"On the day before he was to suffer for our salvation and the salvation of all, that is today, he took bread in his holy and venerable hands and with eyes raised to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father, giving you thanks, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples…"
Every time we go to Mass we hear the Institution Narrative, the words Jesus spoke at His Last Supper, the words that instituted the Eucharist. It becomes almost common and ordinary, you might even be able to say it by heart. Tonight though you might notice something different. Tonight we remember that this is the night that Jesus gave himself to us in bread and w§ine.
"O God, who have called us to participate in this most sacred Supper, in which your Only Begotten Son, when about to hand himself over to death, entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity, the banquet of his love, grant, we pray, that we may draw from so great a mystery, the fullness of charity and of life." The Collect for Mass of the Lord's Supper marks the start of the Sacred Triduum, those three days where we commemorate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus.
Tonight we remember that the Eucharist is anything but common and ordinary. It is nothing less than our participation in the New Covenant, in the sharing of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus knew all that was about to happen and so, at his Last Supper, he gave us the Eucharist, he gave us the ability to have a foretaste of heaven, where, because of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, we hope to one day reside.
Pope Francis, during his General Audience on November 22, 2017, speaks about what the Eucharist is: "Christ's Passover is the definitive victory over death, because he transformed his death in the supreme act of love. He died out of love! And in the Eucharist, he wishes to communicate this, his paschal, victorious love, to us. If we receive him with faith, we too can truly love God and neighbour; we can love as he loved us, by giving our life."
Over the next three days we will hear about Jesus being handed over to the authorities, tortured, abandoned by most of his friends, killed, and finally rising from the dead. They are a hard three days. But today we commemorate the way Christ communicates his love for us. It is a reminder that we are not forgotten and abandoned, but that Jesus Christ gives himself daily for us on the altar, out of complete and total love for us. Today is a reminder that when Jesus had a chance to run and avoid his Passion, he didn't. Rather, he sat down and showed his disciples what it is to love.
The Sacred Triduum is celebrated over three temporal days, but is kept as one liturgical day. There is no closing prayer at the Mass of the Lord's Supper, no opening Collect or closing prayer on Good Friday, and no opening Collect at the Easter Vigil. It is a long, hard day. However, it starts with the commemoration of the Eucharist, of Christ telling us that we will never be abandoned. That in a very real way he is always with us, always offering himself for us.
So tonight, the day before Christ suffered for our salvation, we are called to pause and remember that the Eucharist is not common and ordinary, it is in fact Jesus Christ himself.
Rebecca Spellacy is the Associate Director of Liturgy for the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto.