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The Eucharistic Heart of Holy Week
Gospel Reflection for April 2, 2023, Palm Sunday - Mt 26:14-27:66
(see usccb.org for Gospel reading – Mt 26:14-27:66)
The Church, in her wisdom, for this Palm Sunday Gospel reading gives not only the appropriate verses for the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem and His subsequent condemnation by the same people who once welcomed Him into the holy city as a triumphant king, but first recounts the passage in which Our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper. As Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Brant Pitre and other great Catholic scholars today have pointed out, in continuity with the wisdom of Tradition, the Eucharist is not a mere addition or superfluous sign of Christ’s mission, nor is it only an afterthought, a kind of practical instrument by which the Church can remember an important historical event and fulfill a duty for salvation. No – the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Faith, as Vatican II taught: it is the very heart and end of Christ’s mission, the ultimate goal of Creation itself. Christ, the Son of God, was sent into the world by the Father, through the power of the Holy Ghost, to “reconcile all things unto himself” (Col 1:20 DRA) by sharing His divine life with mankind, opening up the infinity of His being to all through the sacrificial love of His Son.
Without the Eucharist, Christ’s teachings and miracles, even His Crucifixion and Resurrection would be fundamentally different – they would not be properly sacrificial, nor would they be open to our participation in grace. The Eucharist is that which makes the outpouring of Christ in love, His perfect obedience unto death and destruction of the works of Satan, a sacrifice for the redemption and salvation of the world. Likewise, the death of lambs for the Passover, the feast which Christ celebrated and fulfilled in His Divine Liturgy, only became a sacrifice by the Jewish priests in the Temple, in imitation of Moses in Egypt before them, attaching the sins of Israel to them, crucifying them and sprinkling their blood on the people before consuming their flesh as an offering to God, just as Christ the High Priest propitiated His salvific death on the Cross as a sacrifice through the Eucharist.
The Church reveals this mystery by her selection of the passages for this Gospel reading. Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, does not commence with Christ entering Jerusalem, as one might assume. Rather, His Passion began with the institution of the Eucharist, the sacrifice participated in by the apostles who, by Christ’s command, were given the power and authority to “do this,” to offer and re-present His singular sacrifice for all time in persona Christi. The Eucharist is the true Passover, the meal which Christ completed in His subsequent Passion – not as two distinct events but one sacrificial offering – and which after His Ascension He would offer perpetually to the Father in the Heavenly Liturgy. (Heb 9:24) “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice.” (CCC, 1367) The Eucharist is the commencement, the substance and the end of the life, death and Resurrection of Christ. As Remigius taught, “It is to be noted, that on this night, He committed to His disciples the mysteries of His flesh and blood to be celebrated, and then also being seized and bound by the Jews, He hallowed the commencement of His sacrifice, i. e. His Passion.” (Catena Aurea)
The Eucharist is the foundation and pinnacle of Christ’s salvific mission of divinization precisely because it is the highest act of love known to the world. Christ’s love is not mere affection or empathy, or even a practical benevolence to alleviate worldly affliction. Instead, Christ’s love is the total emptying of self, the utter obedience of His human will to God and the demonstration of God’s nature as Charity by the undeserved, incomprehensible and gratuitous humiliation of taking on the flesh of His own creature, being dependent on a Mother and allowing Himself to be mocked, beaten and murdered by sinners, then made present and consumed as an eternal sacrifice under the mundane appearances of simple bread and wine. The Eucharist is thus the sign of love: received unto eternal life in love, or blasphemed unto eternal damnation in pride by Judas Iscariot, whose unworthy reception of Christ’s immaculate sacrifice sealed his fate: “Peter and Judas received of the same bread, but Peter to life, Judas to death.” (Augustine, Catena Aurea)
This Palm Sunday, may we follow the instruction of the Church and see the sacred events of Holy Week through the anamnesis of the Eucharist, without which they cannot be understood or participated, examining ourselves so that we do not receive Him worthily, like Judas, but with a clean conscience and a pure heart inflamed with love.