The Last Supper Mass
In 1979, Mother Julienne of the Rosary gave three talks called "Commentaries on the Mass" in answer to a request from some lay people who wanted to share the spirituality of the Dominican Missionary Adorers. The conversational style has been preserved. Here is the first of the three.
[With ecclesiastical approval, Monsignor Maurice Couture, s.v., Archbishop of Quebec, Quebec, November 23, 1995]. All rights reserved.
I am tempted to say: how good it is for brothers and sisters, perhaps not to live together, since that is not your case, but to come together to share in the same spirit, the same love (cf. Ps 133:1)! When Sister Gilberte asked me to speak to you about the Mass, I hesitated, and rightly so: Mass is such a great mystery, and I feel so unqualified to speak about it. But, as it is a subject that is dear to heart, that makes me live, that amazes me, I think I owe it to Our Lord to share with you a word about it.
I will speak to you about Mass from three points of view, the Mass of the Last Supper, the Mass at the altar, the Mass in my life. But I think that for tonight we will only be talking about the Mass of the Last Supper, so let us look at the Mass from this point of view, the Mass of the Last Supper, more precisely the Mass of Jesus alone. It might be good, before doing so, to have an exact notion of “a sacrifice”.
Sacrifice, sacrifice of Christ
Last Thursday, I gave you the definition of the Mass: “the sacrifice of the cross made present”. To grasp something of the greatness of the Mass, one might ask: what does sacrifice mean? There are different definitions in the dictionary. Here is a very simple one: a sacrifice is an offering made to God of something good, so as to express respect due to him, to express homage, adoration, thanksgiving. Thus, it is an act of love. That is, first of all, what a sacrifice is. In a sacrifice, as we can see, there are two elements: the external element or the reality that come under our senses; the internal element or the feelings of the heart. The external element or material object is not absolutely necessary for the sacrifice, but if it were not there, there would be no external expression. Saint Paul says that our spiritual sacrifice consists in offering our bodies in homage to God (cf. Rom 12:1). The complete sacrifice always consists of two elements: the outer element and the inner element.
If we look at Christ's sacrifice, we realize that both elements are there. As the outer element, it is his physical sufferings, it is the body of Christ torn, broken; it is his blood shed to the last drop. This is what constitutes in its essence Christ's sacrifice, the consummation, the ultimate sacrifice of his life. Why is this? Because he gives his life voluntarily and out of love. It is this act of love, his adherence to his Father's will, that makes his death not a death like that of the two bandits at his side, a death that is an atonement for faults committed and a debt paid to society. For Jesus, he wants his death to atone for the crimes of his brothers and to pay God the debt owed to him; it is the ransom for sin. He not only accepts his death, but he desires it; he voluntarily offers it to save us and to glorify his Father.
The sacrifice varies in size by the quality of the person offering it. What is the quality of the one who offers the sacrifice on the cross? The one who gives his life is the Son of God. Thus, the value of his sacrifice is infinite.
Starting from this notion, we will approach the Mass of the Last Supper which is the heart, the center, the origin of our Dominican Missionary Adorer’s spirituality.
The Last Supper
The Last Supper! This is the Gospel passage that should captivate our minds and hearts. Why should we do this? Because that is where the Eucharist was born. Thus, let us go to the Upper Room by thought; let us contemplate what was happening there two thousand years ago.
This is the last evening of Jesus' life, "his hour" (Jn 13:1). All his life he yearned for this moment; he saw it coming, he desired it. Therefore, he always offered it to his Father, from his first breath up to his last one that was close by. He already gave his life to God his Father and to his brothers in the womb of his Mother as his body was being formed. He gave it in Bethlehem when, in the manger, he smiled to his Mother, he smiled to Joseph, his adoptive father, to the shepherds, to the Magi. He gave his life in the little house of Nazareth, helping his mother, or in his father's workshop by sawing wood. He gave his life in his apostolic journeys when he was conversing with his Apostles and teaching them. It was always his life that he gave when he bent over the sick and healed them. He gave his life unceasingly. However, in the fullest sense of the word, he gave his life on the cross and in the ultimate way by giving up his physical being: there he shed his blood to the last drop. At the table of the Last Supper, what does he have before his eyes? His approaching death; he sees it close by. In a few moments, it will be that hour he so desired.
