Even though I received my vocation — “calling” — from of young, it did not mean that I was always appreciative and in love with my Catholic faith. Like many young people, I did not always enjoy going to Mass, got distracted during Mass, and let my mind wander at Mass, too. Even when I was altar serving, I was worried and preoccupied with what needed to be done instead of allowing the liturgical actions and richness to educate and deepen my faith. Some of my childhood pastors were not great preachers so it made my mind wander even more. Nonetheless, God was patient, never gave up, and continued to pursue me, calling me to answer His call to be a priest.
First of all, please let me be the first one to raise my hand to say that I did not always understand the Triduum. I thought I was going to three different Masses or liturgies because they are different celebrations for three different evenings. I knew they were long (and boring at times), too. There were some beautiful parts like the Washing of the Feet, Eucharistic Procession and Adoration after Mass on Maundy Thursday; reenactment of the Crucifixion, lowering and veneration of the Lord’s Body and Five Wounds on Good Friday; as well as the long Easter’s Vigil and its complex liturgy. I knew that they were important as we commemorate the Lord’s Last Supper, His Passion, and victorious Resurrection… but I did not know why they were so important for our Christian faith. It took time for me to grow but I would like to share with you two things that I learned in my own seminary and theological formation that helped me to appreciate the Triduum and love the Mass even more!
First, in the famous Ark of the Covenant, important and sacred objects of the Old Covenant were placed in the golden box. Things like the tablets of the Ten Commandments, Manna, and Aaron’s staff were first put in there. (cf. Exodus 25:10-22) The Menorah, the seven-branch candelabra, that is to be kept burning continually, and the Bread of the Presence were also important objects sitting on the Golden Table inside the Holy of Holies. (cf. Exodus 25:23-24, 29-30) This unique, consecrated, and sacred Bread of Presence can also be translated as the Bread of the Face of God because just as the earthly Tabernacle/Temple was a visible sign of the invisible heavenly place of God, the bread was the visible sign of the invisible heavenly face of God for the people of Israel. This bread was to be a perpetual offering, just as the flames of the Menorah were to be kept burning continually alongside it. (cf. Leviticus 24:1-4) All those described matters were sacred signs of God’s faithfulness and His gift to His people. However, much more than the other objects, the Bread of the Face of God was to be offered in sacrifice, hence set apart and consecrated as a holy offering. Only the priests of the Temple would be able to eat that sacrificial bread after it has been consecrated and taken out of the Holy of Holies.
Three times a year, on the holy feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (cf. Exodus 34:23, 23:17), the priests in the Temple would remove the Bread of the Face of God from the Golden Table within the Holy of Holies and bring it outside so that the Jewish pilgrims could see it. When they remove the holy bread, the priests would elevate it and say, “Behold God’s love for you!” (Babylonian Talmud, Menahoth 29A) For us, as Catholics, this should not be anything new since we do a similar action before receiving communion, the priest holds up the Eucharist and says in the words of St. John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God. Behold Him who takes away the sin of the world…” We share, just like our Jewish brothers and sisters, the desire to have the fore glimpse of our ultimate desire: to see the face of God and live, especially to know that He loves us in a very real way. Nonetheless, more than the Bread of the Face of God in the Old Covenant, this is Christ’s own sacrificial gift of the everlasting covenant, His love for His Bride, the Church.
Furthermore, the Lord perpetuated at the Last Supper, not just a new Passover, but the new bread and wine of presence with His own Body and Blood that will be poured out on the Cross for the salvation of souls. That was why He said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” so that the Church, His Bride, perpetuates His loving presence to His very own disciples as He instituted it. Just as God was truly present to His people in the Tabernacle and Temple, so now Jesus would be really and truly present to His disciples through the Eucharist, His perpetual sign of the New Covenant, sealed by His blood.
Thus, I would like to discuss my second point, hopefully explaining to you how Jesus completely transformed the old Passover rite with His very own sacrificial offering on the Cross. Every year, Jews commemorate the Passover as a sacred ritual and remembrance of the Lord’s saving act toward His chosen people, preceded by several hours of fasting, from the time of the evening sacrifice (about 3:00 PM). There are always four cups of wine that are mandatory for the ritual.
- The Passover begins at nightfall, with the father gathering his family at a large table. He is to mix a cup of wine with a little water. The first cup is called the Cup of Sanctification (Kiddush). He is to lead the family with a formal prayer over the cup of wine and the feast day: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.”
- Four key dishes would then be brought forward: unleavened bread cakes, bitter herbs, haroseth (sauce), and the roasted Passover lamb. They may eat the bitter herbs with sauce, but it shall lead to the second cup, the Cup of Proclamation (Haggadah). After the wine is mixed with water, the father begins to proclaim what the Lord has done for His people when He set them free from Egypt in exodus. (cf. Deuteronomy 26:5-11) He also answers the youngest’s question by explaining the meaning of the parts of the Passover meal, too. (cf. Mishnah, Pesahim 10:5) People in attendance are to give thanks for what God had done for them by signing Psalms 113 and 114.
