BIA Benedict XVI Institute for Africa
Fr. Tegha A

Fr. Tegha A Nji

Meditations on the Paschal Mystery through the Eyes of Mary (PART I: Holy Thursday)

Topic: This is my Body… this is my Blood… given up for you!

Texts for Meditation: Exodus 12:1-8,11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; and Jn 13:1-15.

Holy Thursday (evening) marks the beginning of the Most Sacred Triduum, during which we celebrate the Paschal Mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ, that is, his suffering, death, and resurrection. I invite us to reflect on the mysteries of these three days through the eyes of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the first and most faithful of all disciples. 

The liturgy of Holy Thursday (the Mass of the Lord’s Supper) is always marked by three important and interconnected aspects: 1) The Eucharist as a Memorial of the New Passover; 2) The priesthood of the new Passover or covenant; 3) The new commandment of love. Let us contemplate these triune realities through the eyes of Mary. 

1. Mary and the Eucharist as a Memorial of the New Passover

The one and eternal sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross, that purifies us from all stain of sin is the sacrifice of the New Passover, which perfects and replaces the old sacrifice of the lamb of the Passover in Egypt through whose blood, smeared on the door posts of the Israelites, God saved his people from bondage in Egypt. (As read today in Ex 12). These people were to “keep” this event as a memorial in perpetuity. That is how Jesus, and his disciples would eventually go into the upper room to celebrate that feast of the Passover, during which Jesus would radically reinterpret the symbols of the Passover meal and institute a new Passover in his own blood.

The synoptic gospels give us the details (cf. Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:14-23). St. Paul in today’s second reading gives us a succinct summary, saying, “Brothers and sisters: I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:23–26). 

In Paul’s description is seen both the sacrifice and the meal of the new Passover. It is no longer the flesh or blood of an irrational animal, nor unleavened bread and bitter herbs. It is the body and the blood of the “Lamb of God” – Jesus’ very own body and blood. And what he “gave” to his disciples on the night before he was to suffer, he brought to completion upon the Cross on Good Friday, when he died upon the Cross –as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8), to take away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29). But by his rising from the dead at Easter, he mysteriously enlivens that gift of his body and blood. It is not dead flesh nor the lifeless blood, but the very living body and living blood of Jesus Christ – that is, his body, blood, soul, and divinity. This is what we celebrate and partake of in the Eucharist, in obedience to the charge he gave his disciples, “Do this in memory of me.” 

All of these, however, would be impossible for Christ to do, were he not incarnate in the flesh. For as we know, God in himself cannot suffer. But as our incarnate Savior, assuming our flesh and blood, he is capable of enduring suffering and death on our behalf. As the author of Hebrews puts it, “When Christ was about to come into the world, he said to God: ‘You do not want sacrifices and offerings, but you have prepared a body for me.’” (Heb 10:5). In his own body, Jesus has perfected and replaced the old order with the new. No sacrifice is pleasing to God, but the very body and blood of Christ offered up on our behalf, as the new and eternal sacrifice, the new covenant capable of taking away sins. (cf. Hebrews 9-10). 

My friends, how glorious is the Blessed Virgin Mary! It is her who gave our Savior a body that he might give us the eternal covenant in his body and blood. It is in the Blessed Virgin’s womb, like in a tabernacle, that the eternal Word of God first came to dwell – became flesh. He received flesh from her, by the mysterious overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Not only did Mary give Jesus the flesh and blood that is offered up for our salvation, but she too teaches the Church how to “treasure in her memory” the very mysteries of Christ according to the Lord’s command, “Do this in memory of me.” 

As the gospels say of Mary, when she heard all what the Shepherds said of her Son Jesus, her God-in-the-flesh, she “treasured all these things in her heart.” (Lk 2:19). Same is said of her in the events following “the loss and finding” of Jesus in the Temple in Luke 2:41-52. The basic picture of Mary painted here is that of contemplation. The disciples, gathered around Mary, awaited the Holy Spirit who emboldened them to contemplate, proclaim, celebrate, and live out the paschal mystery of Christ in an unbroken tradition. As St. Paul says in the second reading, it is this “tradition” that we have received in unbroken succession – “What I learned from the Lord, I hand down to you.” Therefore, we too offer up the body and blood of Christ as the eucharistic sacrifice and meal. It is this that constitutes the Church’s liturgical memory.

