By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re presided over the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday in St. Peter’s Basilica. The liturgy, known as In Coena Domini or Mass "of the Lord's Supper," commemorates the institution of the Holy Eucharist.
During the homily, the dean of the College of Cardinals recalled the Lord’s great discourse to His disciples on the day before He made an offering of Himself to the Father for our salvation.
"He loved them to the end"
Cardinal Re highlighted that this Eucharist Celebration, charged with an extraordinary intensity of thought, makes us relive that evening when Christ, surrounded by His Apostles in the Cenacle, instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood, and entrusted them with the commandment of fraternal love.
Holy Thursday, therefore, “reminds us of how much we have been loved,” the Cardinal explained. The Son of God gave us Himself – His Body and His Blood – the totality of His Person for our redemption.
In so doing, “He loved them to the end,” Cardinal Re noted, quoting the Gospel. Jesus loved them to the point of dying an ignominious death on the Cross on Good Friday in a sign of love in the extreme – “the highest and unsurpassable degree of His capacity to love.”
Precious gift of the Eucharist
Cardinal Re went on to underline that the gift of the Sacrament of the Eucharist can only be explained because “Christ loved us and wanted to be near every one of us forever, even to the end of the world.”
This precious gift, he noted, “is the gift through which Christ walks with us as light, as strength, as nourishment, as help in all the days of our history.”
Moreover, the Second Vatican Council says that the liturgy “is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time, it is the font from which all her power flows"; and describes "the Eucharistic sacrifice" as “the fount and apex of the whole Christian life.”
Eucharist: center and life of the Church
“The Eucharist is the center and life of the Church”, Cardinal Re re-affirmed. It must also be “the center and heart of the life of every Christian as well.”
In describing the Sacrament as the “fount and apex,” the Second Vatican Council expresses the idea that in the life and mission of the Church, everything comes from and leads to the Eucharist, he explained.
In this regard, “the Eucharist is a reality not only to be believed, but to be lived.” It is a call of openness toward others, an invitation to solidarity, to fraternal love, and an invitation to help those in difficulty, especially the poor and the marginalized.
“Those who believe in the Eucharist never feel alone in life,” the Cardinal affirms. “They know that in the dimness and in the silence of all the Churches there is Someone who knows their name… And before the tabernacle, everyone can confide whatever is in their heart and receive comfort, strength and peace of heart”
Institution of the Catholic priesthood
Cardinal Re recalled that at the Last Supper with His apostles, Christ, the true priest, said: “Do this – that is, the Sacrament of the Eucharist – in memory of me.” Three days later, on Easter Sunday, he also said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.”
By so doing, the Cardinal explained, Jesus transmits to His Apostles the powers of the priesthood, “so that the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Pardon might continue and be renewed in the Church. He gave humanity an incomparable gift.”
Love and betrayal
Another consideration in Jesus’ sharing with His Apostles around the same table in the Cenacle is the manifestation of God’s love and friendship, as well as man’s betrayal. “In the story of the boundless love of Christ who loved us ‘till the end,’ there is the bitterness of human disloyalty and betrayal,” the Cardinal said.
Holy Thursday, therefore, is an invitation to become aware of our sins, to put our lives in order, and embark on a path of repentance and renewal to obtain God’s pardon.
So, we are invited to obtain the “joy of His pardon with repentance and with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and to begin a spiritual recovery with hearts open more to God and to all our brothers and sisters.”
Amid the dramatic situation brought about by the ongoing Covid-19 health emergency, the Cardinal noted that the customary tradition of Adoration of the Eucharist throughout the night, with various initiatives of prayer and moments of religious intensity, will not occur in many places this year.
However, “we must continue to pray with our thoughts and our hearts filled with gratitude for Jesus Christ, who wanted to remain present among us as our contemporary under the appearances of bread and wine,” he urged.
In the face of the pandemic, we are also encouraged to “raise a huge chorus of prayer so that the hand of God might come to our aid and end this tragic situation that has worrying consequences in the fields of health, employment, economy, education, and direct relationships with people.”
As Christ Himself taught us, “it is necessary to go and knock loudly on the door of God, the Father Almighty,” Cardinal Re said.