A Meditation on Holy Thursday’s Readings

New Liturgical Season
Today, the season of Lent ends and a new season, the Triduum begins.  Catholics who attend all of our services during these three days can really get an amazing lesson if they pay close attention to the readings the Church has selected for this holiest of weeks.  So, with this in mind, let’s examine today’s readings a bit.

By paying attention to the entire Liturgy of the Word (all of the readings, from the first tothe Gospel), one can start to see that they fit together. 

They show the continuity of God’s work throughout all of salvation history.  This is what Augustine meant by saying that the the “New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.” (CCC #129)

Brief Overview
The first reading focuses on the Law of the Passover and the regulations the Israelites needed to follow to avoid losing their firstborn child and being cut off from the covenant.  Significant to note: they were required to (1) take blood of a lamb, (2) spread it on the door post, and (3) eat the flesh of the lamb, which had to be sacrificed and roasted.  Michael Barber, professor of biblical theology at John Paul the Great University, memorably uses the phrase “kill, spill, and eat your fill” to describe the basic rules of celebrating the Passover.

The psalm describes another type of special meal or offering known as the Todah or thanksgiving offering, which was from the covenant of David.  It was a special animal sacrifice for thanksgiving which also involved the offering of bread and wine.  This type of sacrifice actually winds up taking a great deal of significance after David brings the Ark to Jerusalem.  Psalm 116 is a todah psalm.  Interestingly enough, all of the psalms used in Passover liturgies in first century Judaism were in fact Todah psalms (113-118).

The second reading is a brief selection from St. Paul commenting on the Last Supper, repeating the instruction “do this in remembrance of me.”

The Gospel reading is a beautiful example of humility by Jesus, who washes His disciples feet, but it is also situated within the context of aPassover meal.  In other words, the Last Supper was the Last Passover.

The Golden Thread
The book of Exodus states that the Passover will be aa memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution.” But is the Passover still happening?  Yes and no.  Jewish people still celebrate a Passover feast annually.  But it’s not a “true” Passover because they can’t offer a sacrifice anymore.  And the sacrifice of the lamb was critical.  Since the destruction of the Temple, the sacrifice of animals has been abrogated.

So it appears that either something critical is missing.  Or, perhaps God was wrong when saying that this would be a perpetual institution.  Now, let’s remember the context of the Last Supper.

John makes it clear that the Last Supper is a Passover celebration.  This means there would have been lamb, cups of wine, singing, etc.  By the time Jesus lived, the Passover ritual was well-developed. They also understood that eating the meal was a special type of memorial.  It was a memorial which in some way brought them back to the first one.  They celebrated as if it was their own generation of Jews who had made their way out of Egypt by the work of God’s mighty hand.

What Jesus does with his teaching at the Last Supper is to somehow mysteriously transfigure, or elevate the Passover.  The Passover ritual becomes the Eucharist.  The new Lamb is Jesus, whose blood will be shed on the wood of the Cross.  The Jews had to eat the flesh of the lamb and spread the blood of the lamb to be saved from the plague of death.  What Paul repeats about eating the Lord’s Body and drinking His Blood now takes on new significance.

Jesus institutes a New Exodus and it is completed by the New Passover.  This Passover is the one that is still celebrated and will be celebrated as a perpetual institution.  The psalm for Holy Thursday is a todah psalm, which would have been sung at Passover celebrations, but which was also used at the thanksgiving sacrifice of the Davidic covenant.  That sacrifice involved bread and flagons of wine.  Interestingly enough, the word “todah” can be translated as “eucharistia.”

So what’s happening with all of these readings is the Church is showing the economy of salvation at work.  History, through God’s guidance, finally comes full circle at the Last Supper.  The perpetual institution of the Passover, discussed in the first reading, combined with the todah sacrifice of David, both are taken up and given their fulfillment by Jesus at the Last Supper.

The new thanksgiving we offer is the Lord’s own Body and Blood which we must consume in order to be saved not from physical death, but spiritual death.  The importance of the lamb in the Old Testament cannot be denied.  Neither then, can the Lamb of the New Covenant, Jesus, who takes the promise of the Passover and fulfills it.

If you have a little over an hour to spare, I highly recommend taking the time to view a presentation on this topic by Dr. Brant Pitre.  He gives much more detail and information on this topic.  Click here to see the video.  Or check out his personal website here.

God Love You!

Recommended Resources
Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist
Catholic for a Reason III

Posted by Luke Arredondo

Luke Arredondo earned his B.A. in philosophy from St. Joseph Seminary and an M.A. in Theology at Notre Dame Seminary. He is currently a PhD student in the Religion, Ethics, and Philosophy track at Florida State University, where he studies Catholic sexual ethics and Catholic moral theology with Dr. Aline Kalbian. He also writes at his own blog, at Ignitum Today, and Aleteia. His most important work, though, is as a husband to his wife Elena and a father to his three daughters.

Website: http://www.lukearredondo.com