following day on Calvary. Until now God’s covenant with his People has been represented by the paschal lamb’s being sacrificed on the altar of holocausts, at the traditional feast for the entire family that they call the Paschal meal. Now the Lamb being offered up is Christ himself, [1521] his, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant. The Body of Christ is the new banquet for which all the family congregate: Take this and eat.

In the Cenacle Our Lord anticipated sacramentally what on the following day He would carry out on the hill of Calvary – the offering and immolation of himself – Body and Blood – to the Father, as the sacrificial lamb which inaugurates the new and definitive Covenant between God and man, and which redeems everyone from the slavery of sin and from eternal death.

Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist to strengthen us in our weakness, to accompany us in our loneliness, and as a foretaste of Heaven itself. At the door leading to his Passion and Death, he ordains things in such a way that this Bread will never be lacking until the end of the world. For Jesus, on that memorable evening, gave his Apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests, the power to renew this marvel until the end of time. Do this in memory of me. [1522] Together with the Holy Eucharist, which has to last until He comes, [1523] he instituted the ministerial priesthood.

Jesus will always remain really, truly, and substantially present with us in the Blessed Eucharist. The Jesus of the Cenacle is the same Jesus who is in the Tabernacle. That night the disciples enjoyed the physical presence of Christ, when he gave himself to them and to all men. This evening, when we go to adore him publicly at the Altar of Repose, we too will find him again. He sees us and recognises us. We can speak to him as the Apostles did, and recount to him what concerns us and what gives us great joy; and we can thank him for being amongst us, and we can accompany him while recalling his generous self-giving. Jesus always awaits us in the tabernacle.

The ‘New Commandment’ of Our Lord.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. [1524]

Jesus tells the Apostles of his imminent departure. He is going to prepare a place for them in Heaven; [1525] meanwhile, they will be united to him in faith and through prayer. [1526]

It is then that he announces the New Commandment, which has already been proclaimed on every page of the Gospel. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. [1527] Since then we have learned that charity is the way to follow God most closely [1528] and the quickest way to find him. The soul understands God better when it lives charity with greater refinement, for God is love; and it is enobled more and more in the measure in which it grows in this theological virtue.

The way we treat those around us is the feature by which we will be known as his disciples. Our degree of union with him will be seen in our understanding for others and in the way we are of service to them. For recognition as his followers, He does not speak of their reaction to his being raised from the dead, or any other obvious proof, but of this one: that you love one another. [1529] Many ask themselves if they are in love with Christ, and go searching for signs to be able to discover and prove that they love him; the sign that never deceives is fraternal charity ... It is also the measure of the condition of our interior life, especially of our life of prayer. [1530]

A new commandment I give you ... [1531] It is a new commandment because the reasons for it are new: the neighbour is one with Christ, the neighbour is the object of the special love of the Father. It is new because the Model is always current, and because it establishes a new relationship between men. And it is new, too, because the degree of its fulfilment is new: as I have loved you; because it is directed to new peoples; because it needs new hearts; because it lays the foundations of a new order, one which has been unknown heretofore. It is new because it will always result in a freshness of approach between men, accustomed as they are to their egoism and routine.

This Holy Thursday we can ask ourselves, as we come to the end of this period of prayer, if those people around us where we spend the greater part of our lives know that we are disciples of Christ by the amiable, understanding and welcoming approach we have in dealing with them; if we try never to lack charity in thought, word or deed; if we know to make things up with them when we have treated others badly; if we show those around us many signs of affection, such as warmth, appreciation, words of encouragement, fraternal correction when necessary, the habitual smile and good humour, details of service, and a little help of the sort that goes unnoticed ... This love is not something reserved for important matters, but must be exercised above all in the ordinary circumstances of daily life. [1532]

With the Passion of Our Lord so close, let us recall both Mary’s dedication to the accomplishment of God’s Will and her service to others. So great is Mary’s love for all mankind that she, too, fulfilled Christ’s words when he affirmed: Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). [1533]

[1516] Ex 12:14

[1517] John 13:5

[1518] John 13:1

[1519] Paul VI, Homily, Holy Thursday, 27 March 1975

[1520] John 13:1

[1521] 1 Cor 5:7

[1522] Luke 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24

[1523] 1 Cor 11:26

[1524] Liturgy, Washing of the Feet, Fourth Antiphon, John 13:35

[1525] John 14:2-3

[1526] John 14:12-14

[1527] John 15:12

[1528] St Thomas, Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, 5,1

[1529] idem, On Charity

[1530] B. Baur, In Silence with God

[1531] John 13:34

[1532] Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes, 38

[1533] St. J. Escrivá, Friends of God, 287

Francis Fernandez Carvajal was born in Granada in 1938. A graduate in History from the University of Navarre, he also hold a doctorate in Canon Law from the Angelicum in Rome. He is a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature. Since his ordination in 1964, much of his pastoral ministry has been with university students. For more than ten years he was editor of he montly magazine PALABRA. Among his published works are   Lukewarmness- the Devil in Disguise, Overcoming Lukewarmness,Through wind and Waves, and Commentaries on the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke

His Series In Conversation with God can Be found Here

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