Holy Thursday 2021

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St. Matthew Cathedral, South Bend

The Sacred Paschal Triduum begins with this Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We enter into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection. The word “Paschal” comes from the Greek word “Pascha” which means “Passover.” It was at the time of the Jewish feast of Passover that Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples. The Passover, as you know, was the celebration of the Exodus from Egypt, when God liberated and saved His people from slavery. In the Old Testament, this is the climactic revelation of God’s love. Our Jewish brothers and sisters are remembering this event at their Passover celebrations this week. Every year, the Jewish community in Fort Wayne sends me a gift bag with all the food and ingredients for a Passover meal. It is a very kind gesture and reminds me every Holy Week of the first Passover and the context of Jesus’ Last Supper with the apostles.

Jesus did something strange on the night of the Last Supper. Rather than talk about the past exodus from Egypt, Jesus talked about what would happen the next day: His suffering and death. So the Last Supper wasn’t an ordinary Passover meal. Jesus was establishing a new Passover: His Passover from death to life. He anticipated this new Passover at the Last Supper. It is the climactic revelation of God’s love in the New Testament, and indeed, in all human history.

To understand the New Passover, we must understand the Old Passover. The first reading tonight from the book of Exodus gives us God’s instruction to Moses and Aaron about how the people were to prepare for the Exodus. Each family was to procure a year-old male lamb without blemish. It couldn’t just be any lamb. It had to be a lamb that was free of any defects. It couldn’t be maimed or lame or diseased in any way. It had to be perfect. Then it was to be slaughtered in the evening twilight. (There’s another detail mentioned later in chapter 12 of Exodus – not a single bone of the lamb was to be broken). After the lamb was killed, some of its blood was to be applied to the two doorposts and the lintel of the house. This was a visible sign of the sacrifice that had been performed. The angel of death would pass over and spare the people in the homes marked with the blood of the lamb. It was also necessary that the people eat the flesh of the lamb, not just sacrifice it, but also roast it and eat it, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Finally, God told Moses and Aaron that the Passo