Last Sunday it was announced that I will be moving away from Holy Rosary parish. Already a number of families have invited me to come and visit them for “one last meal” before I leave.
Often we think of the Last Supper in these terms – Jesus realises that He is going to die and wants to share one last meal with His friends before He goes. Classical artwork of the Last Supper gives us the impression of a great celebration and festive meal.
However, the Last Supper was not a regular meal, but the Passover meal. The Passover was a religious rite in which the people of Israel consumed the Passover lamb which had been offered in sacrifice. This rite was a “memorial” – a sacred action by which the Israelites remembered God saving them from slavery in Egypt. Not only did the Israelites remember the Exodus as an event from the past – they relived the Exodus as if it were happening to them today.
Only if we understand the Passover meal, do we understand what Jesus does at the Last supper. When He takes the bread and says, “This is body, which will be given up for you,” “This is the cup of my blood.” He concludes by stating: “Do this as my memorial.” In the midst of the Jewish memorial of the Exodus, Jesus institutes the Eucharist as a new memorial. The Jews recalled God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt – Christ wants us to remember His Passion on the cross. The Jews consumed the sacrificial lamb whose blood had been placed on their doorposts sending away the angel of death – we consume Christ Himself, the sacrificial lamb whose blood saves us from eternal death. The Jews re-lived the exodus every time they shared the Passover – we relive Christ’s sacrifice on the cross every time we come to Mass.
To describe the Eucharist as a banquet of friends is to miss the real meaning of the Mass. Often this misunderstanding is rooted in poor ideas of what happened at the Last supper. The Last supper was not a gathering of friends for one last hurrah, it was a memorial. The Mass is also not a gathering of friends, it is a memorial – the memorial of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.