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THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST: Eucharistic Prayer II (5)
“In a similar way, when supper was ended, …”
The bishop or priest celebrating Mass continues 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 (7), and Eucharistic Prayer III (3) for more on the Institution narrative and Consecration).
When friends are concluding their festivities they often pledge friendship and thanksgiving in one last toast before their goodbyes. Our Lord raises the chalice, representing the chalice he’s soon to accept at Gethsemane, but also the chalice his apostles would have to drink: the chalice of martyrdom and of suffering.
“…he took the chalice and, once more giving thanks, he gave it to his disciples, saying:…”
When James and John sought a special place at Our Lord’s side in his glory, he asked them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22).
James and John were willing to suffer for the glory they were expecting, but Our Lord warned them the fruits of their glory would not be what they expected: James was beheaded, and John, the loving disciple, had to wait a long lifetime before being reunited with his Lord in eternity.
In Mark’s account Our Lord also mentions a baptism to receive, and that baptism alluded to his Passion (Mark 10:38). Our Lord did not relish his baptism or his chalice. Luke recalls that his baptism was not something he wanted, but was necessary: “ I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). “Constrained” is a very interesting turn of phrase (in some other English translations it is “anguish”); Our Lord mentions this baptism in the context of all the division and turbulence his message would bring to the world: fire spreads, but it also burns.
The Lord created us free, and, in his respect for our freedom, sin “constrains” his action. We can only imagine the pacific world into which he would have come if Adam and Eve had not fallen. Now he takes sin upon himself, a source of suffering, in order to destroy it. We don’t often choose the moment of suffering; suddenly it comes upon us. It may stagger us or overwhelm us, and we rarely feel its timing is good. In “constrains” us too, and even as we try to face it with virtue the human cost weighs on us.
The weight of this for Our Lord is so strong that it makes him tremble at Gethsemane and ask his Father if it were possible for this cup of suffering to pass him by: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39). Three times he asked, but he already knew the answer.
“Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Our Lord’s renewed conviction at Gethsemane reminds us of how we should face the chalice of our own sufferings. No one wants suffering for suffering’s sake; they want to find some meaning to their suffering. Suffering may bring some personal growth, but, in the balance, its meaning needs to go beyond the personal or else we’d prefer to opt out of it. Our Lord renewed his focus, not on what it would cost him, but on what it would gain for those whom he loved.
When Our Lord offers the chalice to his Apostles at the Last Supper he also invites them to drink of his sufferings for the good of others. Every apostle is remembered as a martyr, as someone who gave witness through suffering to God’s glory and his love for God and for souls.
“Do this in memory of me.”
As the bishop or priest raises the chalice we too celebrate a moment of thanksgiving and blessing for the blood poured out for us, and renew our willingness to drink of the chalice of sufferings for Our Lord and for those whom we love.
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