Thursday, 20 March 2008

Maundy Thursday, Shaftesbury

Tonight we remember 2 of the greatest gifts Christ had given us. And, how they were given to us at a crucial moment. Jesus knew what lay ahead of him, he knew that he was leaving his disciples behind. And often, when we leave someone, we try and give them something, something to remember us by, something to continue to make us present. And the gifts that Christ gave the Church at the Last Supper are the gifts of the Mass and the priesthood.

I spent many of the earlier years not knowing why it is that Catholics always have Mass when we gather. Is it because we can’t think of anything better to do? Catholics say Mass because this is the thing that Christ commanded us to do: “Do THIS in memory of me” he said at the Last Supper. He commanded us to do this because this is where he gives himself to us. And this is also where he gives us the perfect prayer.

One of the things that makes us human is our need to pray. All through human history, humans have tried to find a suitable way to pray. We can see this in the pagan temples of so many ancient ruins. But humans have struggled to find an act of worship that is worthy of God. They’ve offered crop sacrifices, animal sacrifices, even human sacrifices. All trying to find something that is worthy of an infinite and all-powerful God.

The perfect prayer could only be offered by Jesus Christ himself. As perfect God his prayer has infinite value. As perfect man he can offer his prayer on behalf of all mankind. This perfect prayer is what he offered on the Cross. All prayer is a gift of self, and he offered his whole self in his life on the Cross. So, as the Catechism says(CCC2606; 2746ff), his prayer on the Cross summed up and drew together all the prayers, all the intercessions that have ever been expressed in human history –those offered before he died, and even those offered afterwards, like those we offer now (because God is beyond our limits of time).

But that perfect prayer on the Cross, that perfect act of worship, isn’t just a dead thing in the past –it’s a living thing in the Church today. When we pray, we are praying through it. And Christ has given us a way to unite ourselves to it, and that’s the Mass. The Mass isn’t a prayer separate from the Cross, it is not a different prayer that Christ left us. The sacrifice of the Mass is the very same as the sacrifice of the Cross. It is, in fact, the sacrifice of Jesus made present again on our altars, and offered up again to the Father on our behalf. This is his great gift to us in the Mass.

Any sacrifice involves death, and as St. Paul said, each time we do this, we proclaim his death (1Cor 11:26). On the Cross, the sign of Christ’s death was his blood separating from his body, draining out of the wound in his side. The sign of that separation is renewed in every Mass when the priest says, “This is my Body”; “This is my Blood”. And this isn’t just a sign –it’s the reality too. The bread totally becomes his Body, the wine becomes his Blood.
And this isn’t a dead sacrifice. Because of the resurrection, it is a living sacrifice. When his Body + Blood are made present, they are the sacrifice of Calvary, offered again on our altar.

There are many things that link the Last Supper with the Cross. It was at the Last Supper that Jesus predicted Judas would betray him, and it was from the Last Supper table that Judas went to do his dirty deed. What happened that night was looking ahead and anticipating the events of Good Friday. And what he gave us in the Last Supper, what he gave us in the Mass, is the memorial of his death on the Cross.

There is a desire in us, as human beings, to offer a suitable prayer to God. And this most perfect and most suitable of all prayers is what he has given us in the Mass:
“Do THIS in memory of me

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