As we continue reflections upon Holy Week, we next consider the Last Supper, during which Jesus prepared for the future by ordaining the first priests, celebrating the first Mass, and promising the Holy Spirit to guide His Church onward. The Last Supper was a Passover meal, the highest feast of the ancient Jews. In that meal the Jews, then as now, would commemorate and thank God for their freedom from slavery in Egypt; and the liturgy would make that freedom present again. In preparation for liberating us from sin and death, Jesus instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood so that this solution would become present to us until the end of earthly time.
The Gospels record four main parts of the Last Supper. The Gospel of John begins with a description of Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles as a message of the power of humility. The Gospels of John, and to a lesser degree the Gospel of Luke, also record the instructions Jesus gave to His Apostles, in which He told them plainly that they would have trials in the world but that He would guide them and give them joy; and the Holy Spirit would come to inspire and unite the whole Church as she proclaims the saving truth.
The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke all recount the institution of the Holy Eucharist and thus the celebration of the first Mass. And all four Gospels relate the fact that Jesus knew full well that Judas would betray Him, and that the other Apostles would scatter. But He was in charge and would bring the eleven back to His friendship to be shepherds of the greater kingdom. Thus, as He was facing His own death, and looking forward to His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, Jesus was preparing the way for the future of His people and giving us assurance of His undying friendship.
When we recall the Last Supper almost 200 years ago, we should sense as well the calling of Jesus Christ here and now. For He is with us in the Eucharist and the liturgies as much as He was with the Apostles at the Last Supper. He calls us both to humility and to confidence. For we meant to rely, not on our inadequate powers, but rather in the strength of Jesus within us. We know, as St. Paul wrote later, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13.