What interests us is what happens in the Heart of Christ. For us, Dominican Missionary Adorers, for you who want to live our spirituality, we must always go to this source of Christ's sacrifice, to its essential element, that is to his Heart in the act of self-giving.
On Holy Thursday, his agony already begins. Surrounded by his Twelve, he can see close to himself the traitor, Judas, who holds in his hand, or in his closed fist, the purse containing the thirty pieces of silver. Jesus looks at him and his Heart sinks: his passion is starting. Judas! but he is one of the Twelve, one of his closest friends, to whom he has given so much attention, delicacy, kindness, love, trust; he is a chosen one! Let us try to penetrate the Heart of Christ to grasp what his suffering must have been like because of Judas' betrayal... In his mind, Jesus already hears the sound of weapons, the footsteps of the soldiers coming from afar. He sees himself receiving the treacherous kiss from the traitor. He sees himself tied up, arrested like a criminal, he who has done nothing but offer love... After that, he has the prison before his eyes. In advance, already feels his flesh breaking under the lashes of the whips, his head being torn under the spines of the thorns, his body collapsing under the weight of his cross. Jesus saw all this beforehand. Finally, he sees himself hanging on the cross. He accepts all the conditions of his passion, his torment, his sufferings. This is what he accepts and with oh so much love! This is what he offers to his Father on the evening of Holy Thursday.
The Eucharist: Gift of His Heart
And for his Heart, that cannot be enough for him... He loves us too much to accept that the gift of his life, the greatest proof of love that a human being can give, be realized only once and given only to a small group of witnesses. Jesus wants all generations everywhere, at all times, in all places, to benefit, or rather to be present in some way to his great testimony of love, his great gift of love, his great proof of love. But Jesus is not only man. For a man, "there is no greater proof of love than to lay down one's life" (Jn 15:13). But he is Man and God, the Word. He only has to say the word and what he says is realized: "Let there be light, and there was light" (Gn 1:3). Did he not multiply the loaves twice? Did he not also change water into wine? Thus, under the thrust of his love, what is he going to do? Before grieving for our sins in the garden of the agony and reddening the ground with his scarlet sweat; before he climbs the hill of Golgotha, buckling under the burden of his cross, his body bloody and torn; before he suffers the torment of the passion in all its physical reality, what will he do? Under the species of bread and wine, he will make present the drama that he will experience later on. The marvel of marvels, the Eucharist, will come forth from his Heart and the words, these miraculous, all-powerful words, will resound for the first time on earth.
Taking the bread in his hands, with authority and love he says: "This is my body that is broken"; then, taking the cup, making the same gesture, lifting it up to his Father, he pronounces these other words: "This is my blood that is shed". And the Eucharist is born. He wants to live the whole drama of the passion in his spirit and in his will. When he says "my body that is broken," what is the flesh that is hidden under this appearance of bread? A flesh that is completely bruised, a flesh full of love. In the cup he puts blood, but blood that was shed in the Garden of Olives, then all the way to Golgotha and poured down to the last drop on the cross: it is this blood, all boiling with love, that he puts in the cup. And turning to his Apostles, he says to one and to another, "Take and eat; take and drink.... "(Mt 26:26-28).
