Catholic Activity: Holy Thursday Meal in the Home -- Remembering the Last Supper
A simple plan in remembering the Last Supper at home, including a meal, readings, and feet washing ceremony.
There is no doubt that the most evident dimension of the Eucharist is that it is a meal. The Eucharist was born, on the evening of Holy Thursday, in the setting of the Passover meal. Being a meal is part of its very structure. “Take, eat... Then he took a cup and... gave it to them, saying: Drink from it, all of you” (Mt 26:26, 27). As such, it expresses the fellowship which God wishes to establish with us and which we ourselves must build with one another. ( Mane nobiscum Domine, Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II for the Year of the Eucharist, 2004-2005.)
Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Eucharist was established within the Passover meal by Jesus with His Apostles. A wonderful way to bring home the richness of this feast is to imitate the Last Supper by recalling some aspects of the Passover meal and a foot washing ceremony with your family in imitation of Jesus.
This a wonderful tradition to start in one's family. If things are rushed on Holy Thursday, move the meal sometime before Holy Thursday (Wednesday night, for example) so that the whole family can participate in imitating Christ at the Last Supper.
The basic idea is serving foods reminiscent of the Passover meal as the Jews did in Egypt and Christ did in imitation of the Exodus, not in celebration of a Judaic religious ceremony. Elements of the Mass of the Lord's Supper are included to prepare us for participation at the Mass of the Lord's Supper. Incorporating the various senses in this meal really helps active participation, particularly for children.
Holy Thursday is one of the biggest feasts in the Church year, since it commemorates the institution of Holy Orders and of the Holy Eucharist. Sunday-best should be worn by participants and the table should be beautifully decorated, with a white tablecloth (in imitation of the white vestments used at Mass) and even the good china and silver. For dessert (since this is a special feast day, no Lenten abstaining here), bake a cake in the shape of a lamb (there are numerous types of lamb molds available at craft stores or baking supply stores). Before or during the dinner, Exodus 12:1-20 is read —- the story of the first Passover. Then the New Testament reading about the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist is read from either Matt 26:17:30; Mark 14:12-26 or Luke 22:7-20.
Simple Menu Suggestions:
- Bitter Herbs: Cooked spinach and raw celery sticks dipped in salt water
- Haroset: Applesauce with cinnamon and raisins
- Unleavened bread: Crackers or store-bought matzohs or pita bread or homemade unleavened bread (see recipes)
- Wine: red wine or grape juice
- Lamb: Leg of lamb, or roast lamb, lamb chops, or meatloaf baked in shape of lamb (use a lamb cake mold)
The children need to be reminded that this meal is different than what the Jews celebrate because Christ already died and saved us, so we are not still awaiting a Messiah. We are not obliged to follow the directives for the Passover meal, we are merely doing it in imitation of Christ, so we can use all of our senses to know, love and serve Christ.
Before the meal, the family gathers for the Washing of the Feet. The initial reaction is like Peter's, "You shall never wash my feet!" (John 13:8) But today is known as Maundy Thursday because of Christ's Mandatum: He washed the feet of His disciples, explaining by saying:
Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him." (John 13:13-16).
If we remember the King of Kings, the Son of God knelt before sinful men to wash their very dirty feet (they wore sandals, and there was no carpeting or pavement in that time), how could we put ourselves up as better than the Son of God? All that is required is a bowl, a pitcher of water and a towel. The account from the Gospel of John 13:1-17 is read and then Christ is imitated by washing the feet of the family members. It starts with the father washing the mother's feet, the mother washing the eldest child's feet and so on until the youngest child washes the father's feet. Although Christ probably had to scrub, just a little bit of water (even on just one foot) will suffice.
It is a sign of the Sacrament of penance, showing repentance and forgiveness, of rebirth in grace. This activity brings home the teaching of humility and charity when we later witness the Washing of the Feet at Mass. This should begin a discussion on how this was a little act of charity with our family members, imitating Christ. He has given the commandment to love one another as He loves us. Each of us should now make resolutions to show for others in specific actions throughout the year.
The meal is simple, joyful, and family-friendly. We do not include the scripts and prayers from the Jewish Seder meals, as that was established 1500 years ago, 500 years after Christ's death.
Activity Source: Original Text (JGM) by Jennifer Gregory Miller, © Copyright 2003-2023 by Jennifer Gregory Miller