A few days ago, June 29th, Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Francis issued a letter on the liturgy and, in particular, the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. The letter’s title in Latin “Desiderio desiderata”, is taken from the words Jesus first spoke to his disciples in St. Luke’s gospel the night before he died. 

“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Lk 22:15) What Jesus did at the Last Supper was what he desired to do, the pope stresses. It didn’t come from his disciples, who were arguing then among themselves about who was the greatest. What Jesus did at the supper table came from his loving desire to remain with them and with us. 

What he did at the Last Super also expresses the love and desire of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God desires communion, not just with those at the Last Supper, but all who would come after them. In the Eucharist and the other sacraments, God also reveals a desire for deeper communion with all creation. “ The world still does not know it, but everyone is invited to the supper of the wedding of the Lamb. (Re 19:9) 9

The great gift Jesus made at the Last Supper was expressed further the next day when he died on the cross and gave his life for all. Yet, his disciples failed to recognize his gift then as they failed to recognize his gift the night before. On Good Friday, they turned away from what they saw. 

God reveals himself in the mysteries of the Eucharist and the Cross. They are essential mysteries of his Incarnation. Jesus humbled himself to come among us, and he reveals himself in the humble signs of bread and wine and the mystery of the cross. 

“Only a few hours after the Supper, the apostles could have seen in the cross of Jesus, if they could have borne the weight of it, what it meant for Jesus to say, ‘body offered,’ ‘blood poured out.’” The mystery of the cross is found in every Eucharist and every sacrament.

When Jesus rose from the dead, he revealed himself to his disciples through these same mysteries. When he walked with his disciples to Emmaus; when he met his disciples who had gone fishing on the Sea of Galilee, he broke bread and opened their eyes.  “It heals them from the blindness inflicted by the horror of the cross, and it renders them capable of ‘seeing’ the Risen One, of believing in the Resurrection.”

Jesus reveals God’s love in these mysteries. He is really present in the Eucharist, and we are guaranteed the possibility of encountering him here. 

“ For us a vague memory of the Last Supper would do no good,” the pope writes, “We need to be present at that Supper, to be able to hear his voice, to eat his Body and to drink his Blood. We need Him. In the Eucharist and in all the sacraments we are guaranteed the possibility of encountering the Lord Jesus and of having the power of his Paschal Mystery reach us. The salvific power of the sacrifice of Jesus, his every word, his every gesture, glance, and feeling reaches us through the celebration of the sacraments.

 I am Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the man possessed by demons at Capernaum, the paralytic in the house of Peter, the sinful woman pardoned, the woman afflicted by hemorrhages, the daughter of Jairus, the blind man of Jericho, Zacchaeus, Lazarus, the thief and Peter both pardoned. The Lord Jesus who dies no more, who lives forever with the signs of his Passion [2] continues to pardon us, to heal us, to save us with the power of the sacraments. It is the concrete way, by means of his incarnation, that he loves us. It is the way in which he satisfies his own thirst for us that he had declared from the cross.” (Jn 19:28) 11

We recognize the figures from the gospel the pope cites– Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the paralytic in Capernaum, Zacchaeus the tax collector from Jericho, the thief on the cross, Peter the apostle. They were far from perfect. Like his disciples at the supper table, they were part of an imperfect world, yet Jesus desired to be with them. 

 Later in his exhortation, Pope Francis offers an important quotation from Pope St. Paul VI:

“God must hold first place; prayer to him is our first duty. The liturgy is the first source of divine communion in which God shares his own life with us. It is also the first school of the spiritual life. The liturgy is the first gift we must make to the Christian people united to us by faith and the fervour of their prayers. It is also a primary invitation to the human race, so that all may now lift their mute voices in blessed and genuine prayer and thus may experience that indescribable, regenerative power to be found when they join us in proclaiming the praises of God and the hopes of the human heart through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit”.        



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