Today we celebrate with great solemnity the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, commemorating the night when Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Paschal Sacrifice of Himself for the salvation of the world. It would take place in the “Upper Room,” the same upper room where He will institute four of the Church’s sacraments: Holy Eucharist, Holy Orders, Holy Confession and Holy Confirmation. Jesus would institute two of them at the Lord’s Supper: the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders. Both were rooted in Israel’s Jewish history. For further education, I highly recommend Dr. Brant Pitre’s Books: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist and Jesus the Bridegroom.
Today’s First Reading is taken from the Book of Exodus 12, which very precisely maps out the sacrificial offering of the unblemished lamb to be sacrificed on the night of Passover. It is not a coincidence that the Passover meal is offered by the Father of the family, which is a pre-cursor to the Aaronic priesthood and Jesus’ New Covenant priesthood. This is the way God planned it from the beginning of creation. It is based on a covenantal relationship between God the Father, the Bridegroom and Israel, His Bride. This is a foreshadowing of His future Church, which is the Bride to His Bridegroom Messiah Son, Jesus the Christ. Verse 14 states: “this day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution.” Naturally this would point to the continuing celebration of the Jewish Feast of Passover to this very day, but Jesus deliberately and with great detail changed ALL of this.
Let’s look at the Institution of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus changed many important details in the Passover on the night of His “Last Supper.” Why? Because He was creating something new, after all, He was re-creating Creation. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve can see the beauty and holiness in each other intimately because they were not clouded by original sin. Since the fall of humanity with the disobedience of Adam and Eve, our first parents, we needed to be redeemed. We had lost our original innocence, our original unity, holiness, solitude and nakedness without shame. The Father sent His only begotten Son to save us from eternal death and bring us eternal life. Without truly knowing God and who He truly is, we run the risk forgetting who we truly are and why we are born. We can lose our meaning, our sense of purpose and understanding of who we truly are – our original innocence and holiness. Jesus came to re-claim us as the Father’s adopted sons and daughters (Baptismal Rite). By Jesus offering His Body and Blood on the Cross for us He was not only redeeming us to the Father, but creating us anew, bringing us more deeply into the life of the Blessed Trinity. St. John Paul II teaches us all this in his beautiful work: Men and Women He Created Them-A Theology of the Body. The Lord’s Supper is the instituting of the Paschal Feast, which culminates tomorrow on the Cross, where Jesus the Bridegroom marries His Bride, the Church and each one of us.
St. Paul alludes to this when He quotes our Lord’s own Words, “this cup is the new covenant in My Blood.” Jesus changed the Passover meal into a new Passover, because He was instituting the new Covenant in His Own Blood. Only His Precious Blood could atone for the sin of our first parents and ransom us from our captivity in Original Sin and open the Gates of Heaven (an invocation in the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) to us, who believe. The Jewish temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. There is no more animal sacrifice, because the real Sacred Temple of God (another invocation in the Litany of the Sacred Heart) and the truly Holy and pure unblemished Lamb of God, Jesus would take the place of the original Passover. The Jewish Passover was transformed into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which Christ instituted and directed us to continue until He Comes Again and this is what the Catholic Church has been doing for 2000+ years. Jesus institutes a “new exodus” freeing us from Satan and sin. Jesus is the new Bridegroom, the new exodus, the new testament and the new Passover.
We Catholics commemorate and re-present in a sacramental and unbloody manner the Lord’s Supper every Catholic Mass. It is not like a Civil war battle reenactment, but a re-presentation of Jesus’s Sacrifice and makes it truly present before us. For 2000+ years this is the faith Jesus handed down to us, yet so many disbelieve and have become skeptical, doubting God’s own Holy Words. Jesus institutes His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, which is not a symbolic presence, but commands us to “do this in memory of Me.” This is not only the Holy Eucharist, but the next sacrament as well, Holy Orders. To deny Christ’s own words is a denial and rejection of the New Covenant Christ instituted in His Real Presence at the Lord’s Supper, which culminated on the Cross on Good Friday.
The second Sacrament Jesus institutes on Holy Thursday at the Last Supper is the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Jesus institutes that evening before His Sacred Passion, the Holy Priesthood who would carry out the consecration of the Holy Eucharist and forgiveness of sins, until He comes again. Yes, the priesthood is holy, because it is Jesus who works through the Sacred Priesthood, despite the fact we are sinners. The Institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Priesthood are inseparably linked because of Jesus’ words and actions. The Institution of the Sacred Priesthood was done in Jesus’ action of the Washing of the Feet. Sadly, this beautiful act of Christ has been unfortunately marred with much confusion, which at times, has caused contention rather than complementarity and collaboration between the common and sacred priesthoods.
All baptized Catholics participate in Jesus’ common priesthood and are endowed with particular gifts and charisms depending on your vocational calling. The laity can offer their married or single lives to Christ and offer up many acts of love and sacrifices united to His Cross for the salvation of the world. You can also teach not only your children and grandchildren, but by many words and actions in your lives in the world, and do it within the vocational calling God has given you to bear witness to the Truth, love and mercy of Jesus Christ and His Church.
St. John Paul II in Theology of the Body and throughout his pontificate, frequently wrote and talked about the complementarity of the sexes: male and female and the complementarity between those married and those who live celibate lives: sacred priests, consecrated religious and virgins. We also need to truly begin to recognize the complementarity of the common and sacred priesthoods. It is a complementarity and collaboration we all need to learn. The sign of the love between husband, wife and children point to the invisible reality of the Blessed Trinity. The body makes known the reality of the invisible God. It’s the same as the marriage between Sacred Priests and Common “Priests” – the laity. The self-giving humble sacrificial love in the body will make known the invisible reality of God.
Father Tom DeSimone was ordained a priest on May 13, 2006, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He most recently served as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in White Plains, NY. He joins the staff of the Theology of the Body Institute on a three year leave from the Archdiocese of New York, to become the Institute’s first full time spiritual advisor and Director of Clergy Development.