Thursday of the Lord’s Supper – Eucharist and Humble Service

March 23, 2018

The Pastor's Page

Last SupperThe Last Supper took place on the first Holy Thursday. It was that night that Jesus instituted the Eucharist, but curiously, the gospel for the Mass on Holy Thursday is not the Institution Narrative, it is the footwashing.

The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, No. 11). It is foremost among the other sacraments because it is received most often, unites a person to Jesus who is truly present, affords a special opportunity for a close personal conversation with Jesus, is spiritual sustenance and a fountain of grace for a lifetime, places a person in communion with the other members of the Body of Christ, forgives venial sins, and provides the companionship of Jesus on the journey through human life and the final journey to heaven and eternal life.

Important as the Eucharist is, it is not the gospel on Holy Thursday, it is the second reading (1 Cor 11:23-26). It is one of the four accounts of the Institution of the Eucharist in the New Testament (Mt 26:26-30; Mk 14:22-26; Lk 22:14-20). Why is an Institution Narrative not used for the gospel on Holy Thursday? And why take a passage from the Gospel of John, the only evangelist whose gospel does not have the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper?

Holy Thursday Foot Washing

It is not because John believes that the Eucharist is unimportant. He is the only evangelist to write a Bread of Life Discourse (Jn 6:22-71), an extended reflection on the importance of the Eucharist. John alone calls Jesus the bread of life, says that the Eucharist bread from heaven, and explains that his flesh is true food and his blood true drink, that Jesus will dwell within whoever receives the Eucharist, and that it leads to eternal life.

The footwashing is the gospel on Holy Thursday, and John is the only evangelist to report it. It took place at the Last Supper before the institution of the Eucharist and for John, the footwashing and the Eucharist are closely related. The footwashing prefigures the crucifixion. Jesus humbly gave of himself when he washed his disciples’ feet, and he humbly gave of himself when he gave his life on the Cross; and this parallels the Eucharist in which Jesus gave his body and blood under the form of bread and wine, and then gave his body and blood on the Cross.

Eucharist is about True Presence. Jesus is present under the forms of bread and wine, and with the footwashing, John is conveying another perspective on True Presence. Jesus is present in the form of humble service. Jesus was present to his disciples when he took off his outer garments and knelt down at their feet, a touching demonstration of humility, and then washed and dried their feet, a tender expression of love in menial service. When a disciple offers humble service to anyone, particularly in lowly ordinary tasks, and does so out of love, Jesus is made present.

And the Eucharist is ordered to service. Once a person receives the Eucharist at Mass and leaves the church, the person has been energized to serve others in the name of Jesus. The communicant humbly and cheerfully gives humble service, particularly in the little things, giving freely, without seeking repayment or notice. Service drains energy, and once depleted, the communicant needs to go to Mass to receive Holy Communion again to be reenergized for the next round of service. The Eucharist leads to service, and service leads to the Eucharist.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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