At the start of Lent, I made a few commitments. One, as part of the symbolic fasts we all participate in, was to refrain from drinking anything but water (except on Sundays, of course). And I’ve done just that, although half way through my angry taste buds began suggesting that next year I punch myself in the spleen instead. Another one, as suggested on the blog of Fr. Philip Neri Powell, was to offer up any Lenten sacrifices in reparation for the horrific damage done by the priests and bishops who abused children and covered-up the abuse. And I’ve done that as well. That left the final thing, which was to make three posts a week here (I’m a notoriously slow poster) during the Lenten season to help keep my focus on God. By my count, I’m one short. So here’s a last little something before I go silent for the rest of the Easter Triduum.
Since this is Maundy Thursday, the holy day in which we commemorate the Last Supper, it seems fitting to take a look at that event. Like it or not, probably the first image that comes to mind when we think of the Last Supper is the ubiquitous painting by Leonardo DaVinci.
Everybody knows it. That’s why, not too long ago, Battlestar Galactica ran a popular ad campaign based on DaVinci’s work (so popular in fact that it spawned similar
rip-offs promos from Lost and The Sopranos). Because of all the symbolism inherent in the original painting, some people spent literally weeks trying to decipher the hidden meanings in this photo.
But the folks at SyFy were hardly the first to utilize the iconographic image. We’ve seen it co-opted time and time again by films over the years, each to their own purpose. Let’s take a look at a few shall we?
Some, like M.A.S.H., had a tinge of seriousness to them…
..while others, like History Of The World, just played it for laughs.
The Dirty Dozen offered a different perspective, but the general idea is still there.
Now you might think Alien is a bit of a stretch…
…but with just a bit of imagination, you can see what they were going for.
And while we never actually saw this scene in the Star Wars trilogy, it’s pretty much a guarantee that Lucas will CGI it into the Super Fantastic Amazing Special Editions if he thinks there’s a dime to be made from it.
Just what is it about the Last Supper that inspired DaVinci and so many other artists to try and recapture the moment. What is it that still speaks to us so deeply even now? Well, it’s probably way too big of an event to assign just one simple meaning to, but in this year’s sermon for the Holy Thursday Mass of the Last Supper, Pope Benedict touches on one of its most profound aspects.
According to the Pontiff, it’s during the Last Supper that Jesus “prays that all may be one “as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). Christian unity can exist only if Christians are deeply united to him, to Jesus. Faith and love for Jesus, faith in his being one with the Father and openness to becoming one with him, are essential. This unity, then, is not something purely interior or mystical. It must become visible, so visible as to prove before the world that Jesus was sent by the Father. Consequently, Jesus’ prayer has an underlying Eucharistic meaning which Paul clearly brings out in the First Letter to the Corinthians: “The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:16ff.). WITH THE EUCHARIST, THE CHURCH IS BORN. All of us eat the one bread and receive the one body of the Lord; this means that he opens each of us up to something above and beyond us. He makes all of us one.”
So, in a certain sense, the celebration of Maundy Thursday is the celebration of the beginning of the Church. Or to put it another way, it’s our birthday! A birthday in which we receive the greatest of all gifts in Jesus, and are then instructed to go out and regift Him to others. So happy birthday everyone. And Happy Easter. I’ll see you on the other side.