The Last Supper, art by Bradi Barth
“Having loved His own … He loved them unto the end” (John 13: 1-15), and in those last intimate hours spent in their midst, He wished to give them the greatest proof of His love. Those were hours of sweet intimacy, but also of most painful anguish. Judas had already set the price of the infamous sale; Peter was about to deny his Master; all of them within a short time would abandon Him. The institution of the Eucharist appeared then as the answer of Jesus to the treachery of men, as the greatest gift of His infinite love in return for the blackest ingratitude. The merciful God would pursue His rebellious creatures, not with threats, but with the most delicate devices of His immense charity. Jesus had already done and suffered so much for sinful man, but now, at the moment when human malice is about to sound the lowest depths of the abyss, He exhausts the resources of His love, and offers Himself to man, not only as the Redeemer, who will die for him on the Cross, but also as the food which will nourish him. He will feed man with His own Flesh and Blood; moreover, death might claim Him in a few hours, but the Eucharist will perpetuate His real, living presence until the end of time.
Today’s Mass is, in a very special way, the commemoration and the renewal of the Last Supper, in which we are all invited to participate. Let us enter the Church and gather close around the altar as if going into the Cenacle to gather around Jesus. Here we find, as did the Apostles at Jerusalem, the Master living in our midst, and He Himself, through the person of His minister, will renew once again the great miracle which changes bread and wine into His Body and Blood; He will say to us, “Take and eat … take and drink.”
It was Jesus Himself who made the arrangements for the Last Supper, choosing “a large room” (Luke 22:12), and bidding the Apostles to prepare it suitably. Our hearts, dilated and made spacious by love, must also be a “large” cenacle, where Jesus may come and worthily celebrate His Pasch.
The Washing of the Feet, art by Bradi Barth
During the Last Supper and coincident with His gift of the Sacrament of love, Jesus also left us His testament of love—the living, concrete testament of His admirable example of humility and charity in the washing of the Apostles’ feet, and His oral testament in the proclamation of His “new commandment.” The Gospel of today’s Mass (John 13:1-15) shows us Jesus, as the Master, washing the Apostles’ feet; it ends with His words: “I have given you an example, that as I have done, you also may do.” It is an urgent invitation to that fraternal charity which should be the fruit of union with Jesus, the fruit of our Eucharistic Communion. He mentioned it in precise words at the Last Supper: “A new commandment I give unto you: ‘that you love one another’ as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (ibid. 13,34).
If we cannot imitate the love of Jesus by giving our body as food to our brethren, we can imitate Him at least by giving them loving assistance, not only in agreeable circumstances, but also in difficult and disagreeable ones. By washing His disciples’ feet, the Master shows us how far we should humble ourselves to render a service to our neighbor, even were he most lowly and abject. The Master, who, by unceasing proofs of His love, advances to meet ungrateful men and even those who have betrayed Him, teaches us that our charity is far from His unless we repay evil with good, forgive everything, and even willing to repay with kindness those who have done us harm.
The Master, who gave His life for the salvation of His own, tells us that our love is incomplete if we cannot sacrifice ourselves generously for others.
O Jesus, grant that I may fathom the immensity of that love which led You to give us the Eucharist.
~ A Meditation by Fr. Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.