At the Last Supper with his apostles, the Eternal Son performed his greatest work of mercy. He had fed five thousand with a few fish and loaves, walked on water, calmed the raging sea; they were all great manifestations of Christ’s divinity. Casting out demons, healing every form of illness, bringing the dead back to life, forgiving sins were all wonderful acts of grace. But tonight, the Savior did something far greater. He gives us himself.
There is a moment in the Liturgy, in Latin where the attention of the priest, and hopefully the people's attention, turns toward the center of the altar. For today the church has inserted a few important words to focus our attention most clearly on the tremendous mystery.
Qui, pridie quam pro nostra omniumque salute pateretur, hoc est hodie, accepit panem:
On the day before he was to suffer
For our salvation and the salvation of all
That is today,
He took bread in his holy and venerable hands.
These words we shall pray today in the Canon of the Mass. “Hoc est hodie” – the Liturgy of Holy Thursday places the word “today” into the text of the prayer, thereby emphasizing the particular dignity of this day.
It was “today” that He did this:
Today, He gave himself to us forever in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
This “today” is first and foremost the memorial of that first Paschal event. Yet it is something more.
With the Canon, we enter into this “today”. Our today comes into contact with his today. He does this now. With the word “today”, the Church’s Liturgy wants us to give great inner attention to the mystery of this day, to the words in which it is expressed. The mystery of the Lord's presence in this liturgy is unhindered by the restrictions of space and time. There is only one sacrifice. He did this once for all and it is by our participation here that we enter into the moment of this one sacrifice.
We therefore seek to listen in a new way to the institution narrative, in the form in which the Church has formulated it, on the basis of Scripture and in contemplation of the Lord himself.
After the bread, Jesus takes the chalice of wine. The Roman Canon describes the chalice which the Lord gives to his disciples as “praeclarus calix” (This precious chalice)
It is not some mythical cup long lost that he used. It is this chalice. This is the one sacrifice and it is Jesus himself who takes the chalice in his hands. Today! still a mystery unhindered by the restrictions of space and time.
Psalm 23, the Psalm which speaks of God as Shepherd preparing a feast for us:
“You have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes … My cup is overflowing” – calix praeclarus. The Roman Canon interprets this passage from the Psalm as a prophecy that is fulfilled in the Eucharist: yes, the Lord does indeed prepare a banquet for us in the midst of the threats of this world, and he gives us this precious chalice – the chalice of great joy, of the true feast, for which we all long – the chalice filled with the wine of his love.
The chalice signifies the wedding-feast: now the “hour” has come to which the wedding-feast of Cana had mysteriously alluded. Yes indeed, the Eucharist is more than a meal, it is a wedding-feast. And this wedding is rooted in God’s gift of himself even to death.
In the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and in the Church’s Canon, the solemn mystery of the wedding is concealed under the expression “novum Testamentum”. This chalice is the "new and eternal covenant" in my blood.
What we call the new and the ancient Covenant is not an agreement between two equal parties, but simply the gift of God who bequeaths to us his love – himself. Certainly, through this gift of his love, he transcends all distance and makes us truly his “partners” – the nuptial mystery of love is accomplished.
At this hour, when the Lord in the most holy Eucharist gives himself, his body and his blood, into our hands and into our hearts, let us be moved by his prayer for us.
Let us enter into his prayer and thus beseech him: Lord, grant us faith in you, who are one with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Grant that we may live in your love and thus become one, as you are one with the Father, so that the world may believe. Amen
For many saints the cross was the only book we would need. Here alone one learns the lessons of love, not in formulas, prayers, or sermons, but in a life given. The cross is the chair of truth. Here we see truly humankind at its worst, crucifying the innocent one. Here, too, we see humanity at its best, in a faithful life given for others. This mystical ladder to heaven can truly only be lived, not understood. And if it is understood, it can only be grasped by one who has loved and has struggled to love.
Our God is not an abstraction found in the pages of a book. Our God is found in this person, Jesus. God has become one with us, has experienced our pain, our wants and our disappointments. God's love is to be lived in all its frustrating difficulty by the followers of Jesus. We know that only in giving, completely, and selflessly as Jesus does, do we gain life itself. With St. Gaspar we say over and over, "Superabundo gaudio in omni tribulatione." I am overflowing with joy all the more because of our affliction. (2 Cor. 7:4)
We are not spectators here. It is time for us to enter into the Paschal mystery by allowing our lives, loves, joys, hopes, disappointments, suffering to be made over by Christ's death and resurection. The cause for hostility here was a good work. Jesus had shown his mastery over the power of death by raising Lazarus, and this good work was a source of fear and malice in the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin.
Caiphas, who did not know the depth of what he was saying, stated that it was better to have one man die for the nation than to have the whole nation destroyed. The irony is that Jesus death did not preserve their stronghold. Jerusalem was destroyed in the 60's - 70's The Evangelist knew the depth of what had happened, that Jesus death would gather into one all the dispersed children of God. At Passover time the High priest is to seek out a lamb to be the spotless sacrifice. This is what Caiphas unknowingly does as the true High priest is feared by the earthly high priest.
The way before us is clear. The following of Jesus is beset by opposition from the adversary. Even the good the Missionaries do is a source of resistance. The good the church is engaged in can be a source of misunderstanding and even animosity. So we are not spectators. We take up the cross and follow Jesus.
Omnia Christus Est Nobis
Christ is everything for us!
I am a Roman Catholic Priest from California. I spent 13 wonderful years years as a member of the Province of the Pacific in the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. The outline of my life can be traced here.