The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is the sacramental key to understanding the Easter Triduum. It commemorates the institution of the Eucharist and Sacred Priesthood, and links Our Lord’s high priesthood to its ultimate service of charity. If the Sacred Triduum is a commemoration of the historical events of Holy Week, then the Last Supper and First Mass has opened the door to very possibility of this celebration.
The Passion actually begins now, with Our Lord’s intention, offering and liturgical solemnization of what He is about to undertake. We call it Maundy Thursday from the antiphon sung during the washing of the feet: Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos. A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another (Jn 13:34). The mandate to love each other as Christ has loved us is a reference to something that has yet to take place, though Our Lord speaks of it as though it already has been fulfilled.
This is sacred time, which is not tied to the linear progression of events, but is sacramentalized so that we are able to have God’s point of view. Our Lord has entered into His Hour and is orchestrating our salvation from the throne of His mercy. The cenacle, like the womb of Our Lady, is the place where heaven and earth meets, where the divine and human are commingled, where time is taken up into eternity.
These things Jesus spoke: and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said: the hour is come. Glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee (Jn 17:1).
The prologue to this piercing of the veil of time has been the Passiontide veiling of the images, especially the crucifix. The focus is taken off our natural way of apprehending time and space. Tomorrow, in the celebration of the Passion, our compassion will be evoked by the thought of the physical sufferings of Christ . But now is not the time for that. Now, we experience the sight of Jesus being taken away from us. The veiling of the images is taken to the next step with the empty tabernacle on the altar of sacrifice and the reposition of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament away from the place with are accustomed to find Him. It is further highlighted with the stripping of the altar. We are left with nothing but faith.
Our great high priest has passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God (Heb 4:14). The closed space of the cenacle is a cosmic bridge, a white hole in the fabric of time and space. Jesus reigns from the Cross, standing erect, crowned King and vested in priestly attire. This is what we now see with the eyes of faith. But with our physical eyes we see one who washes our feet and gives us the mandate to love one another as he has loved us.
Sacrifice is the language of love. Our imitation of Christ may or may not involve physical martyrdom, but it will certainly mean that we will identify with Christ in his mental sufferings. And so we see Him taken away and watch with Him in a dark and desolate Church, staying awake and aligning our own intention, offering and liturgical participation with His dispositions.
Holy Thursday is a reminder to us that we need to change our way of thinking about reality, about what happens to us along the timeline of our lives and in the particular places we find ourselves. The interpretative key to all of it is the obedience of Christ and His sacrificial love for us. We need to remain in the cenacle, in the enclosed space of Our Lady’s Heart, where we can see Her Son for who He truly is.