"O God, who have called us to participate in this most sacred Supper, in which your Only Begotten Son, when about to hand himself over to death, entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity, the banquet of his love, grant, we pray, that we may draw from so great a mystery, the fullness of charity and of life…" The opening Collect for Holy Thursday puts it all out for us. Holy Thursday is the day we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist. It is also the day the Church commemorates the institution of the Priesthood.
If you remember Holy Thursdays past, you might remember that the Gospel reading is actually from John when Christ washes his disciples' feet and gives them the command to do likewise. This is not the reading I would pick for a day that is meant to commemorate the Eucharist and the Priesthood.
And yet, the Church, in her wisdom, is teaching us something fundamentally important about the Eucharist and about the Priesthood. The Gospel reading is one that reminds us that no one is greater than the Master, that is Christ, and his example is one of self-emptying love, a love that will find its fullest expression on the Cross.
The Eucharist is sometimes called the Sacrament of Love. It is in the Eucharist that we experience the ultimate self-giving love of God, in the Body and Blood of Christ, broken and given to us. We are told that once we receive that Love, we need to go out and share it with the world. That is where the Gospel of Holy Thursday comes in. It give us a blue print of how to live out the Love that we experience in the Eucharist.
Most of us will never be called to actually lose our lives for God. However, we are all given daily opportunities to show great love. We are all given daily opportunities to kneel down and minister to those around us. That is what we learn on Holy Thursday, that the "fullness of charity and of life" is found when we serve as we have been served.
We learn on Holy Thursday what ministry looks like. The ministry of the priesthood is one of total service to the People of God, and the ministry of the People of God is service to the world. The Eucharist is the food that sustains us in that ministry, and we learn on Holy Thursday just what that ministry is to look like.
So, it seems only fitting that on the day we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist, we remember why the Eucharist matters. Christ gave himself in love so that we might follow his example. It is equally fitting then that we also remember the priesthood, those men who are called to share in that example in a special way. If we eat the Body and Blood of our Lord we cannot help but be transformed, and Holy Thursday shows, in a special way, what that transformation looks like.
"For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you".
Rebecca Spellacy is the Associate Director of Liturgy for the Office of Formation of Discipleship at the Archdiocese of Toronto.