They did not realize what was happening. Later they will understand that what they ate and drank that evening, the Heart of their Friend, the Heart of their Master, the Heart of Jesus; they drank his blood. They attained the greatest intimacy one can have with God. This was the first Mass, the Mass of Jesus. These were the first communions, those of the Apostles. Later, when they would understand, they would weep with joy... They were the only ones to see Jesus himself raise the bread towards the Father, the chalice towards heaven. They were the only ones to see with their own eyes Jesus celebrate his Mass. What a spectacle it must have been! Let us try to imagine Jesus, the Son of God, the one who is said to be "the most handsome of the children of men" (Ps 45:3 [sic 2]). What must have been shining forth on that face? The infinite light... What a penetrating fragrance his words must have had! The fragrance of great love, the fragrance of inconceivable, unsuspected love?
The Sacrament of Holy Orders, a Gift of His Heart
Yes, the first Mass, the Mass of Jesus: we will ever contemplate it enough, we will ever penetrate far enough into the Heart of Christ at the moment of the Eucharistic celebration, because it is always his Mass. but the first one, the one he said alone! When I say "alone," the Apostles were witnesses to this, but I mean it was the first one because the Church had not yet been constituted, the priesthood had not yet been instituted, the Heart of Christ had not yet been torn apart by the lance and baptism had not yet come out of it. The Apostles were not incorporated into Christ's sacrifice; Christ was acting alone at that time, just as on the cross. But Christ's desire goes further than to consecrate, to transubstantiate the bread and wine into his flesh and blood and to nourish his Apostles, his intimates; he wants his sacrifice to be made present everywhere on earth, at all times, in all places and for all generations.
Then arises from his Heart this other sacrament: the sacrament of Holy Orders. He looks at his Apostles one after the other with that gaze of tenderness and love that penetrates and transforms one's being to its very core; he says to them: "Do this in memory of me" (Lk 22:19). These words are as powerful as the other two, and his Apostles, his Twelve, are clothed at that moment, not only with the priesthood, but with the fullness of the priesthood. They all become bishops and the Church is constituted. They may die, but the Eucharist will always be there; they will be scattered here and there on the earth and, wherever they go, they will celebrate the Eucharist: this is his desire.
The Lord's Supper Today: Mass
Today, let us take a look at what is happening. The first Mass, the Mass of Jesus, was said in the Upper Room; twelve Apostles were present and it was held in private. Today, after two thousand years, Mass is celebrated everywhere, from one end of the world to the other, in big cities and small towns, in cathedrals and small chapels. Jesus promised that it would be so for all generations: "I am with you to the end of the ages" (Mt 28:20). There will be priests until the end of the world, there will be hosts until the end of time, there will be a host for the last of men who will be in the necessary state to receive communion. Let us believe this: the Eucharist is the great gift of the Savior to his Church, it is the center of the world, the heart of our life.
Let us Go to the Altar of the Lord
Tonight, if you so desire, together we will unite ourselves together to celebrate the Eucharist in a special way. It seems to me that we are going to celebrate it as never before. Let us think, before Mass, about what we could put on the paten to signify the offering of our lives. You know that on the paten of the Mass, the bread signifies the work and the life of man. What do we put on it, what am I going to put on it to be sincere in my participation in the sacrifice, to participate with the sentiments of Christ, to penetrate his Heart, to be able to say like him: "I give my life"? What are you going to place on the paten? Perhaps something that you suffered yesterday or since your last Mass: something unexpected that broke you, that hurt you; place it on tonight's paten. Maybe there is something you are afraid of for tomorrow: who doesn't have their sufferings, their vexations, their trials, their fatigue, their failures, and what else? Let us put all that on the paten tonight. Let us try above all to unite ourselves closely together in thought, in love, and to lose ourselves in the Heart of Christ so that his sacrifice may be ours, so that Christ's Mass may be in our lives, so that our life, our tomorrow may be in the Mass. In this way we will live our Mass.
Let us go to the altar of the Lord, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving for the gift of the Eucharist that came out of the Heart of Christ on Holy Thursday, and let us love him. He deserves to be loved as much as possible; we will never love him to a too great extent. Let us make him known and loved in his Sacrifice of love, his Sacrament of love.
Mother Julienne of the Rosary, Janvier 17, 1979