MASS OF THE LAST SUPPER
ST PATRICK’S CARTHEDRAL, ARMAGH
THURSDAY, 20 MARCH 2008
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
Welcome to this Mass of the Last Supper and a special welcome to those
good and generous people who have agreed to have their feet washed
during this Mass. They thereby allow us to remember, in a graphic and
vivid way, what Jesus did.
He is about to be betrayed into the hands of those who will kill him.
He has tried his best to touch the heart of Judas and turn him away
from his murderous plan but Judas remains stiff-necked and
hard-hearted. He has heard Peter protect that he is ready to die with
Jesus. He sees the disciples lukewarm enough despite all the signs
they had seen.
Jesus knows that his enemies are baying for his blood and hatching
their plan so he plays his last card. He leaves four wonderful gifts:
1. A new commandment of love,
2. An outstanding example of love,
3. A Sacrament of Love – namely by body and blood, and finally
4. The priesthood so as to continue the Eucharist.
We have a huge amount for which to love and thank Jesus in this Mass…
It is Holy Thursday – otherwise known as Maundy Thursday – and Queen Elizabeth II came to the City of Armagh earlier today to distribute Maundy Money officially called Maundy Pennies.
The word ‘Maundy’ comes from the word ‘Mandalum’ a Latin word meaning commandment – mandate. On the first Holy Thursday Jesus said to his disciples: “I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you’
This is the one and only commandment that really matters for, on the last day, we shall all be judged, without exception, by the same standard.
How did we love one another? Especially how did we show our love for the other person – who was hungry or thirsty or naked or sick on in prison?
At the Maundy Service in the Church of Ireland Cathedral I was asked to read a passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew. This passage describes the last judgement when Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.
As I read those words I was glad that BBC was carrying those words out to a wider audience because it is a message that we all need to hear and heed since this appointment with the Lord, on the last day, is one that none of us can ignore.
Of course this Mass of the Last Supper is always a deeply emotional experience for the followers of Christ. We are trying to commemorate, in one solemn ceremony, all that the Lord did and said on that fateful evening. Above all, we are here to give thanks for the four magnificent gifts which Jesus gave us on that occasion.
Jesus did not only give us a new commandment – the commandment to love one another – although that, in itself, is something wonderful as it forms the basis of the whole civilisation of life and love which He had come to bring – replacing, as it does, the civilisation of death and hatred which are the harvest of sin and selfishness.
But a commandment on its own would not be enough. So Jesus accompanies his commandment with his own personal example. After he had supped with his disciples and had eaten with them the Paschal meal – he got up from the table and proceeded to wash the feet of each one of them.
Washing someone else’s feet was the most menial of tasks. Peter was so appalled at the very idea of Jesus – his master – stooping so low – that he protested – in the strongest possible terms. But Jesus is quite uncompromising – this is non-negotiable – He is going to insist on carrying out this act of humble, lowly service. Having loved his disciples to the end – Jesus wants to drive home the lesson of how important all of this is. He wants to show how perfect his love is.
‘Love one another as I have loved you’. It is a matter of life and death. Firstly, because Jesus is going to actually give up his life – by dying on the cross for love of his friends – and what greater love can you imagine than that? Jesus is prepared to suffer the most ignominious death imaginable rather than disobey the will of His Father.
Later on, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he will pray to His Father:
“Father, if it is possible to let us chalice of suffering pass me by – please let it be – but if not – I will drink this cup of suffering. It is not my will” Jesus is saying “that must be done but the blessed and holy will of my Father”.
I was surprised to hear that the Editor of the Irish Catholic had launched an attack on the Church this week in response to a call from me for people to go to Confessions in preparation for Easter. This gentleman says that the Church should repent of its sins first before calling others to confess their sins – apparently. ‘
By the Church’ he means the bishops and clergy but I thought that ‘by the Church’ we mean nowadays all of the followers of Christ. of course bishops and clergy should set the good example of repenting and confession their sins but I make no apology for repeating the call for one and all to avail of this great sacrament in order to gain pardon for our sins and to set ourselves at rights with God.
Yes Jesus suffered and died for love of us to set us free from our sins but we don’t automatically qualify for a share in that victory. Jesus will not take us by the scruff of the neck and ram forgiveness for our sins down our throats against our will. No, we have to play our part by recognising that we have sinned and we must bring our sins to be washed in the blood of Christ.
Jesus left us a new commandment – the commandment of love. He set us an example – an outstanding headline – the headline of love in action – the example of the humble foot-washing of his disciples. But this is not all.
The fact is, we could hear the commandment and we could see the examples and yet, we might not have the strength to obey the commandment and to be willing to follow the example.
So Jesus has another gift in his storeroom to give us. He gives us his own body and blood – to be our food and drink – to be the food and drink of our soul – to be the food of eternal life.
He confers that gift in the context of the Passover Meal. This was at the meal on the sacred night when Jewish families gathered to hear the story of their people and to eat the Paschal Lamb – who had saved them from destruction and won for them freedom from the slavery of Egypt and the tyranny of Pharaoh.
Jesus knows that he is the new Paschal Lamb who, by his suffering and death, will set all people – of all nations – and of all ages – free from this tyranny of sin and the slavery of Satan.
So that is the reason why we ring bells and put on a general atmosphere of joy and celebration tonight. That is why I invite you to go and spend some time, if possible, before the altar of repose to venerate this memorial of Christ’s love for us.
There is one more gift in the magnificent quartet of gifts, given to us by Jesus this evening. After he had taken bread and wine and changed it into His body and blood, Jesus then said: “Do this in memory of me”. In other words, he gave to his disciples, the same power, the power to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
He ordained them priests. So, we priests are all celebrating the anniversary of the institution of the Sacrament of Priesthood. It is a case of Happy Anniversary all round.
On this holy night our hearts well up with love. Love for Jesus. Love is returned for there is no greater love than that which He has shown us. There is no greater love possible than that someone should die for his faith.