Late this afternoon, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Cathedral of Rome, the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The Holy Father called the faithful to look for a deeper understanding of the mystery of the love of God made manifest in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which remains with us due to the gift of the Eucharist.
During the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Pontiff also performed the traditional washing of the feet of twelve men, representatives of several lay organizations present in the Diocese of Rome; during the preparation of the gifts, the Holy Father also took a special collection to send medical supplies to the people of Baidoa in Somalia.
The Holy Father began his homiletic reflection by explaining the significance of the Jewish Passover, at which the Israelites celebrate the night when God “liberated Israel with His, ‘strong hand.’”
“He, the God of mystery and obscurity, is revealed as more powerful than Pharoah with all of the power at his disposal,” the Pope recalled.
The Holy Father then pointed out that, “This supper of manifold significances Jesus celebrates with his own the evening before his Passion. At the root of this context, we must understand the new Passover, at which He has given us the Holy Eucharist.”
The Holy Father also noted the apparent contradictions which exist between the accounts of the Synoptic Gospels (Mathew, Mark, and Luke) and the Gospel of St. John, in respect to the moments of Jesus’ passion and death.
In effect, Pope Benedict said, for John, Jesus dies on the cross at precisely the same moment in which the Paschal lambs are being sacrificed, thus bringing together the death of Jesus with the sacrifice of the lambs. “However, this means that “He died the day before Passover and therefore He could not personally celebrate the Passover meal,” the Pope noted.
According to the three other gospels, however, “the Last Supper of Jesus is a Passover supper, celebrated in the traditional manner, but into which he inserts the new gifts of his body and blood.”
This “apparent contradiction,” he noted, has existed for many years. One “possible, convincing solution,” the Pope said, though one which is not “yet accepted by everyone,” has been found in the discovery of the Qumran writings.
According to this theory, Pope Benedict said, “Jesus did shed His blood the day before Passover at the time of the immolation of the lambs. But He probably celebrated Passover with His disciples according to the Qumran calendar, that is at least one day earlier – he celebrated without a lamb, as the community of Qumran, which did not recognize the temple of Herod and was waiting for the new temple.”
Continuing his novel interpretation of the Biblical passages, the Holy Father explained that in this way Jesus is not only made the new Lamb, “but also the true temple, the living temple, in which lives God and in which we are able to encounter and adore Him.”
“At the center of Jesus’ new Passover,” the Holy Father said, “is the Cross. From it came the new gift offered by Him. And so it always remains in the Holy Eucharist, in which we can celebrate with the Apostles the new Passover across time.”
“Let us pray to the Lord,” the Holy Father concluded, “that He may help us understand more and more deeply this wonderful mystery, to love it more and more and in it to love Him more and more.”
At the end of the Mass, the Holy Father processed with the Blessed Sacrament to an altar of repose.