Editor’s Note: This is the first of seven meditations on line today, which anticipate this coming Sunday’s Gospel reading of the Passion, the longest Gospel of the year! A link to each subsequent meditation is provided at the end of every post.
“In the Eucharist we receive something that we cannot do, but instead enter something greater that becomes our own, precisely when we give ourselves to this thing that is greater, truly seeking to celebrate the Liturgy as the Church’s Liturgy.” – Pope Benedict XVI
Luke 22:14-27: When the hour came he took his place at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, ‘I have longed to eat this passover with you before I suffer; because, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God’. Then, taking a cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and share it among you, because from now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took some bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which will be given for you; do this as a memorial of me.’ He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be poured out for you. And yet, here with me on the table is the hand of the man who betrays me. The Son of Man does indeed go to his fate even as it has been decreed, but alas for that man by whom he is betrayed!’ And they began to ask one another which of them it could be who was to do this thing. A dispute arose also between them about which should be reckoned the greatest, but he said to them, ‘Among pagans it is the kings who lord it over them, and those who have authority over them are given the title Benefactor. This must not happen with you. No; the greatest among you must behave as if he were the youngest, the leader as if he were the one who serves. For who is the greater: the one at table or the one who serves? The one at table, surely? Yet here am I among you as one who serves!’
Christ the Lord The Passover meal was a ritual commemorating God’s liberation of his people from Egyptian slavery through the ministry of Moses. God had initiated and accomplished the liberation, and he had established the way of celebrating it, so that the Israelites would never forget all that God had done for them. The blood of the lamb sacrificed at Passover was the mark by which God’s favor was shown to Israel and by which the Old Covenant would come to be established. Now, during the Last Supper, Jesus reshapes the ritual, reveals the true meaning behind the old symbols (he is the Lamb; he is the Savior), and establishes a new ceremony that will commemorate his own immolation on Calvary until the end of time. If this were the only passage of the Gospels that history had preserved, it would be enough to corroborate Jesus’ claim to be divine – only God had the authority to alter the most sacred Passover ritual that God himself had established.
It is the culminating moment of history. Now communion between God and man – the only source of authentic human happiness – is to be reestablished, because from now on men will be able to partake of the body and blood of God. Whenever we approach the Lord in this sacrament, he wants to deepen this communion, drawing us closer to his heart, uniting us more firmly with the rest of the Church, and activating our own vocation to become bridges between him and those who still don’t know him. He is uniting the scattered and divided human family in himself through the breaking of his body and the pouring out of his blood. When we receive and adore him with this in mind, we help his Kingdom come.
Christ the Teacher St. Luke mentions that Jesus “gave thanks” before he consecrated the bread. From this Greek term we derive the name Eucharist. On the eve of Christ’s passing over to death he leaves us the gift of the Eucharist, a gift that will enable him to enter into intimate communion with each one of his followers throughout human history, to be their strength, their comfort, and their joy. This is why he says, “I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” He has longed to leave us the sacrament of his love, the guarantee of his presence and forgiveness and fidelity. What more could he have given us?
And yet, even in that solemn moment, the Apostles are still bickering about their privileges. We should be glad they did, because it gave Jesus a chance to explain once again the fundamental law of his Kingdom, a law embodied perfectly in the Eucharist, the law of self-giving. Greatness for the Christian means giving oneself for the good of the other, just as Christ has given himself, literally and heroically, in the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is a lesson we should never tire of hearing, because it is a lesson we should never stop striving to learn.
Christ the Friend Peter: How could we have been so oblivious? We all felt that it was a special night, but none of us guessed what was really at stake. Jesus seemed pensive, but he was still our familiar leader, our teacher and friend. I was just glad to be sitting beside him. It never occurred to me that this would be our last dinner together. He knew, and that’s why he said what he said and did what he did. How could I have been so slow to recognize the importance of what was going on? It was always like that. I was always so preoccupied with my own things that I missed the Lord’s hints. And he was so gentle, so patient.
Jesus: How eagerly I had been looking forward to that supper! When we had the sacrificial lamb on our plates, I thought of my own imminent sacrifice, my own suffering that would remove once and for all any shadow of doubt about my love. How my heart overflowed when I was finally able to give to my first priests and followers the Sacrament of intimate communion – all of the sufferings that had already happened and all that were still to come were worth suffering a thousand times more so that I could leave for you this New Testament, this New Covenant, this bridge between time and eternity.
Do you know that I still look forward just as eagerly to each sacramental celebration of that Supper, to each Holy Communion? I long to give myself to you in this Sacrament. I am wholly present in it, and I bring all my grace and all my wisdom and all my love when you receive me. You can’t see all of this, because your faith is still small, still growing. But as you come to know me better, I will show you more and more, and you will see how every Tabernacle in the world shines more brightly than the sun, spreading goodness and hope and redemption all around it.
Christ in My Life Sometimes I think you should have given me a more dramatic way to commemorate your suffering and redemption, Lord. But then I remember that you don’t want to impress me; you want to walk with me. You want to be my strength and life. You want to be my daily bread, my daily companion. There, in the midst of the normal daily dramas, you teach and guide me…
I want to be able to give myself to others as completely and generously as you give yourself to me. But I am so hampered by all my selfish tendencies, my oversensitivity, and my complexes and fears! You are my only hope, Lord. Only you can renew my heart and give me whatever it is I need in order to become your true, faithful, persevering disciple…
I want to appreciate your gift of the Eucharist more, Lord. Draw me to your Tabernacles and altars. Increase my faith! You come in such simplicity, such silence, such gentleness! Like the sunshine and the drizzling rain, you come into my heart, and I barely know you’re there. Open my eyes of faith, so that I can see more clearly your goodness and love and power and proclaim it more wisely and boldly…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of seven meditations on the Passion of Christ (the longest Gospel of the year!) that will be read this coming Sunday, Passion Sunday. The second meditation can be found on line today by clicking here.
Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. The Last Supper, Pascal Dagnon Bouveret (1852-1929), undated, PD-US author’s life plus 80 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.