Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Institution of the Eucharist

Today is Holy Thursday, the day we celebrate the Last Supper.  The Last Supper was a Passover meal that took place in that upper room in Jerusalem near the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives on the night Jesus Christ was arrested two thousand years ago.  More importantly, it was the night on which he instituted the Holy Eucharist, that sacrament that today is partaken by billions of people on a daily basis worldwide.

Jesus was in the room with his twelve apostles.  You can imagine what it might have been like.  Tension in the air due to the danger they were in, being in Jerusalem at a time when the Jewish elders were looking for a time and a way to kill him for his “crimes” of blasphemous preaching, provocations, and Sabbath violations, not to mention his claims of being the Messiah and the insults He hurled at the Pharisees.  But perhaps there was also tension in the air due to his statements, such as this:  “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have life in you.”  (John 6:53).  They continued to be his followers despite the gruesome thought of eating his flesh and drinking His blood.  They might have been asking themselves what was going to happen in this upper room. 

One of them, St. Peter, had replied to Him:  “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  (John 6:68).  That must have been the general feeling of all twelve, since they were not like the many other disciples who had “returned to their former way of life” upon hearing this.  But, in addition, St. Peter, St. James, and St. John had all witnessed the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor a few days earlier when Jesus had fully displayed His divinity to them.  To whom shall they go, Indeed! 

But then, it happened.  Jesus took bread, broke it, and giving it to them said “Take and eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup of wine, gave it to them and said “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood …”  (Mt 26:26-29).  And now they understood.  Jesus was giving them his flesh to eat and his blood to drink, but under the appearance (sight and taste) of bread and wine!  Wow!  He also said this:  “… do this in memory of me.”  And with that, the Eucharist was instituted for all people for all time!

In the early days, after Jesus’ Resurrection, doing this in his memory became known as the “breaking of the bread.”  St. Paul, who was Jesus’ mortal enemy, had this to say after his conversion:  “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself.”  (1 Cor 11:29).  Today, this act is the focus of the Catholic Mass.  And each time I partake of this sacrament at Mass, I utter these words of Christ over and over to myself as I kneel in prayer:  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life everlasting, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  (Jn 6:54).  Thank you, Lord, for this marvelous gift, a gift that mere words can never even begin to adequately express.  Amen!

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