By Fr. Gregory Elder
Of all the phrases used in Catholic life, perhaps one of the most recognizable is the words of Institution in the Mass. Spoken by the Bishop, or if he is absent by one of his priests, the celebrant of the Mass says, Accipite et manducate ex hoc omnes: hoc est enim Corpus meum, quod pro vobis tradetur: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you.” Few phrases have been said in the history of Christianity which have been recited as often as this and in so many diverse locations.
With His eye that can see into the hearts of all men and women, as Christ broke that Bread on Holy Thursday, did He look outward through the ages to see these sacred words repeated again and again? With His Sacred Heart that feels all mortal wounds, did He consider in those moments the uncountable numbers of people in the centuries ahead kneeling before Him before an Altar or Tabernacle emptying their joys and sorrows before His Sacrament?
The Body and Blood of Jesus in the Mass has given hope, courage and consolations to more people than we can know or imagine. But Jesus knows that and much more besides.
Or perhaps did Christ also call to mind what He always knew, those words spoken over the sacred unleavened bread by His earthly ancestors, over the centuries from the stone corridors of Egypt, across the deserts and into the blossoms of the promised land? His Father had commanded the words of the Torah to be given to men and women that ordained the Passover, and now He was fulfilling those early commands in a new way.
As Jesus spoke these words which ordained the Mass, perhaps He thought of His childhood with His earthly parents at Passover, as Mary lit the evening lights and strong Joseph reclined at the head of the table dipping bitter herbs in salt water and sharing out the Matzoh. At the Seder meal, young Jesus would have spoken the Mah nishtanah, the famous ritual Jewish question, “Why is this night different than other nights?” Joseph replies, “We eat only matzah because our ancestors could not wait for their breads to rise when they were fleeing slavery in Egypt, and so they were flat when they came out of the oven.”
In the 1st century AD, Rabbi Gamliel said, “Whoever has not considered the meaning of the pesach, matzah, and maror has not fulfilled the purpose of the Passover seder.” Here is wisdom. We who are the heirs of both of these great traditions must reply that the Mass of the Institution of the Last Supper is a pivotal moment in all human history. It is that moment in time when the rich heritage of Israel with its commands of justice, law and compassion, is shared by grace with all of the nations of the world.
Fr. Gregory Elder is the Pastor of Sacred Heart, Palm Desert.