“Why is this Night Different from All Other Nights”
Holy Thursday is a very special night for many reasons and for many people. On this day, every year, the Jews celebrate the Passover and their deliverance by God from the Egyptians. For Catholics, this day marks Jesus’ institution of the Priesthood and the Eucharist.
The First Passover
When God delivered the Israelites on that first Passover, He told them to take a lamb and slaughter it. They were to take its blood and put it on their doorposts. This would be the sign that would spare the Israelites from the final plague that God was going to inflict on the Egyptians – the death of every firstborn son from the Pharaoh down to the slaves and animals. The Israelites were then to cook the lamb and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The meal was to be eaten in a hurry because it was the night they were to flee from Egypt and the night their slavery ended.
The New Passover
As a Jew, Jesus gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover. But on this night, Jesus did something different and special:
“When the hour came, he took his place at table with the apostles. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and said, “Take this and share it among yourselves…. Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”
With the institution of the Eucharist, came also the institution of the Priesthood. On the very first Holy Thursday, the very first Mass was celebrated. Since then, it is believed that Mass is celebrated somewhere in the world every hour of every day.
“I Came To Serve”
On the very first Holy Thursday, Jesus showed his disciples what the meaning of true service is. During the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Afterwards, Jesus told them:
“Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
To this day, every Holy Thursday, the priest traditionally washes the feet of 12 people. Jesus placed service at the very heart of being a Christian. Every Holy Thursday is a reminder that life is not about being served, but serving. It is about loving, not being loved (as Saint Francis said it so well). When we give and care for others, we will receive much more in return.
The Hidden Jesus
After Mass on Holy Thursday, Jesus is taken out of the tabernacle and placed in a side altar. This symbolizes the imprisonment of Jesus the night before he died.
Our Jesus is a hidden Jesus. He hides in the tabernacle for us and is ever present. All we have to do is visit him. He suffered for us, died for us, and loves us tremendously and when we visit him, we show him our love in return.
Ways to Celebrate
There are several ways to celebrate Holy Thursday and make it meaningful for the whole family. One way is to have a simple Passion play. Every year for several years, my brothers and I held our own Passion Play for my parents. I went through the Bible and picked out key points, creating a script on flash cards. My brothers alternated every year: one year one brother would be Jesus and the other would be Judas, Pilate, and every other man that was needed. The next year they alternated. It was fun and made Holy Week a very special and memorable time. The home videos of our plays are more humorous than meditative, but they mattered to us and gave us memories to hold onto.
Another tradition that might be for an “older” family is that of the Sedar Meal. As my family grew out of the Passion Play, we grew into this new and beautiful tradition. The Sedar Meal is a Catholic replica of the Jewish Sedar – the Passover Meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples. The whole family can be involved in planning it and preparing the meal and decorations. When it is eaten right before the rush of getting to the Holy Thursday evening Mass on time, the hurry the Israelites must have felt on that first Holy Thursday is really tangible!
A Night to Remember
Holy Thursday is a night different from every other night. It is a time to slow down and remember what Holy Week and Easter are really about – the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our beloved Savior. On Holy Thursday, he gave us the greatest gift ever. The gift of himself. Let us pause a while and enter into his Passion. Let us join him in the silence of the prison where he spent Holy Thursday night, so that we may be prepared for the walk to Calvary on Good Friday – the day that won for us Eternal Life.
“When you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now.” Saint Teresa of Calcutta