The Vespers Mass "in the Lord's Supper”

Liturgic Life

The Vespers Mass “in the Lord’s Supper”

The solemn inaugural celebration of the Easter Triduum

The Vespertine celebration “in the Lord’s Supper” begins the Sacred Easter Triduum, in which the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus are commemorated.

In the Roman Rite, this celebration commemorates the Institution of the Eucharist and takes on a particularly festive tone: the vestments are white and, at the beginning of Mass, the Gloria is sung. Totally different is the setting of the corresponding celebration of the Ambrosian Rite. The liturgy, in fact, commemorating the Institution of the Eucharist, retraces the initial moments of the Lord’s Passion: the Last Supper, Judas’ betrayal, the agony in Gethsemane, Jesus’ arrest, the disciples’ abandonment, the trial before the Sanhedrin and Peter’s denial.


The Mass is preceded by the Foot Washing which, recalling the humble gesture with which Jesus prefigured the total gift of self in His Passion, proclaims the primacy of service. Archbishop Monsignor Mario Delpini will perform this rite, foot washing of twelve members (men and women) of the Pastoral Councils of Milan’s parishes, recently met during the Pastoral Visit to the City.


The Eucharistic celebration is included in the prayer of Vespers and opens with the rite of light, accompanied by the offering of incense on the altar. After the proclamation of the Passion according to Matthew and the Archbishop’s homily, the antiphon Cenæ tuæ is sung: a very ancient text, translated directly from a 6th century Byzantine original, which only the Ambrosian tradition possesses in the West. It recalls the mystical Supper to which Christ invites the faithful and the traitorous kiss of Judas.

The choreographic setting in which this song is performed is also suggestive, introducing us to the Eucharistic liturgy: it is entrusted to the pueri cantores of the Musical Chapel, arranged in a crown around the altar, symbol of Christ. The Milanese liturgy has also preserved, similarly to the Easter Vigil, its own text for the Eucharistic Canon.


Finally, after Communion, the Archbishop processionally takes the Eucharist to the place of Reposition, at the side altar of Madonna dell’Albero. In ancient times, this rite was celebrated ‘pro sepultura dominica rapræsentanda’, almost as if to re-present the Lord’s Burial: hence the devotion of the visit to the ‘Sepolcri’ was generated, especially in the sphere of popular religiosity. A small detail survives of this allegorical reading of the repositioning of the Eucharist: during the procession, the Archbishop covers the pyx by wrapping it with the flaps of the humeral veil, alluding to the gesture made by Joseph of Arimathea who, according to the Gospels, wrapped the body of Jesus in the shroud before placing it in the tomb.


The celebration ends at the Altar of Reposition with the singing of the Vespers Psalmody. The very antiphon that introduces the Vespers Psalms of Holy Thursday can help us better understand the meaning of this celebration: “Listen, the Master says to you: ‘I want to make Easter with my disciples’”. This antiphon takes up literally the first words that the Lord pronounces at the beginning of his Passion. We could imagine these words also addressed to us today. Obviously, in this case, it is not just a question (as in the Gospel episode that opens the Passion) of the request for a suitable venue for the Easter Supper or of finding someone to make their home available. We must reread these words more profoundly, as an invitation that the Lord addresses to each one, to those who sincerely want to be his disciples, to share his Easter journey that through the night of Holy Thursday will reach the cross on Friday and the empty tomb on Resurrection Sunday. The Lord Jesus wants to choose each one of us as his companion on these holy days. It is up to us to respond, knowing full well that while accepting may be hard and demanding, it is also the only true way to live an authentic Christian Easter.