 In her liturgical memory, the Church resembles the Blessed Virgin and follows in her example. The Church treasures in her heart the mysteries of Christ’s Passover in obedience to his command, “Do this in memory of me.” This sort of memory makes present, here and now, the very mysteries we celebrate as when they were first celebrated. Not only that, but this memory also draws the whole Church into a foretaste of the future fulfilment of these mysteries and their effects, which the Blessed Virgin Mary already enjoyed from the first instance of her birth, by the special grace of God, and likewise, which all the saints now enjoy forever in heaven. As the Second Vatican Council teaches us, “While in the most holy Virgin [Mary] the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she is without spot or wrinkle [Eph 5:27], the followers of Christ still strive to increase in holiness by conquering sin.” (Lumen Gentium 65). As St. Ambrose described her, Mary is both the type and mother of the Church, in the order of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ. (LG 63). She teaches us how to believe, how to love like Christ, and how to be perfectly united with Christ in holy communion. 

2. The priesthood of the new Passover, and Mary as Mother of Priests

By the command, “Do this is memory of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24), Christ drew the Twelve into a participation in his new priestly office. The offering of bread and wine (now re-interpreted as Christ’s body and blood) was/is a priestly act. We see this with Melchizedek of old, the mysterious king of righteousness (Gen 14:18-20), who is himself a foreshadowing of Christ, the perfect high priest and king of righteousness (Heb 7:1-10; 23-25). Therefore, from the very beginning, Christ has constituted the priesthood and the eucharist as twin sacraments and gifts. The one cannot exist without the other. The priesthood exists for the eucharist and the eucharist exists from the priestly ministry. (cf. John Paul II, Dominicae Cenae; Trent, Session XXII, Can. 2). On this day, we give thanks to God for our priests whose lives burn out daily before the altar of the Lord, as they offer the eucharist for our sanctification and salvation.

Therefore, the priest, despite his unworthiness, has been chosen by God as another Christ (alter Christus). By this very fact, too, he has been given the Blessed Virgin Mary as a special mother, even as Jesus entrusted his beloved disciple, John, to Mary’s care, “Woman, behold your son”; and charged the disciple to see in Mary a loving and caring mother, “Son, behold your mother.” (Jn 19:25-27). Let us today, my friends, on behalf of all our priests, turn to Mary, the Mother of Priests, that she may intercede for them. That she who understood so perfectly the mind and will of God, as the perfect disciple of Christ, may guard and protect them from harm and evil, guide and lead them to a more intimate love with/of her Son. 

3. Mary as the example of the new commandment of love

The famous passage of the washing of feet in John 13:1-15, situated within the Passover meal, is always read on this day. In this text, we are reminded of love as the glue that holds together the new covenant in Christ’s blood. “He loved his own to the very end,” we are told (Jn 13:1). By this, we are reminded that Jesus loved us to the point beyond which no greater love is conceivable or even possible. In his own words, “Greater love has none than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). He has loved us to the cross, down to hell, experiencing on our behalf and destroying the power death over us. In so loving us, he served us, he washed our feet. And he has commanded us, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 13:34). Or more concretely, as in today’s gospel, “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (Jn 13:14).

Beloved, we once more are invited to turn our gaze to Mary as the perfect exemplar of what it means to love. By a singularity of heart, she loved God so completely. By her “yes” she gave her total self over to the will of God. With a mother’s love she loved her son Jesus most tenderly, from the crib to the cross, from the womb to the tomb – silently suffering with him, silently rejoicing, even as she awaited the fulfillment of the promised resurrection. She likewise loves all of us, her children in the order of grace. Let us turn to her for both example and help, as we seek ways in which to live out the Lord’s command to love another – that our love might be truly sacrificial as the love we receive in the Eucharist, a love that does not make excuses from caring, a love that puts others first, a love that knows no boundaries. 

O, Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, and of grace; Mother of priests, pray for us!

(to be continued…)