April 15, 2001
volume 12, no. 105

Eucharist Is the Permanent Sign of Godīs Love

Holy Father's Holy Thursday Homily 2001

1. "In supremae nocte Cenae / recumbens cum fratribus . . . On the night of that Last Supper, / seated with his chosen band ..., / Then as food for his apostles / gives himself with his own hand."

    With these words, the moving hymn "Pange Lingua" presents the Last Supper, at which Jesus left us the marvellous Sacrament of His Body and Blood. The readings which have just been proclaimed illustrate its profound meaning. They form a kind of triptych: they present the institution of the Eucharist, its prefiguration in the Paschal lamb, and its existential representation in brotherly love and service.

    It is the Apostle Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, who reminds us of what Jesus did "on the night when he was betrayed." To the historical account Paul has added his own commentary: "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lordís death until He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). The Apostleís message is clear: the community that celebrates the Lordís Supper makes His Passover present. The Eucharist is not simply the memorial of a past rite but the living representation of the Saviorís supreme gesture. From this experience the Christian community cannot but be moved to become the prophetic voice of the new creation inaugurated at Easter. Contemplating this evening the mystery of love that the Last Supper puts before us once again, we too remain in absorbed and silent adoration.

    2. "Verbum caro, / panem verum verbo carnem efficit . . . Word made Flesh, the bread of nature / By his word to Flesh he turns."

    This is the wonder which we priests touch every day with our hands during Holy Mass! The Church continues to repeat Jesusí words and knows that she must do so until the end of the world. By virtue of those words a marvellous change takes place: the Eucharistic species remain, but the bread and wine become, in the felicitous expression of the Council of Trent, "truly, really and substantially" the Body and Blood of the Lord.

    The mind feels lost before such a sublime mystery. Many queries arise in the hearts of believers, who nonetheless find peace in Christís words. "Et si sensus deficit / ad firmandum cor sincerum sola fides sufficit -- Faith, for all defects supplying / where the feeble senses fail." Sustained by this faith, by the light which illumines our steps even in the night of doubt and difficulty, we can proclaim: "Tantum ergo Sacramentum / veneremur cernui -- Down in adoration falling / Lo, the sacred host we hail."

3. The institution of the Eucharist is connected to the Passover rite of the first Covenant, which has been described for us in the passage from Exodus just proclaimed: it speaks of the lamb "without blemish, a male a year old" (Exodus 12:6), the sacrifice of which would save the people from the coming slaughter. "The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you" (12:13).

    The hymn of Saint Thomas comments: "Et antiquum documentum / novo cedat ritui -- Lo! Oíer ancient forms departing, / Newer rites of grace prevail." It is right then that the Biblical readings of this eveningís Liturgy should point our gaze towards the new Lamb, Who by His blood freely shed on the Cross has established a new and definitive Covenant. Thus the Eucharist, the sacramental presence of the sacrificed body and the spilt blood of the new Lamb! In the Eucharist salvation and love are offered to all mankind. How could we not be fascinated by this mystery? Let us make our own the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas: "Praestet fides supplementum / sensuum defectui - Faith for all defects supplying / Where the feeble senses fail." Yes, faith leads us to wonder and adoration!

4. It is at this point that our gaze takes in the third element of the triptych that makes up todayís liturgy. This we owe to the account of the Evangelist John, who depicts for us the marvellous icon of the washing of feet. By this action Jesus reminds His disciples in every age that they must bear witness to the Eucharist in loving service to others. We have heard the words of the Divine Master: "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one anotherís feet" (John 13:14). It is a new style of life that springs from Jesusí deed: "For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you" (13:15).

    The washing of feet is intended to be an exemplary act, which in Christís death on the Cross and in His Resurrection has its interpretative key and fullest explanation. In this act of humble service the Churchís faith sees the natural consequence of every Eucharistic celebration. Genuine participation in the Mass cannot but produce fraternal love in the individual believer and in the whole ecclesial community.

