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THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST: Eucharistic Prayer II (4)
“At the time he was betrayed and entered willingly into his Passion,…”
The bishop or priest celebrating Mass begins the Institution narrative and Consecration, taking us back to that fateful night when Our Lord gave us the Eucharist just before his betrayal and death (see also The Eucharistic Prayer, Eucharistic Prayer I (6), and Eucharistic Prayer III (2) for more on the Institution narrative and Consecration).
In this Eucharistic Prayer Our Lord’s betrayal is not the only thing recalled, but the fact that he “willingly” let himself be betrayed and suffer. Do we ever stop to think about that? This moment crowns his willingness to suffer for us throughout his earthly life. When he assumed human nature and was born in a cold and smelly stable in Bethlehem, he was not obliged. When he was a loving and faithful son to Mary and Joseph, his creatures, he was not obliged. He didn’t have to preach the Kingdom of Heaven and gather disciples and start a Church, yet he did. He wasn’t obliged to let the temple guards and other thugs take him, then the Roman soldiers, and drag his scourged and beaten body up to Calvary with a cross crushing down on him, yet he did. He willingly underwent all this to rescue us from our sins and reconcile us with the Father.
“…he took bread and, giving thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying…”
How’d he spend his last night on earth before the Passion? Celebrating with his closest friends. He wanted to leave something to his friends before they parted ways, and not just one more happy memory. That night was so indelibly marked in the minds and hearts of his friends that we remember it throughout history, just as he wished it to be. Through the celebration of the Eucharist we too join the party. The Eucharist is inspired by the celebration of the Passover: something enormous was taking place on that night. Our Lord was not just leaving; he was leaving us himself, sacramentally, so that we’d never be alone again.
“Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.”
He was giving us food for the journey, a food his disciples would need, just as we do, to weather a very long and arduous night where they came face to face with how weak their friendship with Christ was. In a few hours he would be picking up the tab for the raucous and despicable party that humanity had been celebrating ever since Adam and Eve took of the fruit and ate it. It was the kind of extended debauchery where the venue is trashed, the owner is furious, the police are asking questions and looking to prosecute, and the participants are fuzzy on what exactly happened.
He’d be bailing out his friends not with cash, but with his life. When a good friend forgives a bad one he makes an effort for that bad friend to not feel worse for what he’d done. In Communion we eat bread, but this bread is transubstantiated into his Body. His Body is offered up throughout history to pick up the tab and to bail us out, whether we accept it or not. He doesn’t want us to feel guilty; he wants us to know what we mean to him, and how far he is willing to go so that we don’t destroy our lives through sin. St. Paul reminds us, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man—though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6–8).
Our Lord proposes a far different celebration: a gathering of friends, reminiscing on how much they’ve enjoyed together and how much they love each other. A celebration where they’re acknowledging a particular friend, past or present, for what he’s done. Let’s make every celebration of the Eucharist that kind of party.