• Holy Thursday of the Mysteries
1 Corinthians 11:23-32
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that 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. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by (the) Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
Praise be to God always.
I. Biblical Exegesis
[11:23–25] This is the earliest written account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. The narrative emphasizes Jesus’ action of self-giving (expressed in the words over the bread and the cup) and his double command to repeat his own action.
[11:27] It follows that the only proper way to celebrate the Eucharist is one that corresponds to Jesus’ intention, which fits with the meaning of his command to reproduce his action in the proper spirit. If the Corinthians eat and drink unworthily, without having grasped and internalized the meaning of his death for them, they will have to answer for the body and blood, that is, they will be guilty of a sin against the Lord himself (cf. 1 Cor 8:12).
[11:28] Examine himself: the Greek word is similar to that for “approved” in 1 Cor 11:19, which means “having been tested and found true.” The self-testing required for proper eating involves discerning the body (1 Cor 11:29), which, from the context, must mean understanding the sense of Jesus’ death (1 Cor 11:26), perceiving the imperative to unity that follows from the fact that Jesus gives himself to all and requires us to repeat his sacrifice in the same spirit (1 Cor 11:18–25).
[11:29–32] Judgment: there is a series of wordplays in these verses that would be awkward to translate literally into English; it includes all the references to judgment (krima, 1 Cor 11:29, 34; krinō, 1 Cor 11:31, 32) discernment (diakrinō, 1 Cor 11:29, 31), and condemnation (katakrinō, 1 Cor 11:32). The judgment is concretely described as the illness, infirmity, and death that have visited the community. These are signs that the power of Jesus’ death is not yet completely recognized and experienced. Yet even the judgment incurred is an expression of God’s concern; it is a medicinal measure meant to rescue us from condemnation with God’s enemies.
II. Patristic References
“Even standing alone by itself the teaching of Blessed Paul is sufficient to give you full assurance concerning the Divine Mysteries; of which having been deemed worthy, you are becoming united with the body and blood of Christ. For you have just heard him say distinctly, that our Lord Jesus Christ on the night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it, and gave to His disciples, saying, Take, eat, this is My Body: and having taken the cup and given thanks, he said, Take, drink, this is My Blood. Since then He Himself declared and said of the Bread, This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since He has Himself affirmed and said, This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not His blood?” – St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Lecture XXII. (on the Mysteries. IV). On the Body and Blood of Christ.
MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
Holy Thursday, 8 April 2004
1. “He loved them to the end” (Jn 13,1).
Before celebrating the last Passover with his disciples, Jesus washed their feet. With an act that was normally done by a servant, he wanted to impress upon the Apostles’ minds a sense of what was about to take place.
Indeed, his passion and death constitute the fundamental loving service through which the Son of God set humanity free from sin. At the same time, Christ’s passion and death reveal the profound meaning of the new commandment that he entrusted to the Apostles: “even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn 13,34).
2. “Do this in remembrance of me” (1Co 11,24), he said twice as he distributed the bread that had become his Body and the wine that had become his Blood. “I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (Jn 13,15), he had said a little earlier after washing the Apostles’ feet. Christians, therefore, know that they must “remember” their Teacher by the reciprocal charitable service of “washing one another’s feet”. In particular, they know that they should remember Jesus by reliving the “memorial” of the Supper with the bread and wine consecrated by the minister who repeats over them the words which Christ spoke on that occasion.
This is what began to shape the Christian community from the outset, as we have heard Paul testify: “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1Co 11,26).
3. The Eucharist is therefore the memorial in the full sense: the bread and the wine, through the action of the Holy Spirit, truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, who gives himself to be the food of men and women on their earthly pilgrimage.
The same logic of love presides at the Incarnation of the Word in Mary’s womb, and at his becoming present in the Eucharist. It is “agape”, charity, love in its beautiful, pure sense. Jesus insistently asked his disciples to abide in this love of his (cf. Jn Jn 15,9).
To stay faithful to this mandate, to abide in him like branches joined to the vine and to as he loved, it is necessary to be nourished with his Body and his Blood. In telling the Apostles: “Do this in memory of me”, the Lord bound the Church to the living memorial of his Passover. Although he was the only Priest of the New Covenant, he wanted and needed to have human beings who, consecrated by the Holy Spirit, would act in intimate union with him by distributing the food of life.
