Papal Homily at Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper

Eucharist and Priesthood Are Gifts and Mysteries

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2004 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II’s homily delivered today at the concelebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, in St. Peter’s Basilica.

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1. «He loved them to the end» (John 13:1).

Before celebrating the last Pasch with the disciples, Jesus washed their feet. With a gesture that normally corresponded to a servant, he wished to impress upon the minds of the apostles the meaning of what was about to take place.

In fact, the passion and death constitute the fundamental service of love with which the Son of God has freed humanity from sin. At the same time the passion and death of Christ reveal the profound meaning of the new commandment given by him to the apostles: «love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another» (John 13:34).

2. «Do this in remembrance of me» (1 Corinthians 11:24,25) — he says twice, distributing the bread that has become his Body and the wine that has become his Blood. «I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do» (John 13:15) — he had recommended earlier, after having washed the feet of the apostles. Christians know, therefore, that they «must remember» their Teacher in rendering one another the service of charity: «to wash one another’s feet.» In particular, they know that they must remember Jesus by repeating the «memorial» of the Supper with the bread and wine consecrated by the minister who repeats over them the words then spoken by Christ.

The Christian community did this from the beginning, as we heard Paul attest: «For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes» (1 Corinthians 11:26).

3. The Eucharist, therefore, is a memorial in the full sense: the bread and wine, by the action of the Holy Spirit, really become the body and blood of Christ, who gives himself to be man’s nourishment in his journey on earth. The same logic of love precedes the Incarnation of the Word in the womb of Mary and his making himself present in the Eucharist. It is «agape,» charity, love in the most beautiful and pure sense. Jesus repeatedly requested his disciples to remain in his love (see John 15:9).

To remain faithful to this request, to remain in him as shoots united to the vine, to love as he loved, it is necessary to nourish oneself with his Body and Blood. Saying to the apostles: «Do this in memory of me,» the Lord has united the Church to the living memorial of his Pasch. Although he is the unique Priest of the New Covenant, he wished to have men, consecrated by the Holy Spirit, act in profound union with his Person in distributing the food of life.

4. Because of this, while we fix our gaze on Christ who institutes the Eucharist, we have a renewed awareness of the importance of the priests in the Church and of their union with the Eucharistic sacrament. In the Letter that I wrote to priests for this holy day, I wished to repeat that the Sacrament of the altar is gift and mystery, and that the priesthood is gift and mystery, both having flowed from the Heart of Christ during the Last Supper.

Only a Church in love with the Eucharist generates, in turn, holy and numerous priestly vocations. And she does so through prayer and the testimony of holiness, offered in a special way to the new generations.

5. In the school of Mary, «Eucharistic woman,» we adore Jesus truly present in the humble signs of bread and wine. Let us pray to him so that he will not cease to call to the service of the altar priests configured to his heart.

Let us pray to the Lord that the Bread will never be lacking to the People of God to sustain them along the earthly pilgrimage. May the Holy Virgin help us to rediscover with wonder that the whole of Christian life is centered on the «mysterium fidei,» that we solemnly celebrate this evening.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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