5. "He loved them to the end" (John 13:1). The Eucharist is the permanent sign of Godís love, the love that sustains our journey to full communion with the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. This is a love that surpasses the human heart. As we pause this evening to adore the Blessed Sacrament, and as we meditate on the mystery of the Last Supper, we feel immersed in the ocean of love that flows from Godís heart. With grateful minds, let us make our own the hymn of thanksgiving of the people which has been redeemed:

    "Genitori Genitoque / laus et iubilatio ... To the Everlasting Father, / and the Son who reigns on high, / With the Holy Spirit proceeding / Forth from each eternally, / Be salvation, honor, blessing, / Might and endless majesty." Amen! [Original text: Italian; translation by Vatican] ZE01041223

A Time to Learn to Love as Jesus Did

Wednesday General Papal Audience in Paul VI Hall from April 11th

1. We are on the eve of the paschal Triduum, already immersed in the spiritual atmosphere of Holy Week. From tomorrow until Sunday, we will live the principal days of the liturgy, which again propose to us the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord. In their homilies, the Fathers make special reference to these days that, as St. Athanasius observes, introduce us "in that time that takes us and makes us know a new beginning, the day of the holy Passover, in which the Lord was immolated." Thus he describes the period we are living in his paschal Letters (Lett. 5,1-2; PG 26, 1379). The Easter Preface next Sunday will make us sing with great strength "by rising he restored our life."

    At the heart of this sacred Triduum is the "Mystery of an unbounded Love," namely, the mystery of Christ Who, "having loved His own who were in the world, loved them to the end" (John 13:1). I have proposed this overwhelming and sweet mystery again to priests in the Letter that I have sent them, as I do every year, on the occasion of Holy Thursday.

    I invite you also to reflect on this same love, to prepare yourselves to relive worthily Jesus' last earthly moments. Tomorrow we will enter the Cenacle to receive the extraordinary gift of the Eucharist, of the Priesthood, and of the new commandment. On Good Friday, we will walk on the Via Dolorosa that leads to Calvary, where Christ will consummate His sacrifice. On Holy Saturday, we will await in silence to be introduced in the solemn Easter Vigil.

2. "He loved them to the end." These words of John the Evangelist express and qualify in a peculiar way the liturgy of tomorrow, Holy Thursday, contained in the celebration of the morning Chrism Mass and the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, which opens the holy Triduum.

    The Eucharist is the eloquent sign of this total, free, generous love, and offers each one the joy of the presence of Him who makes us also capable of loving, in imitation of Him, "to the end." The love that Jesus proposes to His disciples is demanding.

    In this our meeting, we have heard the echo again in the words of Matthew the Evangelist: "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven" (Matthew 5:11-12). Even today, to love "to the end" means to be ready to face exhaustion and difficulty in the name of Christ. It means not to fear insults or persecutions, and to be ready to "love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). All this is a gift of Christ, Who offered Himself for every man as the Sacrificial Victim on the altar of the Cross.

3. "He loved them to the end." From the Cenacle to Golgotha: Our reflection leads us to Calvary, where we contemplate a love whose fulfillment is the gift of life. The Cross is the clear sign of this mystery, but at the same time, and because of this, it becomes a symbol that challenges and disquiets consciences. When we celebrate the Lord's Passion next Friday, and take part in the Via Crucis, we will not be able to forget the force of this love that gives itself without measure.

    In the apostolic Letter for the conclusion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, I wrote: "In contemplating Christ's face, we confront the most paradoxical aspect of His mystery, as it emerges in His last hour, on the Cross. The mystery within the mystery, before which we cannot but prostrate ourselves in adoration" ("Novo Millennio Ineunte," 25). And this is the most consequent interior attitude to prepare to live the commemorative day of the passion, crucifixion and death of Christ.

4. "He loved them to the end." Sacrificed for us on the Cross, Jesus rises and become the first fruit of the new creation. We will live Holy Saturday in silent waiting for the encounter with the Risen One, meditating on the words of the Apostle Paul: "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, [...] He was buried, [...] he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). In this way, we will be able to prepare better for the solemn Easter Vigil, when the shining light of the risen Christ will burst forth in the middle of the night.

    May Mary, the Virgin who always remained faithful next to her Son, accompany us in this last stretch of the penitential road, especially in the days of the Passion. May she teach us to love "to the end," following in Jesus' footsteps, Who saved the world by His death and resurrection. [Translation by ZENIT] ZE01041108

For past Papal Pronouncements, see THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS Archives

April 15, 2001
volume 12, no. 105
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