Except for the resurrection on Easter, Holy Thursday is considered one of the most important, complex, and profound days of celebration in the Catholic Church.
Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Eucharist as the true body and blood of Jesus Christ and the institution of the sacrament of the priesthood.
During the Last Supper, Jesus offers himself as the Passover sacrifice, the sacrificial lamb, and teaches that every ordained priest is to follow the same sacrifice in the exact same way. Christ also bids farewell to his followers and prophesizes that one of them will betray him and hand him over to the Roman soldiers.
Around the world, bishops and priests traditionally come together at their local Cathedrals on Holy Thursday morning to celebrate the institution of the priesthood. During the Mass, the bishop blesses the Oil of Chrism that will be used for baptism, confirmation, and anointing of the sick or dying.
At this Mass, the bishop washes the feet of 12 priests to symbolize Christ’s washing of his 12 Apostles, our first bishops and priests.
Later that night, after sundown — because Passover began at sundown — the Holy Thursday Liturgy takes place, marking the end of Lent and the beginning of the sacred Triduum of Holy Week. These three days are the holiest in the Catholic Church.
This Mass stresses the importance that Jesus puts on the humility of service, and the need for cleansing with water, a symbol of baptism. Also emphasized are the critical importance of the Eucharist and the sacrifice of Christ’s body, which we now find present in the consecrated host.
At the conclusion of the Mass, the faithful are invited to continue adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the night, just as the disciples were invited to stay up with the Lord during His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before His betrayal by Judas.
After Holy Thursday, no Mass will be celebrated again in the Church until the Easter Vigil celebrates and proclaims the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Catholic News Agency
Image courtesy of Creative Commons, Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper, 1498