SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON April 1st, 2010
1 Corinthians 11:26 “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup,
you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, in which we commemorate the Last Supper, begins what is called the Sacred Triduum – three holy days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. The liturgy tonight is very similar to that of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday began with a commemoration of our Lords’ entry in triumph into Jerusalem.
There was almost a note of fun in the procession into the church. But after that procession came the Mass, in which we recalled the suffering of Christ, and His death. The long reading of the Passion of Christ according to St. Luke brought in a somber and serious note. The Hosannas of the palm procession soon faded. We soon left behind the crowd in their joyful welcome, and we experienced a change of mood.
At every Eucharist, we sing Hosanna in the highest. We recall that Christ is our triumphant King, as He seemed to be on that first Palm Sunday. At the same time that we sing Hosanna in the highest, we remember the night in which He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
It is the same tonight – the same sort of change in mood as it was last Sunday.
Up to this point in time in the Mass there has been a glorious celebration of the Last Supper when Christ gave us the Eucharist. The gold vestments, flowers on the altar and all the bells ringing during the Gloria are a wonderful note of praise and glory. But after the Gloria the bells are not rung again until that exciting moment in the Easter Vigil, when the Gloria is sung again and all the bells are rung. But for now, tonight, they are all silent. For now we go to Calvary.
Shortly, we will have the commemoration of that amazing thing that only St. John records in his version of the Last Supper – the occasion when Jesus washed the feet of the twelve apostles, including the betrayer, Judas. There is a note of this in St. Luke’s account of the Last Supper, when Jesus says that He is among them as One who serves.
That is the whole point of the washing of the feet – Jesus shows Himself to the apostles as their servant. In St. John’s Gospel He says, “You call Me Master and Lord, and rightly, I am; but here I am among you as one who serves.” In the washing of feet, which we commemorate symbolically, we see our Blessed Lord’s great humility – which is to climax on the cross, when He is the humblest of all men.
The Mass moves on from the washing of the feet with more solemnity. At the end it concludes with a solemn procession of the Blessed Sacrament through the church into the Lady Chapel. There we have set up what is called the Altar of Repose. Although we will honor the Sacrament in the usual triumphant way with incense, candles, singing and all the reverence we usually do – this will be no joyful procession. For it is the procession to Gethsemane.
There in the Chapel is set up a remembrance of that garden where Jesus spent the whole night in prayer and agony. It is a beautiful representation of that garden, but we cannot forget that it was a garden of great trial for Jesus. He was abandoned by His twelve apostles, betrayed, arrested, and taken away to a clandestine trial in the middle of the night.
In that garden we are all invited to watch with Him, and enter into the mystery of that lone vigil in which He begged the Father that if it be possible the cup might pass Him by. But in saying that, we then come to His immortal words, “Nevertheless, not my will, but Thy will be done.” Followed by, “Up, My betrayer is at hand.”
The moods and emotions of this liturgy tonight are almost too much to be captured just in this Eucharist – and yet, it goes on. We conclude with the stripping of the altar – where the altar has all its finery, and linen, and ornaments removed. This is a ceremony that calls to mind that awful moment when Christ was stripped of His garments before His crucifixion.
At this moment, right now, we might be just contemplating the first Eucharist and the gift of Holy Communion. Perhaps we are pondering the many times we’ve been blessed by our communions. Perhaps we might pause and thank God for this wonderful sacrament – and so we ought. The glory of the Mass thus far encourages us to give reverence and glory…….but soon we must go from this joyful celebration to Gethsemane.
Indeed, when we entered the church tonight there was already a hint of gloom. There was no Holy Water to bless ourselves with, no lamps alight, and the tabernacle empty of the presence of Jesus. It was a strange feeling, a strange mixture of emotions, even before we began. This strange mixture is repeated in the words of St. Paul, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death.”
In chapter six of St. John’s gospel the evangelist talks about the life of Christ in the Eucharist, but Paul wants to remind us of the death of Christ. There is nothing about the joy of the resurrection in what St. Paul says, nothing about the sacrament being the life of Christ, nothing about the eternal life promised us through this sacrament. To St. Paul the Eucharist is simply a proclamation of the death of Christ. He says that whenever we receive Holy Communion Christ’s death is proclaimed. We are fortunate that St. John gives us teaching about the Real Presence in his chapter six, to balance his account of the Last Supper, which emphases the foot washing.
But this is not so for St. Paul. In Galatians St. Paul talks about glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ – not of the glory of the Word made flesh, but glory in the cross. Even in this joyful Mass, the cross overshadows – and tonight leads into tomorrow.
Tonight, Jesus does not institute a memorial feast to remember a dead hero, but a sacrifice, just like the Old Testament sacrifices. This sacrifice has a difference. This sacrifice is eternal and once for all. It never needs repeating, and will always be present when two or three come together to do this in remembrance of Him. Whenever we come together to celebrate the Eucharist, we are not repeating that sacrifice, nor are we commemorating our Lord’s death as a past event.
At every Eucharist, we enter into the mystery of that great sacrifice, which Jesus offered on that first Good Friday. That sacrifice is eternal and lasts forever. Every Eucharist makes it present. For at the first Eucharist Jesus uttered these words for all time: “Take eat, this is My body, which will be given up for you.”