Thursday, April 21, 2011

Not your ordinary banquet

In looking through art works depicting the Last Supper that Jesus Christ shared with his apostles, I noticed that almost all of them showed the youngest, John, leaning closely against Jesus. Some of them, too, included a figure with a small pouch close by -- portraying Judas Iscariot, the keeper of the group's purse.

It is easy to limit oneself to the obvious elements in the scenes leading up to Christ's Passion, but go beyond these and the love and affection of Jesus for his disciples (and for all mankind) become so enriching, especially for these days when going deep into last few days of Christ's life on earth is recommended.

Below are excerpts from In Conversation with God, Vol. 2: Lent and Eastertide, by Francis Fernandez):


1. 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 (Ex 12:14). 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 (John 13:5), 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.


What Christ did for his own may be summarised in a few words from St John: he loved them to the end (John 13:1). 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...

2. 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 (1 Cor 5:7); 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.


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 (Luke 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24). Together with the Holy Eucharist, which has to last until He comes (1 Cor 11:26), he instituted the ministerial priesthood.


3. The ‘New Commandment’ of Our Lord.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Liturgy, Washing of the Feet, Fourth Antiphon, John 13:35).

Jesus tells the Apostles of his imminent departure. He is going to prepare a place for them in Heaven (John 14:2-3); meanwhile, they will be united to him in faith and through prayer (John 14:12-14).

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 (John 15:12). Since then we have learned that charity is the way to follow God most closely (St Thomas, Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, 5, 1) 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 ennobled 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 (idem, On Charity), Many ask them selves 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 (B. Baur, In Silence with God).


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 (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes, 38).

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) (J. Escrivá, Friends of God, 287).

Art work:

1) The Last Supper, Duccio di Buoninsegna

2) Last Supper, Walter Rane

3) Christ Washing St. Peter's Feet, Ford Madox Brown

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