|Jaume Huguet, Last Supper (1470)|
I. The Eucharist
The Eucharist is straight-forward (Mt. 26:26-29; Mk. 14:22-25; Lk. 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-25). It's also of obvious importance to the early Church: it's one of relatively few events recorded (nearly verbatim) by St. Paul and the Synoptic Gospels. As Catholics, we believe that when Jesus said, “This is My Body,” and “This is My Blood of the Covenant,” that He meant “This is My Body,” and “This is My Blood of the Covenant,” and not some other thing, like “this is a symbol.” Suffice it to say that this language is prefigured in the Old Covenant (Exodus 24:8), and wasn't symbolic then (as Hebrews 9:18-20 notes).
II. Holy Orders
|Giovanni Giuliani, Christ Washing the Feet of Peter (18th c.)|
III. Baptism and Confession
|Christ Washing the Feet of Peter (11th c.)|
He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you.”
Obviously, this isn't about “the removal of dirt from the body” (1 Peter 3:21), but the forgiveness of sins. That's why Jesus says that Judas isn't clean, at the end (Jn. 13:10-11). Well, given that, what's the bath that Jesus is talking about? It's Baptism, “the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
If that's right, what is Jesus saying that the washing of feet represents? Sacramental confession (CCC 1484, 1486). It is in this way that we are restored to our Baptismal purity. And here's something fascinating: just as Christ doesn't permit the Disciples to purify themselves, but instructs them to purify one another, the same is true for the priesthood He established, and sacramental confession.
IV. The Priestly Commission
|Rogier van der Weyden, Seven Sacraments Altarpiece(detail, right wing) (1450)|
So “do this in remembrance of me,” properly understood, is sacrificial language. The first Eucharist is offered by Christ, who is both the High Priest (Hebrews 9:11), and the willing Sacrificial Victim (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus makes this clear Himself in John 10:17-18: He is in control over everything, including Calvary. But what's shocking is that He tells the Apostles to carry on His priestly role. To continue to offer the memorial offering of His Body and Blood.
Only slightly less shocking is the second commission, which comes at the end of the washing of the feet (John 13:12-17),
When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know 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 as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
|Rogier van der Weyden, Seven Sacraments Altarpiece(detail, left wing) (1450)|
So tonight should be a true celebration of the Sacraments that Christ left us, and the beautiful manner in which they are, in God's Providence, intertwined. Baptism, to wash us free from our sins. The Eucharist, partaking in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Confession, to restore us to our Baptismal purity, and prepare us for the Eucharist. And Holy Orders, to carry on His priestly ministry, and to ensure that we should always have the Eucharist and Confession.