The Last Supper
It was most fitting that the sacrament of the body of the Lord should have been instituted at the Last Supper.
1. Because of what that sacrament contains. For that which is contained in it is Christ Himself. When Christ in His natural appearance was about to depart from His disciples, He left Himself to them in a sacramental appearance, just as in the absence of the emperor there is exhibited the emperor's image. Whence St. Eusebius says, "Since the body He had assumed was about to be taken away from their bodily sight, and was about to be carried to the stars, it was necessary that, on the day of His last supper, He should consecrate for us the sacrament of His body and blood, so that what, as a price, was offered once should, through a mystery, be worshipped unceasingly."
2. Because without faith in the Passion there can never be salvation. Therefore it is necessary that there should be, for ever, among men something that would represent the Lord's Passion and the chief of such representative things in the Old Testament was the Paschal Lamb. To this there succeeded in the New Testament the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is commemorative of the past Passion of the Lord as the Paschal Lamb was a foreshadowing of the Passion to come.
And therefore was it most fitting that, on the very eve of the Passion, the old sacrament of the Paschal Lamb having been celebrated, Our Lord should institute the new sacrament.
3. Because the last words of departing friends remain longest in the memory, our love being at such moments most tenderly alert. Nothing can be greater in the realm of sacrifice than that of the body and blood of Christ, no offering can be more effective. And hence, in order that the sacrament might be held in all the more veneration, it was in His last leave-taking of the Apostles that Our Lord instituted it.
Hence St. Augustine says, "Our Saviour, to bring before our minds with all His power the heights and the depths of this sacrament, willed, ere He left the disciples to go forth to His Passion, to fix it in their hearts and their memories as His last act."
Let us note that this sacrament has a threefold meaning :
(i) In regard to the past, it is commemorative of the Lord's Passion, which was a true sacrifice, and because of this the sacrament is called a sacrifice.
(ii) In regard to a fact of our own time, that is, to the unity of the church and that through this sacrament mankind should be gathered together. Because of this the sacrament is called communion.
St. John Damascene says the sacrament is called communion because by means of it we communicate with Christ, and this because we hereby share in His body and in His divinity, and because by it we are communicated to and united with one another.
(iii) In regard to the future, the sacrament foreshadows that enjoyment of God which shall be ours in our fatherland. On this account the sacrament is called viaticum, since it provides us with the means of journeying to that fatherland.
The Death of Christ
That Christ should die was expedient.
1. To make our redemption complete. For, although any suffering of Christ had an infinite value, because of its union with His divinity, it was not by no matter which of His sufferings that the redemption of mankind was made complete, but only by His death. So the Holy Spirit declared speaking through the mouth of Caiaphas, It is expedient for you that one man shall die for the people (John xi. 50). Whence St. Augustine says, "Let us stand in wonder, rejoice, be glad, love, praise, and adore since it is by the death of our Redeemer, that we have been called from death to life, from exile to our own land, from mourning to joy."
2. To increase our faith, our hope and our charity. With regard to faith the Psalm says (Ps. cxl. 10), I am alone until I pass from this world, that is, to the Father. When I shall have passed to the Father, then shall I be multiplied. Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die itself remaineth alone (John xii. 24).
As to the increase of hope St, Paul writes, He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how hath he not also, with him, given us all things? (Rom. viii. 32). God cannot deny us this, for to give us all things is less than to give His own Son to death for us. St. Bernard says, "Who is not carried away to hope and confidence in prayer, when he looks on the crucifix and sees how Our Lord hangs there, the head bent as though to kiss, the arms outstretched in an embrace, the hands pierced to give, the side opened to love, the feet nailed to remain with us."
Come, my dove, in the clefts of the rock (Cant. ii. 14). It is in the wounds of Christ the Church builds its nest and waits, for it is in the Passion of Our Lord that she places her hope of salvation, and thereby trusts to be protected from the craft of the falcon, that is, of the devil.
With regard to the increase of charity, Holy Scripture says, At noon he burneth the earth (Ecclus. xliii. 3), that is to say, in the fervour of His Passion He burns up all mankind with His love. So St. Bernard says, "The chalice thou didst drink, O good Jesus, maketh thee lovable above all things." The work of our redemption easily, brushing aside all hindrances, calls out in return the whole of our love. This it is which more gently draws out our devotion, builds it up more straightly, guards it more closely, and fires it with greater ardour.