- Next, a third cup would be mixed, signaling the beginning of the actual supper when the Passover lamb and unleavened bread will be eaten. The father can say a blessing over the unleavened bread in similar words, “Blessed are you, Lord God, who brings forth bread from the earth.” (cf. Mishnah, Berakoth 6:1) Many times, the main meal begins with the morsel of bread dipped in sauce before the main dishes of lamb and unleavened bread are eaten, just like Judas when he dipped his own morsel before heading out to betray Jesus in John 13:26-27. The third cup is drunk when the meal is finished, after he said his blessing, hence it is called the Cup of Blessing (Berakah).
- The fourth and concluding portion follows after Psalms 115 to 118 are sung. No wine is to be drunk between the third and fourth cups while singing the psalms. The last and fourth cup is called the Cup of Praise (Hallel), and the Passover meal is complete with that action.
Nonetheless, the Gospel accounts teach us that the Lord did not actually finish the Passover meal. Even though they sang hymns at the end of the meal, He did not close the ritual loop at the Last Supper. Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the third portion of the Passover meal. He gave thanks with the second cup and drank the cup (of blessing) that He identified as His own blood after the main Passover meal. At that moment, instead of referring to the past exodus from Egypt and the Passover lamb, the Lord identified the bread as His own Body and wine as His own Blood as the new Passover of the Messiah. However, his Passover meal was not complete at the Last Supper since there was still another cup to be drunk. He did say that He would not drink it again until the Kingdom came.
They went out of the Upper Room and to the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed to the Father three times about the final — fourth — cup that He must drink. (cf. Matthew 26:36-46) He had woven His own fate to the completion of the Passover meal. He knew that when the new Passover meal is completed, it will also mean His very own death! Why? It is sobering to remember Jesus took on the fate of the Passover lamb. He will not make it out alive. He knew it but it has to be done.
He rejected wine mixed with myrrh on the way to the Cross. Even though it was done as an act of mercy to help numb the senses before the horrible pain of death by crucifixion, He refused to drink the wine while carrying the Cross because He did not wish to dull the pain of His sufferings in the midst of His passion. Think about it! The good Lord took no shortcuts in showing us how much He willingly suffered for the love of us. He showed us that we are so worth loving. We are worth even whip, insult, betrayal, rejection, suffering, and unimaginable pains that come with the sacrificial act of love of our loving Savior. He extended His new Passover meal to include His very own suffering and death! In this way, the Last Supper was not just a symbolic enactment of how He was going to die. It was, without a doubt, the prophetic fulfillment that brings all things to an end with the very giving of His life on the Cross.
He drank his last cup on the Cross, at the very moment of His death. He was both the Priest and Victim, Host and Sacrifice on the altar of the Cross. By refusing to drink the fruit of the vine until He gave up His final breath, He joined the very offering of Himself in the form of bread and wine to the offering of Himself on Calvary. Every word at the Last Supper now has meanings when He freely gave us His Body and Blood, for the forgiveness of our sins and as a ransom for many. What happened at the Last Supper is tied to the Cross, transforming the Cross into the new Passover and giving His words efficacious meanings through His very own sacrifice. Therefore, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass not only makes present the actions of Jesus of the Upper Room but presents to us the real sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary.
On the Cross, Jesus completed His new Passover meal by asking for a drink of the wine customarily given to the dying — wine mixed with gall. By asking for this drink, He united His passion and death to His very offering of Himself at the Last Supper. That was why He said, “It is finished,” and bowed His head and gave His spirit for the salvation of the world. (cf. John 19:29-30)
Unlike the old Bread of the Face of God that came to an end when the Temple was destroyed, the Eucharist is nothing less than the Body and Blood of the Messiah, Savior, and Redeemer — really and truly present — under the appearances of bread and wine as God’s love for His people. It is that very “passes over” from the things of this world to the things of God. Unlike the Jews at the time of the Temple, Christians are pilgrims who journey toward the new Jerusalem of the heavenly city of God. That was why His disciples could not recognize Him — who is no longer bound by space, time, or even appearance, because He can appear when He wills, where He wills, how He wills, and under whatever form He wills — until they recognize Him at the breaking of bread. (cf. Luke 24:35)
Just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He continues to be with us at each and every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. That Sunday was the first Eucharist after the Resurrection. On that day, He ate and drank with His disciples in the joy of His kingdom, fulfilling what He set out to accomplish at the Last Supper and on the altar of the Cross. On that day, He gave them His crucified and risen Body and Blood. Just like the disciples at Emmaus, we should also say to the Lord, “Stay with us.”
I hope what I shared with you will strengthen your own faith in the Eucharist as well as see how much He loves us. I pray that you will get to see Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter in a new way when we open our eyes to recognize that it is but one, single, and meaningful life-giving event. I wish that you will find more joy when you receive the Eucharist, recognizing that it is truly “God’s love for you!”