On 22nd. February, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, issued a so called post-synodal exhortation on the Eucharist, the Holy Mass, under the title, “Sacramentum Caritatis – The Sacrament of Love”. It is called post-synodal because it is written against the background of a bishop´s synod on the same theme which was held in 2005. The document may be downloaded from the Vatican website in several different languages.
This exhortation gives me the possibility to make some reflections with regard to the Mass in this Easter greeting. The first thing I would like to emphasize is that the Mass and Easter belong together.
The celebration of Easter lasts from Holy Thursday evening to Easter Sunday. The institution of the Eucharist on Thursday evening, Jesus´ passion and death on Good Friday and his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday are an interconnected event. On Holy Thursday evening, when the Jews slaughtered the lamb and celebrated the pascal meal, Jesus gives himself as the true lamb under the form of bread and wine: “This is my body, which is given for you. This is my blood which is poured out for many”(1 Corinthians 11:24; Mark 14:23). Paul writes: “Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this blood, you are proclaiming his death” (1 Corinthians 11:26)
When Jews celebrate Easter, they remember as we do, the deliverance from Egypt, and they pray to God to send the Messiah, the Christ, to give them a new deliverance.
When Christians celebrate Easter, we celebrate because the Messiah has come, namely Jesus. Our Easter is a fulfilling of the Jewish Easter. On Holy Thursday evening, Christ established the new covenant with his blood, just as Moses established the old covenant with the blood of a bull.
Holy Thursday points to Good Friday, where Jesus pours out his blood on the cross. Jesus´ death would certainly not have been the sacrifice of the new covenant but an execution if he had not instituted the sacrificial meal of the new covenant on Holy Thursday evening. It is on Holy Thursday evening that Jesus makes his painful death into an offering: “This is my blood which is poured out”. On Holy Thursday he gives himself over to his disciples and to all the rest of us. This giving of himself is brought to completion on the cross.
Jesus´ resurrection on Easter Sunday crowns his offering. In awakening Jesus from the dead, the Father welcomes his offering. From that moment, his son stands before his face for all eternity as the Lamb that was slaughtered. John writes in the Book of Revelation: “I saw, standing between the throne with its four animals and the circle of the elders, a lamb that had been sacrificed” (Revelations 5:6).
How privileged we Catholics are to have the Mass! The whole of Christ´s offering from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday are present in our Mass, like it is being offered for eternity before the face of the Father. Jesus has, through his death, become the eternal offering. In every Mass, he is present for us and for the Father as a gift of offering and as a priest making an offering. Every single time we celebrate Mass, Paul says we proclaim the Lord´s death, that is to say, we celebrate his sacrifice on the cross. Therefore the Mass is itself mystically the sacrifice on the cross.
Holy Thursday and the Mass
The difference between Holy Thursday and the Mass is that in the Mass, the Risen Jesus Christ is present and makes his offering to the Father together with us. In the Mass, it is Jesus Christ and his Church, that is to say, all of us together, who offer his body and blood. In this way, his sacrifice on the cross is always and everywhere present when Mass is celebrated. We can say it quite simply. It is the first task of the Church, that is to say, of the local parish community, to offer Christ´s sacrifice together with him to the Father for the sake of the salvation of the world. The salvation of the world is intimately connected to our carrying out this responsibility as often as possible and as worthily and as beautifully as possible.
The Pope with his document, like his precedent, Pope John Paul II, shows us that the Church is born out of the Eucharist because it came into being when Jesus concluded the new covenant on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
Lars Messerschmidt, priest