As we enter into the Easter Triduum – a liturgy that actually spans three days – we begin with the beautiful Mass of the Lord’s Supper, wherein we recall the gifts that Jesus left us on the night before He suffered and died: the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood. These two Sacraments are certainly intertwined, but tonight I wish to reflect in a special way in the Blessed Sacrament that we share today and every time we gather for Mass.
Jesus knew that His actions at this moment would be even more meaningful than the many other ones He did during His life. We always remember the last acts and experiences that we share with someone before they die – what was said, what wasn’t; the smiles shared, the tears. Tonight is just such a night for memories for us.
“I have given you an model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
There are many different interpretations of what the Eucharist is – of Who Jesus is, in fact. But what is the Eucharist? The Blessed Sacrament may “mean” different things to different people at different times; however, as it has been since Jesus gave it to us, so it always is and will be. For some people, it is a “symbol” of shared unity – like sitting at a friendly picnic table with people whom we love. For some, it is a reminder that we are to love one another as Jesus loves us. For some, it is a “reward” for being good – or for simply showing up for Mass. These are all “subjective” meanings – that is, these are meanings that we or others might give to the Eucharist.
However, what is the Eucharist according to Jesus? This is the first and, really, only meaning of the Sacrament.
Saint Paul tells us what the Eucharist is. Writing only about 25 years after the event, he tells us: the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
There it is. According to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Eucharist is His Body, and it is His Blood. No less, no more. Therefore, we owe it to Christ to recognize the power in the Sacrament. Here, we re-present the sacrifice that Christ offered on Calvary, which He shared with us on the night before He died. Else where, Paul cautions us never to receive the Sacrament unworthily or casually. We must be careful to understand the state of our soul as we approach the altar – never with pride or even defiance. Not one of us “deserves” the Eucharist – not one. Paul later states, “A person who eats and drinks without recognizing the Body is eating and drinking his own condemnation.”
In our day, there are many things that used to be solemn that are not treated as such (just watch ballplayers during a National Anthem), and there are things that are not solemn that are held up as wonderful. This cannot be the case of the greatest Gift that Jesus gave to us: Himself! Tonight, we are called to remember:
To remember the deliverance that God has granted to His People Israel.
To remember the sacrifice that Christ left us for our salvation.
To remember that we are a People, constituted and sustained by the Eucharist.
It is this Sacrament – a memorial of Jesus’ loving actions – that we celebrate; and it is this Sacrament that will sustain us throughout our own trials and difficulties, so we may emerge victorious with Him in the Resurrection.