Holy Thursday — Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Exodus 12:1-8,11-14 + 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 + John 13:1-15
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the chalice, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
During this Year of the Eucharist, the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper commands our attention in a unique way. St. Paul helps focus our attention through the Second Reading.
St. Paul, who was not present at the Last Supper because he was called to be an apostle after Pentecost, records the “institution narrative” of the Eucharist in his first letter to the Corinthians [11:23-25]. The institution narrative—recorded not only by St. Paul but also in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke—gives us the words of Jesus from the Last Supper which the priest speaks at the Consecration.
In the mere three verses of his institution narrative, St. Paul does not detail the background of the Last Supper. Yet he makes several points in the larger passage in which it’s set that help us appreciate the gift of the Eucharist.
St. Paul introduces his institution narrative by establishing a framework for discussion of the Eucharist. He notes: “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you”. This frame establishes the importance of Sacred Tradition. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not something that the Church makes up. Even less does the Church reject what has been received. Less yet does the Church deliver to others something different than what was received.
Another of St. Paul’s points immediately follows his institution narrative. He first instructs the Corinthians: “as often as you eat this bread and drink the chalice, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” [11:26]. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, chiefly, a proclamation of Jesus’ death.
Then St. Paul soberly warns the Corinthians of a damning truth. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” [11:27]. His words not only point to the truth of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. His words also admonish believers that the Eucharist must only be received worthily, in the state of grace and free from mortal sin.
He clarifies this truth as he continues. “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” [11:28-29].
St. Paul discerned that he was one who was to judge the Corinthians. Throughout Chapter 11 of his first letter to the Corinthians, he discusses the Corinthians’ sins, sins which were tearing apart the Church: the Mystical Body of Christ. God had called Paul to the responsibility of apostleship, and he carried out this responsibility with a sacred purpose. That purpose was to strengthen the precious gift of the Church, which becomes the Church chiefly by means of the gift of the Holy Eucharist.