The Fifth Mystery of Light: The Institutution of the Eucharist

The night before he died Jesus shared the Passover Meal with his disciples. For centuries the Jewish people commemorated, on this day, the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt  as recorded in 'Exodus'. St Paul tells us these celebrations were mere shadows of the reality of Christ. This ‘Last Supper’ was the beginning of the fulfilment; Christ was the lamb who would be slain to save, all who believe in him, from the slavery of sin. Jesus knew every detail of what was to befall him.

Towards the end of the meal he gave us the priceless gift of himself in the form of bread and wine. Thus, he fulfilled his promise that he would be with us until the end of time. Three of the evangelists give accounts of the Institution of the Eucharist, the first celebration of Mass. For this reflection we use Luke.

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. Luke 22:14-20

It is profoundly, powerfully moving to reflect that the Presence of Jesus in this earth community was in the mind and design of God at the moment of creation and that this institution of Eucharistic Communion which fulfils Christ promise, ‘I will to be with us always even to the end of time,’ was likewise part of God’s eternal plan. The high point of this plan was the birth of Christ into the world. Its fulfilment will be at the end of time as expressed in Luke’s version of the last supper.

These thoughts are beautifully expressed in the following song of Jan Novotka.

 The dust of the stars is my flesh. The dust of the stars is my blood.
Oh, the dust of the stars holds the gift of life, stars transformed, stars reborn; dust alive.
The dust of the stars is your flesh. The dust of the stars is your blood.
Oh your flesh and blood full of stars delight becomes breath, becomes prayer, dust alive.
The dust of the stars is this bread. The dust of the stars is this wine.
Oh this bread and wine, our communion in all things. Flesh of God, dust alive.

Many thoughts come to me as I read the familiar accounts of the 'Last Supper' of Jesus with his disciples on the eve of his arrest. One is the miracle of Cana were water is changed to wine; another is the miracles of the loaves - the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand people. Then there is the account of Jesus walking on stormy water and calming the waves. It seems that Jesus very carefully prepared his disciple and us, along with them, for this on going awesome miracle of The Eucharist. He demonstrated his power over wine in Cana, his power over bread in the miracles of the loaves, his power over, nature in calming the storm and his power over his own body in walking on the waves.

Through the Institution of the Eucharist he left us with a visible, tangible presence; something we can see, touch and taste, thus fulfilling his promise to be with us always even to the end of time. Through his Institution of the Eucharist the night before he died Jesus makes present for all time his salvific suffering, death and resurrection. Each Mass is this awesome gift. We pray it may never become stale or meaningless for us.

A few weeks later, as the disciples and followers of Jesus, sadly watched him ascend and disappear into the clouds, knowing they would not see him again on earth, did they, we wonder, recall that last supper? Were his mysterious words over the bread: ‘this is my body’ and over the wine: ‘this is my blood’ a consolation and support to them at this time. Perhaps not; perhaps it was later through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that all the words of Jesus became clear to them. Certainly we learn from St  Paul's letter to the Corinthians 11:23-26 that the Apostles had understood,  proclaimed and instituted the practice of what we call the 'Holy Mass.'

We are deeply grateful to the Apostles and disciples and all the spiritually wise teachers,  theologians and priests down the centuries that we, as Church, have such a rich heritage of teaching and practice in the celebration of the Eucharist within the Christian Church.