THEME: THE MEMORIAL OF THE SACRIFICIAL DEATH OF CHRIST
READINGS: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14/ 1 Corinthians 11:23-26/ John 13:1-15
On Holy Thursday, we commemorate the Last Supper of our Savior Jesus Christ. On that fateful night before His agony in the garden, arrest, suffering and crucifixion, our Savior washed the feet of His disciples (cf. John 13:1-15) and instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-25; Mark 14:22-24; Matt. 26:26-28).
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist “in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us” (CCC #1323). This homily focuses on only the aspect of the memorial of the sacrificial death of Christ.
MEMORIAL OF CHRIST’S SACRIFICE
The old covenant that God established with the people of Israel, after He had delivered them from slavery in Egypt was sealed with the blood of animals that the Israelites sacrificed (Exo. 24:3-8). When the old covenant became obsolete and it no longer had any effect, due to the unfaithfulness of God’s people, He established a new and better covenant. This new covenant has been sealed, not with the blood of animals, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ through His one perfect sacrifice on the cross (cf. Heb. 9:11-15).
Now, some few hours before His arrest, Christ had an “anticipatory” offering of His sacrifice at the Last Supper with His disciples. Firstly, He broke bread just as His body would be broken on the cross the following day. Thus, after breaking the bread, He gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). Secondly, He offered wine as His blood which seals the new covenant. Thus, of the cup of wine, Christ said: “this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28; cf. Luke 22:20). This means that the Eucharist which Christ instituted the night before His death on the cross is closely linked with the actual sacrificial death. Hence, since He said that we should celebrate the Eucharist in memory of Him (Luke 22:19), anytime we celebrate it, the sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented (i.e., it is made present again). Thus, St. Paul affirms: “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes again” (1 Cor. 11:26).
If Christ willed that the Sacrament of the Eucharist which He instituted at the Last Supper should perpetuate His sacrificial death, then He had all of us in mind. That He had us in mind at that moment is obvious in the prayer He addressed to His Father that night: “Father I pray not only for these [my disciples], but for all those who would come to believe through them” (John 17:20). So, Jesus concerned that you and I would not be at Calvary, and that even if we were there, we would not have understood why He was dying such a painful and humiliating death, instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, so that anytime we celebrate it the redemptive merits of His sacrifice would be made available to us anew.
EXPERIENCING THE FRUITS OF CHRIST’S SACRIFICE
If every Eucharistic celebration is a return in spirit to the perfect sacrifice on Mount Calvary, then the merits (spiritual fruits) of the sacrifice of Christ abound for us in the Eucharist. Here, let me mention just three of them. Firstly, in the Eucharist, the endless ocean of the precious blood of Christ flows to wash away ours sins. Secondly, in the Eucharist, the deliverance and protective power of the blood is made available. Thirdly, in the Eucharist, the grace of eternal life abounds.
Therefore, we should prepare ourselves well and participate fully in every Eucharistic celebration in order to savour such and other spiritual fruits. This means that before every celebration, we should have confessed ours (mortal) sins, be on time for the celebration, have the right disposition of faith that we are encountering anew Christ the eternal High Priest, who is offering Himself as the sacrificial Lamb on the altar of the cross of Calvary, and then consciously and actively participate in it.
By Very Rev. Fr. John K. Louis