Fr. Bryan Howard
Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper – 29 March 2018
The ancient Israelites had many different kinds of sacrifices. They had thank offerings, given to thank God for some great blessing, and sin offering, in reparation for a sin committed, and holocaust offerings. They had offerings of bread and of grain, of grapes, libations of wine and milk, offerings of lambs, goats, bulls, and oxen. Some were offered every day and some only once a year, but they all had two thing in common. Every offering and sacrifice had to be offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, and it had to be offered by a priest. By the law of God, that was the only place where a sacrifice could be made, because it was the house of God. So, why do we call the death of Jesus on the Cross a sacrifice. First, human sacrifice was forbidden in ancient Israel. Second, it happened outside of the Temple, and outside of Jerusalem. Third, there was no Jewish priest. An ancient Jew would have called the death of Jesus an execution, or maybe even a martyrdom, but they never would have called it a sacrifice. So, how did the apostles, who were Jewish, come to consider the death of Jesus a sacrifice, and not just any sacrifice, but the one perfect sacrifice through which our sins are forgiven and we are united to God for eternity?
Well, it has to do with what we’re celebrating today, the Last Supper. You see, the Last Supper was a seder meal, a ritual meal, and it followed a very strict order. It began with the sacrifice of a lamb in the Temple, and continued with a meal at home. When you ate, when you drank, and the prayers to be said was all laid out. So, the apostles must have been very confused when Jesus, at the Last Supper, began to change things. During a traditional seder meal, you eat roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and drink 4 glasses of wine a certain times. The third cup of wine is called the cup of blessing, and it was this cup that Jesus took, and said the blessing, and gave it to His disciples saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Then He said that He would not drink again from the fruit of the vine until He would drink it new in the kingdom of God. The disciples must have been thinking, “But Jesus, what do you mean you won’t drink again the fruit of the vine? There’s another cup of wine in this very meal.” But Jesus left for the Garden of Gethsemane before the end of the meal, before the fourth cup, which is called the Cup of Acceptance, or, sometimes, the Cup of Consummation.
Do you remember what Jesus said in the Garden, when He went forward to pray? “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” The cup is the cup of suffering that is in store for Him, but perhaps He’s also referring to the last cup of the Seder meal. What were the last words that Jesus spoke from the Cross, before He surrendered His Spirit? “It is finished.” Which, in Latin, is Consummatum Est, “It is consummated.” Jesus accepts the cup of suffering from that He had to bear, and, through it, consummates, or completes, His mission.
By reflecting on the Last Supper and the Cross of the Lord, the apostles saw the connection between the two. The Last Supper was preparing them for the memorial of the Cross, and we can remember and celebrate the Cross of the Lord by reliving the Last Supper, which is what we do in the Mass. We listen to the history of salvation in the readings of the mass, we speak the words that Jesus spoke, we offer the sacrificial Lamb, the Lamb of God, and we share a meal, the bread that becomes the Body of Christ and the wine that becomes His blood. In the John, chapter 6, we read the words of Jesus, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you will not have life in you.”
So, stay close to the Mass, because it is through the Mass that you stay close to the Cross, God’s great act of love for us, and receive His life in your soul.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.