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The many names of the mystery we recall on Holy Thursday

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Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP - published on 04/08/20

Tonight, this night is the moment of encounter.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.Where charity and love are, there God is.The love of Christ has gathered us into one.

What is the mystery we recall tonight?

The mystery we commemorate today has many names. 

The practice which Jesus handed on to us, the breaking of bread which becomes truly His body and sharing of a chalice of wine which becomes His precious blood is called the Eucharist. Recall that “eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” The eucharist is the height of our expression of gratitude, when we share in the Son’s offering of Himself back to the Father. It is our greatest prayer of thanks.

And still it is more.

The first night, which is tonight, when Jesus instituted this sacramental meal is called the Lord’s Supper. Tonight, for the first time, Jesus handed over the elements of bread and wine to be blessed and shared by his disciples. This expression rightly calls to mind the action of Christ the High Priest and the particular nature of our table fellowship with him. It foreshadows the banquet of the heavenly Jerusalem, where the saints enjoy the wedding feast of the Lamb.

And still it is more.

Most often Catholics call our celebration of the Eucharist the Holy Mass. This name emphasizes the extraordinary grace that the ritual imparts. “Mass” comes from the Latin phrase of the concluding rites, “Ite missa est.” This roughly translates to, “Go, you are sent.” This name emphasizes the call to go and serve. Our lives and labors are the fruit of the spiritual power handed on in the sacrament.

Christian people throughout the world are today recalling a banquet they cannot physically attend. There must be more…

Another name for the Eucharist, a name used much less frequently, is the Sacrament of Charity. On this night Jesus does something completely new. Tonight the Lord manifests to us God’s infinite love for every soul by pouring out Himself. John the Evangelist tells us, “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). This Holy Thursday, this night, this celebration… this is the moment to consider the depths of Christ’s love. This is the night of the sacrament of charity.

In St. Matthew’s Gospel, some pharisees ask Jesus to determine which is the greatest commandment. The Lord replies to their surreptitious questioning saying, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). The font of charity, the love for God which spills out into love for others, pours forth from every Christian soul.

But love is not something we simply think about. Love is not a thought experiment. Still less is it a garnish, a complement to a full and vibrant life. 

We have to have it. More than the air we breathe or the food we eat, we need love

We have to have it. More than the air we breathe or the food we eat, we need love. Pope Francis describes our thirst for love saying, “We were created to love and to be loved. God, who is Love, created us to make us participants in his life, to be loved by him and to love him.” Love is not something that we merely desire. Love is the very purpose for which we were made. We have to have love. If, as St. Paul says, “I have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2).

The love Christ presents to the world this night is not an emotion. It is not saccharine devotion. It is not an idea. It is not mere sentiment. This love is the reality of seeing for the first time that God has loved us, and then beginning to love others in return. This is the sacrament of charity.

Pope Benedict XVI teaches, “Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such.” There will be loneliness. There will be sorrow. There will be pain. There will be suffering. And above the clamor of all of these woes, the love of Christ cries out, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12).

Tonight, this night is the moment of encounter. The disciples sat in the Lord’s presence. There, among them, Christ prayed, “I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them” (John 17:26). The love of the Father was poured out on them.

Each of us should dare to pray about those moments when we first saw the love of God who first loved us (1 John 4:19). When were we in the presence of the Lord? When did he teach us his command to love? It is in the unfolding, the gradual revelation of God’s love in our own relationship with him that we begin to realize the depths of love. The unfolding, the deepening of a real friendship with God, that is precisely what makes the love of Christ different from a fleeting passion.

Slowly our will is shaped more and more in conformity with God’s. As we abandon our present projects and desires; as we surrender past hurts and embarrassments; as we hand over our future hopes and plans; the shape of our life will coincide with God’s designs. We will be united to Him. We will be in communion. We will love.

As long as we live there is opportunity for this love to grow. In fact love is the only thing that endures in the life to come. Faith and hope will fade in the joys of heaven, when we enter the place that Christ has gone forth to prepare for us (John 14:3). 

Love is never finished. 

Love is all-embracing. 

Love alone will satisfy the longings which rise from the depths of our hearts.

Love never fails.

Jesus Christ

Read more:
7 Duties of dying Christians: Can we imitate Christ in this, too?

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