Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
April 21, 2011
Holy Thursday

Mass of the Lord's Supper

“Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.” John 13:1

Over the years, as a priest and pastor, I have had the blessing of participating in the family rituals of my parishioners.  Some have been quite elaborate, like those of a Ukrainian family I knew as a young priest.  They invited me every year for their twelve-course, meatless Christmas Eve dinner.  The ritual of this meal came from their ancestors when they immigrated to the United States.  The details of the meal, the menu, the recipes, and the order of serving the dishes, were dictated by centuries of custom and tradition.  

The Jews also have their ritual meal—the Passover.  The ritual for this meal is set down in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Exodus.  It commemorates the night on which God saved His people from the tenth plague, the death of the first-born, and consequently freed them from the slavery of Egypt.  The centerpiece of this meal was to be a young, male lamb, whose blood, applied to the doors of their houses, assured that the angel of death would not touch their families.  The Book of Exodus stipulated that Passover was to “be a memorial feast for [them], which all [their] generations [were to] celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution” (Exodus 12:14).  

When Jesus Christ celebrated the Passover with His apostles, He took the occasion within the framework of this Jewish feast to give us, His followers, something new.  All that had transpired before was a preparation for what He would do that night.  The Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke describe what happened, and so does St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

St. Paul begins his account with these words:  “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (I Corinthians 11:23).  With the meticulous accuracy of the Ukrainian family who wished to preserve a tradition inherited from their ancestors or a Jewish family who wanted to recall and relive a saving event, St. Paul was aware that the Corinthians, and for that matter all Christians, must imitate for the sake of salvation, what the Lord Jesus did the night before He died.  He, who was the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29) (3)—in the words of St. John the Baptist, “took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you’ (I Corinthians 11:23-24).  He did the same with the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (I Corinthians 11:25).  The blood of a male lamb had deflected the angel of death in Exodus.  Now the blood of the “Lamb of God” was to be on the lips of the new People of God.  Like the priest that He was, Jesus offered sacrifice but what He sacrificed was His own Body and Blood.  The Letter to the Hebrews says it this way:  “… he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).  

The next words of St. Paul resound into the sacramental reality.  This sacrifice of Jesus is once and always.  Again as Hebrews expresses it, “For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated” (Hebrews 10:14).  Yet, St. Paul says that Jesus commands that this Paschal meal be repeated in remembrance of Him (I Corinthians 11:24, 25).  And St. Paul adds, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).  

What we and the early Christians call the Eucharist is an everlasting memorial.  God takes this moment in time—the sharing and partaking of His Son’s Body and Blood—and sanctifies this moment by making it accessible to all believers for all generations.  Here the Eucharist is different from the tradition of a family or different from the rituals of Exodus.  These rituals rely upon the living memory of the participants to experience the reality of their family or religious custom.  With the Eucharist, it is Christ’s work in this completely new creation.  

We often think of the Eucharist as transcending time.  Actually the Eucharist is not so much a transcendence of time, as though in some way we were being brought back or forward to another moment in another place.  The Eucharist is our participation in God’s holy and sanctified time.  Now is the day of salvation, and it is so because through our participation in the Eucharist we enter more fully into the Body of Christ.  

St. Paul will again express it this way:  “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (I Corinthians 10:16).   It is not so much a transporting of ourselves in time, but it is the event and its potent benefits being made present to us now.  We call it the “true presence,” and it is our Eucharist.  

The bread and wine are merely the external means by which the internal reality communicates itself to us.  They are the accidents that we see and touch and taste, but the substance of what we receive is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  

In the Passover ritual, the youngest member of the family rises to address this question to the Father.  “What makes this night different from all other nights?”  St. John, being the youngest apostle, no doubt asked this question to our Lord.  This night is different.  As Holy Thursday night, it begins the great Passover of our Lord, as He passes from life to death and then to the glorious life of Resurrection.  And as He eats that meal, which ceases being just a meal and becomes “a perpetual institution,” He makes possible our sharing in the saving redemptive actions of Good Friday and Easter.  

To quote again St. Paul:  “We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection; through him we are saved and made free” (Galatians 6:14).  We are free, free to be lifted from our sins, free to die upon the cross, and above all free to rise again, and all made possible for us because Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (I Corinthians 11:24).