Since our Divine Lord came to die, it was ﬁtting that there be a Memorial of his death. Since he was God, as well a man, and since he never spoke of his death without speaking of his Resurrection, should he not himself institute the precise memorial of his own death? And this is exactly what he did the night of the Last Supper….His memorial was instituted, not because he would die and be buried, but because he would live again after the Resurrection. His Memorial would be the fulﬁllment of the Law and the prophets; it would be one in which there would be a Lamb sacriﬁced to commemorate spiritual freedom; above all it would be a Memorial of a New Covenant…a Testament between God and man.
Fulton J. Sheen Life of Christ
My brothers and sisters, on this most sacred night Our Lord and Saviour did three things: He washed his disciples’ feet, he instituted the Eucharist, and inaugurated the priesthood of the New Covenant. We have come together on this most holy night to enter into the Mystery of Our Lord’s Passion: to be with him in the Upper Room and in the garden of Gethsemane, and to prepare to celebrate his suﬀering and death – to behold the glory of the Lord and his love for the world he created and came to save.
Obedient to the Old Covenant, Our Lord and his disciples prepare to celebrate the Passover: the mystery of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt to the new life in the Promised Land. While they are at table Our Lord lays aside his outer garments and takes a basin and a towel and washes the Apostles’ feet. He then says to them ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’ (Jn 13:12–16 ESV) God, who created the universe and who will redeem it, kneels and washes the feet of sinful humanity. This is true love in action. Only having done this can Jesus say ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’(Jn 13:34–35 ESV) What he says to his disciples he says to us here tonight. As Christians we are to love him and one another, we are to show this love in all that we say, or think, or do, so that the world may believe.
Christ then takes bread and wine and blesses them and gives them to his disciples. Again, this would look and feel like the Passover celebration to which they were accustomed. Except that before he broke and distributed the bread he said ‘Take, Eat. This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And before the Cup was distributed he said ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ He feeds his disciples with his own body and blood to strengthen them, to show them what he is about to do for love of them and of the whole world. When, earlier in his public ministry, he has fed people he taught them in the synagogue at Capernaum ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the ﬂesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my ﬂesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my ﬂesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.’ (Jn 6:52–7 ESV). ‘Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, …. just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God’ [Dix The Shape of the Liturgy 744] Our Lord institutes the Eucharist, the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, to feed us, to nourish us, so that we may become what he is, that we may have a foretaste of heaven and the divine life of love, of the beatiﬁc vision of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Holy, Eternal and Consubstantial Trinity. It re-presents, it makes present again, here and now, the sacriﬁce of Calvary, where upon the Altar of the Cross, as both priest and victim, Christ sacriﬁces himself for the sins of the whole world. He is the Lamb of God, foreshadowed in the ram offered by Abraham and Isaac, in the bread and wine offered by Melchisedek. In the blood and water which will flow from his side we are washed and creation is renewed. Christ gives the Church the Eucharist so that his saving work may continue, so that people may be given a pledge and token of their eternal life in him.
Christ sets apart his disciples so that they may be priests of the new covenant in his blood, so that they may continue to share in the offering of himself for their sins and those of the whole world. They are washed, and fed, and taught – prepared for the work of the Gospel: spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and feeding his faithful with his body and blood. They are told to do this and they still do. Never have such words and actions had such a profound effect in all of human history. This is the glory of God: in transforming bread and wine into his very self for the life of the whole world – a sign of love and a pledge and foretaste of eternal life. This is love that we can touch and feel and taste – given for us so that we might have life in him.
So let us come to him, to be fed by Him, and with Him, healed and restored by Him, through the sacraments of the Church, his body, so that we may be prepared to share in his Passion and Death and to celebrate with joy the triumph of His Paschal victory, so that we and all the earth may give praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever.