Holy Communion: Entering the Saving Mystery - Holy Thursday

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The Liturgy tonight – this Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper - opens the most solemn days of the Christian year. We actually enter one single event which is commemorated over the coming days. This Mass will end in silence – there is no final blessing. Tomorrow afternoon we begin with a silent entrance – there is no greeting. It is though what we have begun this evening is taken up on Friday afternoon at three pm. This commemoration moves to its climax on Holy Saturday night.

Our Mass tonight centres on the Last Supper. This meal that Jesus arranged to have with his disciples was far more than a farewell meal. It was the meal in which the Jewish people commemorated the saving of the people from slavery under the Egyptians. The Book of Exodus details a ritual meal which is to be carried out every year to recall the sovereign act of God to save the people. The meal involves the sacrificing of a lamb and the sprinkling of the blood of the lamb over the door posts of the house.

This is the meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples in the Upper Room. They all knew of its significance. Jesus knew it most of all. He knew that this particular meal was to transform the Jewish ritual into the sacramental commemoration of his own impending death. He was the sacrificial lamb. In a prophetic moment John the Baptist pointed Jesus out to his disciples declaring: “There is the Lamb of God”. Jesus understood that he was to be the sacrificial lamb. His blood would mark not the lintel of a house but the wood of the cross.

In this meal which recalled the saving action of God centuries before, Jesus transformed the ritual actions to provide the means in which his disciples for the centuries to come, would commemorate what he would do on Calvary.
The bread over which thanksgiving prayers are said in the Jewish ritual was given new and profound meaning: “This is my body, given for you”. Then after prayers which were part of the Jewish ritual he took the cup of wine from the table and proclaimed: “This is the cup of my blood”. It is the cup of the blood poured out for our salvation.

He issues the simple but significant request: “Do this in memory of me”. The actions of Christ were deliberate. This last paschal meal that he was to celebrate was to be the basis of the central Christian act – the Mass.

His actions are the means by which his disciples through all time can unite themselves with his redemptive death. As St Paul said in the second reading this evening, “every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death”. Each Mass is the way in which we can claim the redemption that Christ gained for us.

In the end the Christian is the one who knows he is saved. The Christian is the one who humbly and gratefully accepts that Jesus of Nazareth, Eternal Son of God, in a supreme act of love, has sacrificed himself that we might be free from the power of sin, and from the power of death.

Thus, when we are asked to profess our faith after the words of consecration we declare: “We proclaim your death O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again”.

At every Mass we enter the action of God. The bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ by the action of the Holy Spirit who is invoked over them. The priest stretches out his hands and declares, “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son”.

Thus, when we come to receive Holy Communion the priest presents the host before us and says, “Body of Christ”. We can pause a moment, look at the host, see the bread but know that the risen Christ is truly present and wants to come to us, and we answer, simply but with great faith, “Amen”, Yes!

In this moment we unite ourselves with Christ. Jesus taught: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, lives in me and I live in him”. In doing so we are also declaring that we desire to come under the power of Christ’s act of redemption. Christ alone can save us. Without him we are destined to death and eternal separation from God. He alone can save us from death. He alone has reconciled us with God and provided the passage for forgiveness of our sins.
After receiving Holy Communion I return to my place and enter a personal time of communion with Christ, living within me. I lay open my life. I lay open my heart. I call upon him to heal and transform me.

The Church’s spiritual history can provide many of the most beautiful prayers inspired by this union with Christ in Holy Communion. Whether we say some of the great prayers of our tradition, or we allow ourselves moments of quiet contemplation, touched with humility and gratitude, this time each Mass is most precious.

The Psalm tonight said, “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?” When we ponder all that the Lord has done for us we can say with the psalmist, “Your servant, Lord, your servant am I”. Amen.

Archbishop Julian Porteous.
Tuesday, 15 April 2014