“This is my body that is for you.” Profoundly simply, these words of Christ relayed to us by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians claims the fundamental purpose of Christ, a perfect gift of Himself, body and soul. In the words of the Eucharist prayer for this night in the liturgical year we find the purpose of so great a gift, “On the day before he was to suffer for our salvation and the salvation of all, that is today, he took bread.”
Yet, when else would He celebrate this great offering of self, when else would He present to all of humanity His body than on the eve of His perfect sacrifice. This day, Holy Thursday, not only marks a historical moment but allows us the chance to again receive “this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim.” It is on this day so many years ago as well as today that Christ consummates his very union with each of us, today He offers us, the Church His perfect love.
“And you husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her” (Eph 5:25). “While the analogy used in Ephesians clarifies the mystery of the relationship between the Christ and the Church, at the same time it reveals the essential truth about marriage, namely, that marriage corresponds to the vocation of Christians only when it mirrors the love which the Church (in likeness to the wife who is “subject,” and thus completely given) sees to give back to Christ in return. This is the redeeming, saving love, the love with which man has been loved by God from eternity in Christ, “In him he chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and immaculate before him” (Eph 1:4).” (TOB 90:2)
The love poured forth for us, the love given to us, the Church, by Christ on the cross, is the same love St. Pope John Paul II speaks of that is realized in marriage and even more fundamentally in all Christian vocations. It is for this reason that on this day, Holy Thursday, all Christians would benefit in bending the ears of their heart to the truths whispered throughout the liturgical richness of this day from the chrism mass in all its fullness to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper where we remember the washing of the feet, and yes, the sacrifice of the mass!
The perfect gift of His very body, laid down for us on the altar becomes the very model by which are all called to live. Thus, with the offering of his body he gives the command, “Do this in memory of me.” Though this command is often related directly to the celebration of the mass we must see it also as a equivalent to “Love one another as I have loved you.” Therefore, the sacrament of marriage is mirrored in the sacrifice of the mass in that there is necessary response to the total gift of self when laid down for another. We, the Church, thus must respond to the radical love of the other, the total gift of self first offered to us in the last supper.
It is for this reason that Christ models a proper response to His sacrifice through the great teaching practice of washing His disciple’s feet. Not only does He model service but teaches the proper response to true love. Only in our response to Christ’s perfect sacrifice of the mass are we able to fulfill the love poured forth on the cross, only in a full gift of our own self can we truly embrace the love poured out by the groom to His bride.
In the Mass may we come to find “the redeeming, saving love, the love with which man has been loved by God from eternity in Christ,” thus uniting ourselves completely to Christ as one Body, one flesh, in perfect union first through His total gift of self and our imperfect response.
Fr. Patrick McConnell was ordained a priest in 2012 for the Diocese of Superior. He is the associate pastor at St. Patrick Church in Hudson, Wisconsin and the Assistant Vocation Director for the Diocese of Superior. Father Patrick has attended the TOBI, TOBII and TOBIII courses at the Theology of the Body Institute.