Today, we enter into the sacred mysteries of the Holy Triddium. This begins the most sacred and holy three days of the Church year, that commemorate the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood, as well as Christ's passion, death, and ressurection. But today, we focus on the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood. At the Last Supper Christ instituted the Eucharist when:
On the night he was betrayed, he took bread and gave you thanks and praise. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:
Take this, all of you, and eat it:
this is my body which will be given up for you.
When supper was ended, he took the cup. Again he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples, and said:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.
Having given thanks and praise, the Lord then breaks the bread and gives it to the disciples. Breaking the bread is the act of the father of the family who looks after his children and gives them what they need for life. But it is also the act of hospitality with which the stranger, the guest, is received within the family and is given a share in its life. Dividing (dividere), sharing (condividere) brings about unity. Through sharing, communion is created. In the broken bread, the Lord distributes himself. The gesture of breaking also alludes mysteriously to his death, to the love that extends even to death. He distributes himself, the true “bread for the life of the world” (cf. Jn 6:51). The nourishment that man needs in his deepest self is communion with God himself. Giving thanks and praise, Jesus transforms the bread, he no longer gives earthly bread, but communion with himself. This transformation, though, seeks to be the start of the transformation of the world – into a world of resurrection, a world of God. Yes, it is about transformation – of the new man and the new world that find their origin in the bread that is consecrated, transformed, transubstantiated.
We said that breaking the bread is an act of communion, an act of uniting through sharing. Thus, in the act itself, the intimate nature of the Eucharist is already indicated: it is agape, it is love made corporeal. In the word “agape”, the meanings of Eucharist and love intertwine. In Jesus’ act of breaking the bread, the love that is shared has attained its most radical form: Jesus allows himself to be broken as living bread. In the bread that is distributed, we recognize the mystery of the grain of wheat that dies, and so bears fruit. We recognize the new multiplication of the loaves, which derives from the dying of the grain of wheat and will continue until the end of the world. At the same time, we see that the Eucharist can never be just a liturgical action. It is complete only if the liturgical agape then becomes love in daily life. In Christian worship, the two things become one – experiencing the Lord’s love in the act of worship and fostering love for one’s neighbour. At this hour, we ask the Lord for the grace to learn to live the mystery of the Eucharist ever more deeply, in such a way that the transformation of the world can begin to take place.
After the bread, Jesus takes the chalice of wine. The Roman Canon describes the chalice which the Lord gives to his disciples as “praeclarus calix” (the glorious cup), thereby alluding to Psalm 23 , the Psalm which speaks of God as the Good Shepherd, the strong Shepherd. There we read these words: “You have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes … My cup is overflowing” – calix praeclarus. The Roman Canon interprets this passage from the Psalm as a prophecy that is fulfilled in the Eucharist: yes, the Lord does indeed prepare a banquet for us in the midst of the threats of this world, and he gives us the glorious chalice – the chalice of great joy, of the true feast, for which we all long – the chalice filled with the wine of his love. The chalice signifies the wedding-feast: now the “hour” has come to which the wedding-feast of Cana had mysteriously alluded. Yes indeed, the Eucharist is more than a meal, it is a wedding-feast. And this wedding is rooted in God’s gift of himself even to death. In the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and in the Church’s Canon, the solemn mystery of the wedding is concealed under the expression “novum Testamentum”. This chalice is the new Testament – “the new Covenant in my blood”, as Saint Paul presents the words of Jesus over the chalice in today’s second reading (1 Cor 11:25). The Roman Canon adds: “of the new and everlasting covenant”, in order to express the indissolubility of God’s nuptial bond with humanity. The reason why older translations of the Bible do not say Covenant, but Testament, lies in the fact that this is no mere contract between two parties on the same level, but it brings into play the infinite distance between God and man. What we call the new and the ancient Covenant is not an agreement between two equal parties, but simply the gift of God who bequeaths to us his love – himself. Certainly, through this gift of his love, he transcends all distance and makes us truly his “partners” – the nuptial mystery of love is accomplished.