The Last Supper was both the celebration and fulfillment of the Passover, a solemn ritual inaugurated by Moses in Egypt the night before the Exodus. And yet it was the First Mass which anticipated and was indivisibly connected to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.
In fact, our Lord offered his resurrected flesh -- in Eucharistic form -- to the Apostles before the Resurrection. To say it another way, the fruit from the tree was given and consumed three days before the tree existed in time. Indeed, the Last Supper in the Upper Room on Holy Thursday, Our Lord’s death on the Cross and the Resurrection was the New Passover whole and entire.
Our Lord began the New Passover as the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek by using bread and wine in order to sacrificially offer himself in ritual (so that others could share in it throughout the ages). He then consummated it and confirmed it by personally laying down his life as act of love to the Father for the salvation of mankind; this, he did as the Passover Lamb whose blood would be applied to the doorpost of every soul who approached the altar of God. And like the smoke of incense ascending upward, he animated his deceased body in the tomb in order to raise it up, eventually taking it to heaven. Truly, he was a priest, victim and a holocaust.
As man, Jesus Christ could offer his body and blood as a victim in time and in the space of the Upper Room. But as God, he was both in heaven and on earth. Perhaps we seldom consider that the Holy Sacrifice of the First Mass occurred both on Holy Thursday and in eternity. As such, it could be united to every single Mass that was ever to be celebrated until the end of time. This includes, of course, every Mass that we assist at.
The Holy Mass for us, then, not only makes present Our Lord’s One Holy Sacrifice in Upper Room and on Calvary, but it also makes present, in a mystical way, every Mass that has ever been celebrated and will ever be celebrated. The past, the present and the future- through his Eternal Sacrifice - are rolled into one. We are thus untied to our brothers and sisters, not only throughout the world in 2012, but also with those in ages past and those who are yet to be born.
In addition to mystically uniting the children of God above space and time, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in its very essence, is God worshipping God. Through the Holy Spirit, this most perfect prayer of the Church is God the Son eternally loving and offering himself to God the Father. In the sanctuary we are invited to join Christ in his loving adoration of the Father through His Spirit. By entering into this inner life of the Holy Trinity we can repay God for our debts and for his generosity. As one priest put it, participating in and offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice is how we can repay God in “his own coin.”
That’s right! By giving back to the Father his only begotten Son is the only gift worthy of his greatness. Anything else is marred by our human finiteness and imperfection. To be sure, it falls infinitely short of what he truly deserves.
The work of our human hands, that is, ordinary bread and wine, through the consecration at the altar, becomes Christ whole and entire. His Eucharistic Sacrifice and Sacramental presence not only embodies the Last Supper and the Crucifixion; it also embodies his Incarnation, his Nativity, his Private Life at home, his Public Life, his Death, his Resurrection, his Ascension, his Second Coming and as he existed throughout all eternity. The Church tells that the totality of Christ is presented to the Father. And it is through this communion with Christ we become clothed with him and hidden in him, as St. Paul would put it. We do not stand alone nor are we “naked,” as it were. Rather, the Father, looking down from heaven, sees us in Christ. And if we are faithful to the Gift we receive and offer before the altar, we will begin to see ourselves as we really are in Christ.
And finally, if we are not yet conformed to Christ’s image as we ought, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and its fruit, the Holy Eucharist, will help to bring this conformity about. As Pope Leo XIII said, “For there is this difference between the food of the body and that of the soul, that whereas the former is changed into our substance, the latter changes us into its own; so that St. Augustine makes Christ Himself say: ‘You shall not change Me into yourself as you do the food of your body, but you shall be changed into Me.’”
The Eternal Sacrifice of Altar, therefore, is at the very heart of who we are in time and who are to become in eternity. It is Christ whole and entire; he who is the pioneer and goal of our salvation. This is why St. Padre Pio said that it is better than the sun cease shining than for this world to be without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.