4. Therefore, while we fix our gaze on Christ who institutes the Eucharist, we become newly aware of the importance of priests in the Church and of their bond with the sacrament of the Eucharist. In the Letter I wrote to Priests for this Holy Thursday, I wanted to repeat that the gift and mystery is the Sacrament of the Altar, the gift and mystery is the Priesthood, and that both sprang from the Heart of Christ during the Last Supper.
Only a Church in love with the Eucharist brings forth, in turn, many holy priestly vocations. And she does so through prayer and the witness of holiness, offered especially for the new generations.
5. At the school of Mary, “the woman of the Eucharist”, let us adore Jesus truly present in the humble signs of the bread and the wine. Let us implore him never to cease calling priests after his own Heart to the service of the Altar.
Let us ask the Lord never to let the People of God lack the Bread that sustains them throughout the earthly pilgrimage. May the Blessed Virgin help us rediscover with wonder that the whole of Christian life is linked to the mysterium fidei which we are celebrating solemnly this evening.
Saint John Paul II
Now the feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was drawing near, and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking a way to put him to death, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered into Judas, the one surnamed Iscariot, who was counted among the Twelve, and he went to the chief priests and temple guards to discuss a plan for handing him over to them. They were pleased and agreed to pay him money. He accepted their offer and sought a favorable opportunity to hand him over to them in the absence of a crowd. When the day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread arrived, the day for sacrificing the Passover lamb, he sent out Peter and John, instructing them, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” They asked him, “Where do you want us to make the preparations?” And he answered them, “When you go into the city, a man will meet you carrying a jar of water. Follow him into the house that he enters and say to the master of the house, ‘The teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”‘ He will show you a large upper room that is furnished. Make the preparations there.” Then they went off and found everything exactly as he had told them, and there they prepared the Passover. When the hour came, he took his place at table with the apostles. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it (again) until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I tell you (that) from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you. “And yet behold, the hand of the one who is to betray me is with me on the table; for the Son of Man indeed goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed.” And they began to debate among themselves who among them would do such a deed. This is the Truth. Peace be with you.
I. Biblical Exegesis
[22:1] The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread: the connection between the two festivals is reflected in Ex 12:3–20; 34:18; Lv 23:4–8; Nm 9:2–14; 28:16–17; Dt 16:1–8. The Passover commemorated the redemption from slavery and the departure of the Israelites from Egypt by night. It began at sundown after the Passover lamb was sacrificed in the temple in the afternoon of the fourteenth day of the month of Nisan. With the Passover supper on the same evening was associated the eating of unleavened bread. The latter was continued through Nisan 21, a reminder of the affliction of the Israelites and of the haste surrounding their departure. Praise and thanks to God for his goodness in the past were combined at this dual festival with the hope of future salvation. The chief priests…to death: the intent to put Jesus to death was plotted for a long time but delayed for fear of the crowd (Mk 3:6; 11:18; 12:12).
[22:10] A man will meet you carrying a jar of water: perhaps a prearranged signal, for only women ordinarily carried water in jars. The Greek word used here, however, implies simply a person and not necessarily a male.
[22:15] This Passover: Luke clearly identifies this last supper of Jesus with the apostles as a Passover meal that commemorated the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Jesus reinterprets the significance of the Passover by setting it in the context of the kingdom of God (Lk 22:16). The “deliverance” associated with the Passover finds its new meaning in the blood that will be shed (Lk 22:20).
[22:17] Because of a textual problem in Lk 22:19–20 some commentators interpret this cup as the eucharistic cup.
[22:19c–20] Which will be given…do this in memory of me: these words are omitted in some important Western text manuscripts and a few Syriac manuscripts. Other ancient text types, including the oldest papyrus manuscript of Luke dating from the late second or early third century, contain the longer reading presented here. The Lucan account of the words of institution of the Eucharist bears a close resemblance to the words of institution in the Pauline tradition (1 Cor 11:23–26).
II. Patristic References
Now again, my beloved, God brought us to the season of the feast, and through His loving-kindness we have reached the period of assembly for it. For that same God who brought Israel out of Egypt, calls us to the feast. The Lord said to Moses, ‘Observe the month of new fruits, and keep the Passover to the Lord your God:’ and through the prophet he said, ‘Keep your feasts, O Judah; ‘pay to the Lord your vows.’ If then God Himself loves the feast, and calls us to it, it is not right, my brethren, that it should be delayed, or observed carelessly; but with zeal we should come to it, so that having begun joyfully, we may also receive the heavenly feast. For if we diligently celebrate the feast, we shall doubtless receive the perfect joy of heaven, as the Lord says; ‘I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I say to you, that I will not eat it, until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Now we eat, understanding the reason for the feast, and acknowledging the Deliverer, we conduct ourselves in accordance with His grace, as Paul said; ‘So that we may keep the Feast, not with old leaven neither with the leaven of wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’ For the Lord died in those days, that we should no longer do the deeds of death. He gave His life, that we might preserve our own from the snares of the devil. And, what is most wonderful, the Word became flesh, that we should no longer live in the flesh, but in spirit should worship God, who is Spirit. He who is not so disposed, abuses the days, and does not keep the feast. Let him by all means hear the Apostolic voice of Paul correcting him. – St. Athanasius, Letter VI
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk 22,15). With these words Jesus began the celebration of his final meal and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus approached that hour with eager desire. In his heart he awaited the moment when he would give himself to his own under the appearance of bread and wine. He awaited that moment which would in some sense be the true messianic wedding feast: when he would transform the gifts of this world and become one with his own, so as to transform them and thus inaugurate the transformation of the world. In this eager desire of Jesus we can recognize the desire of God himself – his expectant love for mankind, for his creation. A love which awaits the moment of union, a love which wants to draw mankind to itself and thereby fulfil the desire of all creation, for creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the children of God (cf. Rm 8,19). Jesus desires us, he awaits us. But what about ourselves? Do we really desire him? Are we anxious to meet him? Do we desire to encounter him, to become one with him, to receive the gifts he offers us in the Holy Eucharist? Or are we indifferent, distracted, busy about other things? From Jesus’ banquet parables we realize that he knows all about empty places at table, invitations refused, lack of interest in him and his closeness. For us, the empty places at the table of the Lord’s wedding feast, whether excusable or not, are no longer a parable but a reality, in those very countries to which he had revealed his closeness in a special way. Jesus also knew about guests who come to the banquet without being robed in the wedding garment – they come not to rejoice in his presence but merely out of habit, since their hearts are elsewhere. In one of his homilies Saint Gregory the Great asks: Who are these people who enter without the wedding garment? What is this garment and how does one acquire it? He replies that those who are invited and enter do in some way have faith. It is faith which opens the door to them. But they lack the wedding garment of love. Those who do not live their faith as love are not ready for the banquet and are cast out. Eucharistic communion requires faith, but faith requires love; otherwise, even as faith, it is dead. – Pope Benedict XVI, MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER Basilica of St John Lateran Holy Thursday, 21 April 2011
This evening we remember and celebrate the great gift of the Eucharist, which the Lord has left us. It is interesting that nowhere in the New Testament do we find the term Eucharist. Rather, this Holy Mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ is referred to as The Lord’s Supper, the Agape, and the Breaking of the Bread. The word Eucharist we first encounter in one of the earliest writings of the Primitive Church, the Didache, known in English as “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.”
The Eucharist, the “Great Thanksgiving” by which in sacramantal form experience the totality of salvation history. Jesus Christ has become our Passover, the perfect Passover, that was envisioned in the Passover during the time of Moses, and was prophesied by Isaiah in his proclamation of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh. Jesus Christ is the one, perfect, sacrifice by which the gates of sheol are broken, and death no longer has any claim upon us.
Our Lord’s celebration of the institution of the Eucharist with his Apostles was also a teaching moment, for them and for us. Jesus taught them and teaches us the depth of love. The greatest among us is the one who serves the rest, the one who washes the feet of their friends. This act of humility and love can be carried out by all of us; for only one can offer his body and blood for our salvation, and only one can offer himself upon the altar of the Cross to forgive sins, but all who follow him can love, must love, must wash the feet of their brothers and sisters in Christ.