Do this in memory of me - Holy Thursday

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“Do this in memory of me”
Holy Thursday

We have gathered on a most sacred night. We recall the Last Supper that the Lord had with his disciples. We know that it is an event full of meaning and mystery. We know that it is marked with powerful significance.

The meal is a Paschal Meal, the most sacred of Jewish rituals. Jesus knows that it is the final time that he will be with his disciples prior to his death. He has so much more he wishes to say to them, but time is now short. It will be his actions, his deliberate actions, in the context of a set ritual that they all knew so well that would turn this meal into the event constantly recalled in human history from this time forth. What he said and did will become the most sacred of Christian rituals – it will become the Mass.

St Paul, in our second reading this evening, witnesses to what the first Christians were acutely conscious of: that on the night that the Lord was betrayed he took some bread, thanked God for it, broke it and said, “This is my body which is for you; do this as a memorial of me”. These words spoken by the Lord and recorded in the Gospels were words etched into the mind of the Church.

“Do this as a memorial of me”. And the Church has faithfully done this from its very inception until this day. It has been done at every Mass, at the millions of Masses celebrated since the Church began. We do what Jesus did at the Last Supper. We do this not just recalling his words and actions, but we do this with the consciousness that he wanted this action to be the means by which we remember him.

When Jesus asked us to do this in memory of him, he understood it to be in the Jewish notion of memory.

In the Old Testament, in the Book of Deuteronomy (7:18), the people are reminded:  "You shall remember what the Lord your God did ..." The people as asked to recall what God has done. We, the people of the New Testament, remember what God has done by looking at Jesus. We don’t just remember Jesus but we remember what he has done. And what he has done takes us to Calvary.

This remembrance is not the mere commemoration of a past that is no more, it is not merely the recollection of past events, but it is the proclamation of what God in and through Jesus. The Catholic Catechism says that “in the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real" (CCC, n. 1363). What Jesus did – what he did on Calvary - is made effective now. It is made effective for us, now.

We are not simply remembering and repeating what Jesus did at the Last Supper but we are making them real and effective in our lives here and now. What he did at the Last Supper can only be understood in the light of Good Friday. Jesus said, “this is my blood poured out for you” – this was to happen the following day.

What God has done is recalled in the reading from the Book of Exodus which we listened to this evening. In the Old Testament, the "memorial" of what God had done for the Jewish people was the Passover feast:  every time the people of Israel celebrated the Passover, God effectively engaged them in the salvation He achieved for them. In the Passover ritual the people were invited to enter into the saving work of their exodus into freedom and to do so with grateful faith. We heard in the reading: "This day is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord’s honour. For all generations you are to declare it a day of festival, for ever”.

Now we, as Christians, are invited to remember our Passover, which is the death and resurrection of Christ. This remembrance makes present what was accomplished; that we have been saved from the power of evil and the power of death. 

That is why after the consecration the Church calls on us to proclaim our faith and we declare in the second of the acclamations: “When we eat this Bread and drink this cup we proclaim your death O Lord until you come again”. The Church will never cease to proclaim the death of the Lord, until he returns in glory. Every Mass we proclaim what is central to our Christian faith: Christ died for us and rose again for our sake. We will never tire of saying this because this our faith. We declare with grateful hearts that Christ has saved us by his death on the cross. 

The Eucharist is essentially the memorial of Christ's death, making his sacrifice present and effective for us. This is why the Church has traditionally spoken of the Sacrifice of the Mass. This is the way in which Christians will remember Christ above all else.

Tonight, on this sacred night, when we recall the Last Supper and its profound significance, we can embrace its meaning for us. We can realise afresh what happens at every Mass. We remember the Lord – not just the man Jesus of Nazareth, but the Son of God who went to Calvary for us. We declare that his death freed us from death. We declare that his resurrection was our path to eternal life.

We remember Jesus, but we remember him as the Crucified Christ. We say that we want the power of his saving act dying on the cross to be made real and effective in our lives. We ask with humble gratitude that we will become sharers in the salvation he won for us.

When we approach the altar this evening to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord we can have a simple prayer in our hearts: “Jesus, let your saving power flood my being. Heal me and set me free. Save me and raise me up to glory. Amen”.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Thursday, 2 April 2015