The Institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood Through Mary’s Eyes
April 19, 2012
The Institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood Through Mary’s Eyes
Homily for Holy Thursday Religious Sisters of Mercy, Domus Guadalupe 5 April 2012 + J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P.
“O God, who in this season give your Church the grace to imitate devoutly the Blessed Virgin Mary in contemplating the Passion of Christ, grant, we pray, through her intercession, that we may cling more firmly each day to your Only Begotten Son and come at last to the fullness of his grace.” (Roman Missal, alternate Collect, Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent). Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this beautiful collect invites us to view the mysteries of Christ’s passion through the eyes of Mary, to discover their meaning for the Church and for us under her tutelage—and not only to learn about them but to experience their power, for which we pray elsewhere, “…grant that, celebrating your Son’s passion in mystery, we may experience the grace of its effects”(ibid., Prayer over the Offerings, Wed. of Holy Week). The mysteries of Christ’s Passion—as seen through the eyes of Our Lady—are not recalled in these solemn liturgies of the Easter Triduum simply as a series of past events. Certainly, they are that, and importantly so: in these events, things happened in Jerusalem that altered—absolutely and irreversibly—the course of history and the conditions of human existence. With the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, nothing could be as it had been before in the relations of the human race with the Triune God. Fittingly, the mysteries are celebrated in their proper chronological order—recounted with exquisitely reverent detail in the Gospels—not as if we were in suspense as to their final outcome, but precisely in view of the triumphant Easter morning for which they form the prelude and through which we will draw joyfully from the overflowing Paschal grace. Thus the force of these mysteries lies not merely in the past, but in the way they draw us to God and become vehicles for his grace now, this evening, in these days, throughout our lives—“not as things past and abolished, but as things present, living, and even eternal, from which also we have to gather a present and eternal fruit” (Bérulle, quoted in Aumann , 226). In the celebration and contemplation of these mysteries, we are drawn to God, who, though “by nature incomprehensible and unthinkable…wished to be understood, to be seen, to be thought of.” How? Through his nativity, his preaching, his prayer, his crucifixion, his death (in which he “grew pale”), his rising from the dead on the third day, his post-resurrection sojourn with his apostles, and finally his ascension into the sanctuary of heaven where he would make room for us as well. “Whatever of all this I consider, it is God I am considering,” said St. Bernard, and “in all this, he is my God.” Hence “it is wise to meditate on these truths…and right to recall the abundant goodness, given by the fruits of this priestly root; and Mary, drawing abundantly from heaven, has caused this sweetness to overflow for us” (St. Bernard, Liturgy of the Hours IV [October 7], 1471-2). In our experience of the grace of the effects of Christ’s passion, the liturgy invites us to imitate Mary in the contemplation of the mystery of Christ’s passion, for which she is an “incomparable model” (John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §10). From the very first moment of Christ’s conception, the “eyes of her heart were already turned to him” and thereafter her “gaze, ever filled with adoration and wonder, would never leave him”(ibid.). Expert in the mysteries of Christ, Mary never fails to turn our eyes to what is most important for us to see and grasp there. To remember and contemplate with Mary is “to be open to the grace which Christ won for us by the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection” (ibid. §13). In this celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the central mystery we commemorate is the institution of the Eucharist. She from whom the Word of God took human flesh can see with penetrating clarity the wonder of this mystery. For, as St. Bernard reminded us, God wants to be understood, seen, thought of—and, we can add, loved—by us. Christ took flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary in order to make us sharers in the divine Trinitarian life. Once having been among us, he never wants to be apart from us. “It is a law of friendship,” wrote St. Thomas Aquinas, “that friends should live together….Christ has not left us without his bodily presence on our pilgrimage, but he joins us to himself in this sacrament in the reality of his body and blood” (Summa Theologiae III, 75, 1). The Incarnation of the Word of God in Mary’s womb is sacramentally perpetuated in the Mass which makes God present for our sake. God desires to leave us the extraordinary gift of the real presence of his Son in the Eucharist, the gesture of our divine friend and an extension of the mystery of the Incarnation itself. What is more, God, in his mercy, does not allow our sins to obstruct his desire or to wreck his plan to share this friendship with us. Looking at our condition through the eyes of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we also see in the Eucharist the reconciling sacrifice of love that makes divine friendship a real possibility. Not only does our divine friend want to stay with us; he wants to do so precisely in virtue of the power of his death and resurrection which guarantees what must now, always and everywhere, be a reconciled friendship won at the price of his blood—even for Our Blessed Lady—she who, by her Immaculate Conception was preserved from sin by the foreseen merits of this immense sacrifice in which the Body and Blood of her Son were offered up for our sake. When he instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, “Jesus did not simply state that what he was giving them to eat and drink was his body and blood; he also expressed its sacrificial meaning and made sacramentally present his sacrifice which would soon be offered on the Cross for the salvation of all” (John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia §12). By overcoming the effects of sin, the sacrificial passion and death of Christ and his glorious resurrection restored our friendship with God. “This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there” (ibid. §11). The mystery of the Priesthood is a further extension of the Incarnation. The possibility is always available to us of sharing in the Eucharist: this Christ ensured by giving to his disciples, and through them, to his successors, the power of the priesthood to commemorate, in persona Christi, in his Person, this very sacrifice of his love and his friendship for us as if we had been present at the Lord’s Supper on that Thursday evening centuries ago. Our Lady is not reported to have been present at that table, but her gaze penetrates the mystery. Priests are the instruments through whom God willed to pour out his grace on us in the Church through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments. In this way, God adapted himself to our human nature—by sending his only Son who in turn commissioned the Apostles and their successors—so that we might receive his word and his grace from other human beings. The hand of another human being blesses us, pours the water of Baptism on our heads, offers the body and blood of Christ to us in the Eucharist, and is raised in absolution unto the forgiveness of sins—visible actions through which God’s invisible grace is bestowed on us. Contemplating the mystery of the Eucharist with Mary, Blessed John Paul II suggested that we re-read the Magnificat in a Eucharistic key. “The Eucharist, like the Canticle of Mary, is first and foremost praise and thanksgiving….The Eucharist has been given to us so that our life, like that of Mary, may become completely a Magnificat.” (ibid. §58). Contemplating the mystery of the Priesthood with Mary, Pope Benedict XVI recalls that “before dying, Jesus sees his Mother beneath the Cross and he sees the beloved son. This beloved son…is an example, a prefiguration of all beloved disciples, of all the people called by the Lord to be the ‘beloved disciple’ and thus also particularly of priests.” This is the basis for the “special predilection” that Mary has for priests, “because they are more like Jesus, the supreme love of her heart, and because, like her, they are committed to the mission of proclaiming, bearing witness to and giving Christ to the world” (General Audience, 12 August 2009). “O God, who in this season give your Church the grace to imitate devoutly the Blessed Virgin Mary in contemplating the Passion of Christ, grant, we pray, through her intercession, that we may cling more firmly each day to your Only Begotten Son and come at last to the fullness of his grace” in communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. [Image source: Fra Angelico, “Institution of the Eucharist,” Convento di San Marco, Florence.]