Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16, 17–18; 1 Corinthians11:23–26; John 13:1–5
On Holy Thursday, 2003, Pope John Paul II issued his final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, “On the Eucharist and Its Relationship to the Church.” At the beginning of chapter one, the pope quoted tonight’s Second Reading, from St. Paul, on the institution of the Eucharist. The Holy Father wrote: The words of the Apostle Paul bring us back to the dramatic setting in which the Eucharist was born. The Eucharist is indelibly marked by the event of the Lord’s passion and death, of which it is not only a reminder but the sacramental re-presentation.
It is the sacrifice of the Cross perpetuated down the age. The pope goes on to reflect on the Eucharist in the light of the events celebrated in these days, as Lent ends and we enter the Easter Triduum (the great “three days”). While the chronology of the three days follows the Passion narrative, the liturgy is not “playacting” the events marking Jesus’ passage from death to life. Rather, we are invited into that mystery through the Scriptures and the liturgical celebrations, especially the initiation of new Christians in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.
Saint John Paul II in his life, his ministry as pope, and especially his dying, lived that mystery. In his final days he taught us how to join our human suffering to the sufferings of Christ. In so doing, the Holy Father gave us his last witness to the truths he so eloquently described in his encyclical on the Eucharist.
Take time to read some of Ecclesia de Eucharistia, available in English translation at vatican.va.
Jesus, feed us with your Body and Blood,
and strengthen us to be your body in the world,
ready to serve others as you served your disciples at the Last Supper.