Here it is. Holy Thursday. It’s Holy Thursday and that is the day of the Mass of the Lords Supper. The Last Supper, the day painted by Leonardo Di Vinci. It is the day often referred to as the day which Jesus instituted His Mass; the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, the Divine Liturgy, the Liturgy of Word and Eucharist. It is the day of the Mass, and so it is a good time to discuss a most fundamental part of Christianity. This is the day that begins the tradition of the Mass, and a day itself that has its traditions.
Mass is discussed often. For many the discussion revolves against the debate between pre and post Vatican-two practices. Those discussions involve language, and music, and tradition. Might this be a good day to survey some of these topics? For a start what about the debate of language?
The debate of language, for those within the jurisdiction of Vatican-two, revolves around two languages. They are Latin and “the vernacular.” The vernacular is simply the language spoken by a regional congregation, French in France and English in England. That list goes on, but why the debate and why Latin? Let’s start with Latin.
It is the language of the Latin Rite Church, commonly called Roman Catholics. (Rumor has it that Roman Catholics was a term that came into use after the protestant rebellion.) The Latin Rite comes under the authority of the bishop of Rome, and he is the one that sits in the chair of Saint Peter. It is the language of the ancient Roman Empire. It is one of the languages the Bible was first translated into. It is the language of tradition and history. It is the original language the Latin Rite Mass was written in, and the language its priests were taught in. That common universal language allowed those priests to bring that Mass to the multitude of varying tongues. Often those people were illiterate, and it was the priests that gained the education. That education with regards to liturgy took its form in one language. It had a practicality, and that practicality is often argued today. Today many gain an education in every language. Why in this modern day cling to an ancient language that no one speaks?
For one good reason. It is one of the languages of the Church. It is not the only language of the Church, it is one of the fundamental languages of the Church. The others are Greek and Hebrew. Might one good reason for keeping Latin in the Latin Rite be that it is the language which that lung off the Church is in charge of? For certain the Greek Orthodox Christians can curate their tongue, and the Eastern Orthodox can take charge of Hebrew. To the Roman Catholics is the responsibility of their ancient language. To translate from that language requires a knowledge of that language. It is part of that liturgies origins, shouldn’t it be included? Should the entire Mass of the Latin Rite take place in that language? Debatable. Should Latin be ignored in a Latin Rite Mass? But why, it make no sense! It’s the Mass of the Lords Supper, it’s a good day for this discussion.
Now to the supper, the Last supper. Some argue that is the day from which the Mass takes its form. Their term is the “table of the Lord.” They see that artists (Di Vinci) table. A dinner table, the Feast of the Lord. There is something else, it occurs the next day. It is the event that gives that table its meaning. It is not the food that is consumed from the table, but the sacrifice that takes place at it. That table is an altar of sacrifice. An altar, and not a table. Language is one part of a debate, table versus altar is the second. To some the emphasis is on the table, and the sacrifice should be forgotten. Yes, the food is important! It is the body and blood of our LORD Jesus the Christ! They turn the table around, and disregard the Crucifix. Catholics use a Crucifix, not just the cross. It is a sacrifice. The liturgy of the word describes it, proclaims it, and the Mass repeats it. The Crucifix is not ignored, neither is the Priests. The Priests, in persona Christi. In the person of Christ. They are the ones that sit about that table with the LORD. They, the Apostles, know the Temple altar, and will learn of Jesus’s sacrifice on it. Priests are the successors’ of the Apostles. This day the priesthood is formed.Back to table versus altar, is it either one or the other? Wrong! It is both! Both. Eucharist is important, it it the summit of the Mass, a pinnacle. It is true food and drink, nourishment. The Body and Blood of our Lord. The Cross too should not be slighted, for on that Cross is our redemption and salvation. It is the supreme sacrifice. Altar and Table.
The initiation of the Priesthood, something celebrated today. This Last Supper gives instruction “do this in memory of Me”. The bread and wine, the Body and Blood. Finally. The washing of the feet.
The washing of the feet is something that has become the focal point of the modern tradition of this particular days Mass. Originally it was something (me thinks) between Priests, Bishops, and Seminarians? Or perhaps between the clergy and their flock. Who sits around the table at the Last Supper? The twelve apostles. Twelve men learning to be disciples and priests and bishops and popes. An institutional hierarchy. Then a more modern Pope (1955) declared; pick twelve “upstanding men” from the community to have their feet washed during Mass. That Pope said this at the start of the 1960-70 age of women’s liberation and the feminist movement. Protests start, and continue. But what does the ancient Latin documents tell of the purpose of this event, more importantly what does the gospel say? The history books, do they mention this ordeal? Might it be wise for someone read them? Is the modern tradition wrong? Should it take place in another time and place? Is the modern version of the washing of feet scripturally and liturgically correct? The tradition is truly varied throughout the branches of Christianity. What do the documents say, including Vatican-two? This is the Mass of the Lords Supper, shouldn’t it be done properly? Scholarship is required. Oh, the washing of feet is an option and an opinion. It has morphed into an argument about who is entitled to have their feet washed, a social statement. Pope Francis emphasizes the poor and marginalized, and often does so outside the context of the Mass. Applauses!
This Mass of Jesus Christ is something that differentiates Catholics. It is something Byzantines put an extraordinary effort into preserving. It is something that the Protestant denominations have tried to deconstruct and demolish. Today the Latin Rite struggles with it in a battle between traditionalists and progressives. I don’t even touch on some of the minor rites of the Mass. The LORDS Mass is described in scripture, and is the heart of the Church. That might be why it is so often debated. Each has their own opinions, but what did Christ say? Something to think about. That’s what the day commemorates. The Mass, Eucharist and the Priesthood. The Mass of the LORDS Supper.