Visitors walk into the Holy Cenacle, the upper room believed to be the site of Jesus' Last Supper, on Mount Zion in Jerusalem Feb. 2. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)
Years ago, while still a seminarian, I visited a parish far from home and was astonished by what I saw. The priest did not preach a homily but instead called people up from the congregation and treated them like contestants on a game show. He asked them questions and kept score. The only things lacking were a glamorous assistant and prizes.
As my ordination drew near, the wise, holy priests who mentored my classmates and me warned us against calling attention to ourselves during the celebration of the Eucharist. One of them said, “Don’t try to be stars when you are in the presence of the Sun.” Long before Blessed Pope John Paul II gave the Church the luminous mysteries of the rosary, these priests understood the Eucharist as a mystery of light, which originated on the cusp of Calvary’s darkness.
A MYSTERY OF LIGHT
Jesus instituted the Eucharist the night before he died, during the Last Supper. Twenty centuries later, the Church still celebrates the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday. During the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we are ushered into the glow of the Upper Room as Jesus shares a paschal meal with his closest followers. As the Lord stoops to wash the feet of the apostles, we see the beauty of self-giving love and how to be signs of hope for a world shrouded in darkness. And as the Holy Thursday liturgy unfolds, we draw near to him who is “God from God and light from light.” The Eucharist, the pledge of our future glory, allows us to reflect the radiance of Christ’s charity. We are connected to Christ’s sacrifice of love on Calvary, by which the darkness of sin and death is defeated. The Mass concludes with a solemn procession of the Blessed Sacrament to a repository, a temporary tabernacle where we can spend time in adoration, contemplating the Lord’s real presence.
Whether in a grand cathedral or a small chapel, the same mystery of light unfolds whenever Mass is celebrated. When the Scripture readings are proclaimed, it is the eternal Word of the Father, Christ himself, who speaks to us, shedding the light of the Gospel upon our lives. As the bread and wine are offered and transformed into Christ’s body and blood, his sacrifice is made truly present. In this way, we share in what the Lord did to save us, caught up in Jesus’ self-offering to the Father for the sake of our salvation. Taking part in the Eucharist, we enter into a love that is pure and holy, with no shadow of the selfishness of sin, so that our souls might shine with the glory of Christ, the light of the world.
MARY, THE WOMAN OF THE EUCHARIST
Who better to help us grow in our understanding and love of the Eucharist than Mary, the Mother of our Lord and “the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit” (Rosary of the Virgin Mary, 16)? Although the Blessed Virgin Mary was not present at the Last Supper, she remains for all time “The Woman of the Eucharist,” as John Paul II called her in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. We know from the Acts of the Apostles that Mary was present at the earliest celebrations of the Mass (2:42), and the Eucharist is never celebrated without invoking her name in the communion of saints.
But Mary’s role in the Eucharist goes deeper. Mary conceived the Word of God in her sinless heart before she carried him in her womb. By the power of the Holy Spirit, she conceived physically the one whom we receive, “Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity,” each time we go to Communion. As she carried Jesus in her womb to visit her cousin Elizabeth, Mary “became in some way a ‘tabernacle’ the first ‘tabernacle’ in history” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 55).
More than anyone else, Mary followed her son and embodied the kingdom of the Beatitudes that he preached. She stood beneath the cross, sharing in her son’s sacrifice, her soul pierced with sorrow. She received the good news of the resurrection with joy and prayed with the apostles as the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost. She stored in her heart the living memory of Jesus and his saving deeds, which the Church remembers and re-presents every time the Eucharist is celebrated. Mary, who assented to the mysteries of Christ, teaches us to say “Amen!” to the mysteries in which we are so privileged to share at every Mass.
When we meditate on the fifth luminous mystery, the institution of the Eucharist, we ask Mary to intercede for us, so that we may enter into the glory of this great mystery of faith. Let us ask Mary, from her place in the heavenly liturgy, to help us love the Eucharist and give thanks. And let us beg her intercession for the many Catholics who absent themselves from this mystery, which is indeed “the source and summit” of the Church’s life.