DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EX 12: 1-8, 11-14; PS 116:12-13,15-18; 1 COR 11: 23-26; JN 13: 1-15]
This evening we celebrate the Mass of the Last Supper. We do this by following the command of the Lord to “Do this in memory of me.” But many of us do not understand what this command of the Lord really means. So many of us do it externally by celebrating or participating in the Eucharistic celebration. A priest can just merely literally “say the mass” and repeat the Words of the Institution of the Eucharist perfunctorily. The congregation can just participate in the celebration as an observer or be active in the prayers and songs and join in the liturgical actions. But 99% of our Catholics receive Holy Communion and yet their lives are not changed. It has become a ritual and an external piety. They do not understand what they are doing.
So, it is important to understand what Jesus is asking of us when He instructed us to do this in His memory. The key word is “memorial.” But we must go back to the Hebrew origin of this word. ‘Memorial’ is not simply a recollection of past events as we do when we look at our old photos. Indeed, some of you celebrate a different form of “memorial” at mass, taking photos during the celebration for memory’s sake. But this is not what it means to celebrate the memorial of the mass. The word “memorial” in Hebrew means more than just remembering but making present what we remember and what we celebrate. It is to relive the events of the past in our lives here and now.
A good analogy is the way we remember our hurtful events. Every time when we think of the painful events of the past, we feel hurt all over again. In fact, the chronological event itself is less painful than the psychological event that continues to play on our minds, like a video-recorder, making us live out that event often in a more embellished and vindictive manner. We replay the event all over again whenever we think of it and then we cry and feel hurt. That is why we must make a distinction between chronological forgetfulness of an event and psychological forgetfulness. In the same way too, the mass is not just a chronological memory of a historical event during the time of our Lord, but the real presence of that event in our lives again, as if we are really in it but in a non-historical manner. We enter into the psychological meaning of the event but in this case of the Mass, it is not merely a figment of our imagination but a reality.
What are we called to render present in the celebration of the Eucharist? In the Old Testament, the Israelites were asked to celebrate the Passover. The Lord said, “It is the Passover Festival to honor me, the Lord. You must celebrate this day as a religious festival to remind you of what, I, the Lord, have done. Celebrate it for all time to come.” What did the Lord do for them? The Lord set them free from the slavery of the Egyptians, worked miracles in their sight, saved the firstborn of the Israelites whereas the First Born of the Egyptians died when the Angel of Death passed over the doors of the houses. Finally, the Lord led the Israelites from Egypt, the land of slavery, to pass over to the Promised Land, the land of freedom, plenty, flowing with milk and honey.
So the Israelites celebrated the Passover since then, to reenact the events of the Exodus so that these events will always be remembered by them and help them to conform their lives to the events that they celebrated. Indeed, every time they celebrate the Passover, they remember the salvific work of God in their history. By appealing to this great saving event, the Israelites will not live in fear because as the Lord said, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:4-6) This is the basis for God to give the great commandment to the people through Moses, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Dt 6:5)
The Passover was also celebrated in thanksgiving for the mighty works the Lord had done for them. The psalmist expressed this sentiment when he prayed. “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me? The cup of salvation I will raise; I will call on the Lord’s name. O precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful. Your servant, Lord, your servant am I; you have loosened my bonds. A thanksgiving sacrifice I make; I will call on the Lord’s name. My vows to the Lord I will fulfil before all his people.”
For us, Christians, our Passover is that of our Lord which we celebrate. What memorial should we recall and make present? It is within the context of the Israelites’ Passover that Christians celebrate the Passover of our Lord as a memorial of the sacrifice of Christ who saves us from our sins. Through the celebration of the Eucharist, we recall and make present the saving events of our Lord in the Paschal Mystery, His Passion, Death and Resurrection as an act of thanksgiving. By partaking of the meal that the Lord instituted at the Last Supper, we enter into communion with Him.
So the Christians’ Passover is first and foremost to commemorate Jesus’ passing over to the Father at the end of His ministry. At the outset of the gospel, we read, “It was now the day before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. He had always loved those in the world who were his own, and he loved them to the very end.” The Passover of our Lord also involved the sacrifice of blood of a victim. Unlike the Israelites’ Passover, the victim is no more just the life and blood of the first born of a lamb to save them from death; it is Christ Himself who is the Lamb of God, also without defects, because He is without sin, to save us from our sins. It is through the suffering and death of our Lord on the cross that the world is saved as we come to recognize the depth of God’s mercy and love for us.
But of course, we know that the cross is not the end of the story but a prelude to the fullness of life. By overcoming death, He destroyed death forever. By conquering the fear of death, the Lord set us free from all our sins, since it is the sting of death that hinders us from living fully and loving unconditionally. By His resurrection, we are all set free from the fear of death. To take part in the Eucharist is to participate in the New Life given to us at Easter. With Jesus, we are risen and made participants of His divine life. This is what we say at the Acclamation, “Dying He destroyed our death, Rising He restored our life.” It means that we are now called to live the new life given to us by Christ, for we have been set free from our slavery to sin and death.
This new life entails that we do what Jesus has done for us. “You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do what I have just done for you.” Participation of the Eucharist must be expressed in Christian love and humble service. To wash each other’s feet also means that like Christ we are called to forgive one another, even the Judas in our lives whose feet Jesus also washed. The washing of feet means both service and forgiveness of our enemies.
This is what St Paul is asking of us when he said, “This means that every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” The sacrifice of the Mass which we celebrate must become our own. We too must follow Jesus in giving up our body for others and shed our blood for the forgiveness of the sins of our fellowmen. So we cannot be mere observers of our Lord sacrificing Himself for us at the Mass; we must also join Him in giving ourselves to our fellowmen in humble and unselfish service. It is not enough to even participate actively in the singing and celebration of the Mass. We who enter to worship must depart to serve.
Otherwise, the same words of our Lord to Judas will also apply to us. Jesus said, “Anyone who has taken a bath is completely clean and does not have to wash himself, except for his feet. All of you are clean – all except one.” (Jesus already knew who was going to betray him; that is why he said, “All of you, except one, are clean.”) We can be baptized, that is, taken our bath but we have dirtied our feet, that is our soul, through sin. We need to come to the Lord for forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation and celebrate His love and mercy for us at the Eucharist so that in turn, we can become God’s mercy and instrument of love in the world.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
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