Today is Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday, as some refer to it). This evening, wherever they may be, Catholics (and many other Christians) all around the world will celebrate the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. They will commemorate the final meal Jesus enjoyed with his disciples before his death, the meal during which he instituted the Eucharist.
Every time we go to Mass, we hear (during the Eucharistic Prayer) a variation on the words we will hear in the second reading this evening from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians – that “the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
This is my body. This is my blood. Do we hear the words with that emphasis? Do we realize what the saying of them in our Mass each week really means?
In Seven Story Mountain, Thomas Merton records an experience he had once at a Mass in Havana during the moment of Consecration. (It is his description of this experience that inspired the title of this blog.) Merton describes how, immediately after the priest raised the Host and the chalice during the consecration, a group of young schoolchildren seated at the front of the church stood and shouted out the opening words of the Creed, “Creo en Dios.” Merton writes that at that moment,
as sudden as the shout and as definite, and a thousand times more bright, there formed in my mind an awareness, an understanding, a realization of what had just taken place on the altar, at the Consecration: a realization of God made present in the words of Consecration in a way that made Him belong to me….It was as if I had been suddenly illuminated by being blinded by the manifestation of God’s presence….[This awareness] ignored all sense experience in order to strike directly at the heart of truth, as if a sudden and immediate contact had been established between my intellect and the Truth Who was now physically really and substantially before me on the altar….And the first articulate thought that came to my mind was: “Heaven is right here in front of me.”
This is my body. This is my blood. We hear the words so often, it is easy to miss their enormity. The physically real and substantial actual presence of Christ each time we fulfill the command Jesus gave his disciples at the Last Supper to “Do this in remembrance of me.”