Holy Thursday: Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper

In this painting by Sieger Koder (click on image for larger version) the Lord washes Peter's feet, the bread and the cup of the eucharist on the table nearby. As the scriptures relate, Peter is objecting and protesting Christ's humble gesture. Jesus' face is hidden in service but reflected in the water in the basin. Note the Lord's own dirty feet: he serves others, taking care of their needs, before seeing to his own...

The Paschal Triduum begins with the entrance song for the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper:

We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ
in whom we have our salvation, life, and resurrection;
through whom we are saved and delivered!

Lent has ended and we are about the work of the church: offering praise and thanks to God for the mercy, love and forgiveness that is ours in the dying and rising of Christ. We do this in memory of Jesus Christ, our passover and our lasting peace...
Although we easily associate the Lord's Supper and this particular liturgy with the Eucharist, the gospel for this day is John's account of the supper on the eve of Jesus' death and in this account the Eucharist is not mentioned. Rather, John presents us with Jesus the servant, washing the feet of his disciples and instructing them that just as he has done for them, so must they do for each other... And just has Christ did for them, so must we do for each other...

Most parishes will celebrate the rite called the Mandatum (from the Latin referring to the new command, the mandate Jesus gives his disciples that they should love one another.) In some communities the priest will wash the feet of 12 persons while in other communities the priest will wash the feet of a few who in turn wash the feet of others who in turn wash the feet of others... until all who so desire have had an opportunity to have their feet washed and in turn to wash another's feet...

In some earlier rites, the newly baptized were given a towel as a reminder of their mission to be of service to others...

Following the Mandatum is the liturgy of the Eucharist. Enough bread will be consecrated to provide communion for tomorrow's liturgy because the Eucharist is not celebrated on Good Friday.

Following communion, the ministers and the people process with the Eucharist to a chapel or altar where the Eucharist is kept overnight. In most places, the church remains open until midnight for people to return and pray.

After Christ's supper with his disciples on the night before he died, they went to the garden of Gethsemane where the Lord asked his friends to be with him in prayer. You'll remember from Palm Sunday's gospel that they kept falling asleep, unable to keep their eyes open. As he told them, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." This night the Lord invites us to spend some time with him in prayer. The place is less important than the time... Some may not be able to stay at church or to return later: just take some time at home to be with the Lord...

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  1. A copy of this painting hangs in the rectory, but a few feet from where I work. I love it and never tire of seeing it.

    Tonight it will move over to gathering space I believe; it was there last year.

    Peace to you these days, these sacred days dear Fr. Austin.

  2. tonight I was in a church that is unfamiliar to me-
    and, the readings and the Gospel were read in a different language- Haitian Creole, I believe.
    The homily was in English, so that helped me...
    For the washing of the feet, the priest called out names and people (I didn't know how many, but thanks to your post I understand it was 12) went up and stood facing the people. I was confused and was glad when I got home and read this post.
    At first, I felt very much like I didn't belong and I missed the parish that I belong to very much. And... I thought about leaving...
    but, something (or someone) made me stay, and I am glad I did. I told myself that even though I was in an unfamiliar place, God was still with me- wherever I am He is with me. As the Mass went on, I gradually felt calmer and more comforted.
    I will be in three different churches this Triduum- and I am grateful.


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