Now that we have started the Holy Week it is important to focus our attention on the Holy Triduum or the Easter Triduum. How many graces are restored for us if we just humbly and courageously open our hearts to receive God’s healing which liturgically starts from Maundy Thursday, passes through Good Friday until it reaches its climax in the passage from Easter Vigil to Easter Sunday!
In these most holy days, the days of our redemption, we experience first-hand the power of Jesus’ love for us sinners. In the Gospel of John we find Jesus’ most ardent love for us beautifully portrayed in the very first line of the thirteenth chapter of his account which narrates the instituition of the Eucharist. Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (John 13:1).
In these words full of meaning I cannot not recall the wonderful reflection St Pope John Paul II wrote to link the institution of the Eucharist with that what was going to happen on the Golgotha. In his last encyclical on the Eucharist in its relationship with the Church, Ecclesia De Eucharistia, St. John Paul II wrote:
“Two thousand years later, we continue to relive that primordial image of the Church. At every celebration of the Eucharist, we are spiritually brought back to the paschal Triduum: to the events of the evening of Holy Thursday, to the Last Supper and to what followed it. The institution of the Eucharist sacramentally anticipated the events which were about to take place, beginning with the agony in Gethsemane. Once again we see Jesus as he leaves the Upper Room, descends with his disciples to the Kidron valley and goes to the Garden of Olives. Even today that Garden shelters some very ancient olive trees. Perhaps they witnessed what happened beneath their shade that evening, when Christ in prayer was filled with anguish ‘and his sweat became like drops of blood falling down upon the ground’ (cf. Lk 22:44). The blood which shortly before he had given to the Church as the drink of salvation in the sacrament of the Eucharist, began to be shed; its outpouring would then be completed on Golgotha to become the means of our redemption: ‘Christ… as high priest of the good things to come…, entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption’ (Heb 9:11- 12).” (no.3).
We who partake from the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, are called to model our life precisely on his contant self-giving to the Father. Starting from us, priests, bishops and consecrated persons to every other believer, we are urged by the Lord to espouse his eucharistic self-donating. The Eucharistic does not confine us to the altar of celebration but leads us outwardly to celebrate it on the various altars of the world wherein Christ still is suffering hunger, being maltreated, neglected and exploited in every possible manner. In this sense, the Eucharist makes us more responsible to treat each other as God’s children and brothers and sisters would.
Pope Francis explained this point very well when, during his video message to the participants of National Eucharistic Congress of India on November 12, 2015, said: “But the Eucharist does not end with the partaking of the bread and blood of the Lord. It leads us to solidarity with others. The communion with the Lord is necessarily a communion with our fellow brothers and sisters. And therefore the one who is fed and nourished by the very body and blood of Christ cannot remain unaffected when he sees his brothers suffering want and hunger. Those nourished by the Eucharist are called to bring the joy of the gospel to those who have not received it. Strengthened by the living Bread we are called to bring hope to those who live in darkness and in despair.”
Obviously, on Maundy Thursday, we commemorate the instituition of the ministers of the Eucharist, our priests. In Ecclesia De Eucharistia St Pope John Paul II reminds us: “All of this makes clear the great responsibility which belongs to priests in particular for the celebration of the Eucharist. It is their responsibility to preside at the Eucharist in persona Christi and to provide a witness to and a service of communion not only for the community directly taking part in the celebration, but also for the universal Church, which is a part of every Eucharist” (no.52).
Authentic love gives itself up to the point of losing itself to give life. Jesus himself told us this in the Gospel: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24). Christ is the grain of wheat who died so that you and I might live eternally. In his prayer at the Colosseum in Rome of Good Friday of April 19, 2019, during the Way of the Cross, Pope Francis gives a very apt theological reflection concerning the theology of the Cross. He invited us to see, in Christ’s cross, all the crosses of the world. Among the crosses carried in our world are the ones of “those who hunger for bread and for love”; “those who are alone or abandoned even by their own children and family members”; “those who thirst for justice and peace;” “those who do not have the comfort of the faith”; “the elderly who are bowed down under the weight of years and loneliness”; “migrants who find doors closed because of fear, and hearts sealed by political calculations”; “the little ones, wounded in their innocence and purity”;
“humanity that wanders in the darkness of uncertainty and in the darkness of the culture of the fleeting moment”; “families broken by betrayal, by the seductions of the evil one or by murderous lightness and by selfishness”; “consecrated persons who tirelessly seek to bring your light into the world and feel rejected, mocked and humiliated”; “consecrated persons who, along the way, have forgotten their first love”; “your children who, believing in you and trying to live according to your word, find themselves marginalized and discarded even by their families and their peers”; “our weaknesses, our hypocrisies, our betrayals, our sins and our many broken promises”; “your Church which, faithful to your Gospel, struggles to carry your love even among the baptized themselves”; “the Church, your bride, who feels continually attacked from within and from without;” “our common home that withers seriously before our selfish eyes that are blinded by greed and power.”
All these crosses cry to be redeemed thanks to the final victory of Christ’s resurrection in which evil and death are crushed, once and for all, by eternal life! To paraphrase a phrase much loved by St John Paul II, you and I are Easter people and Halleluiah is our song! This is so since, as St Paul rightly put it in his Letter to the Romans, we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Rom 6:4-5). Christ’s resurrection instills in us not only the sure hope that we, one day, shall be united with Him and reign forever but also empowers that in-built capacity holy baptism gives us to be salt of the earth and light of the world. The power of Christ’s resurrection and his triumphant victory over sin and death makes it all the more possible for us to let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:16).
Personally speaking, the Easter Triduum teaches me three life attitudes. First, it greatly exhorts me to keep letting Jesus leading me to give myself to others, particularly the sick people at the Oncology Centre where I spend most of my earthly time. Second, it encourages me to keep letting Jesus showing me the many ways of how to accompany those who are suffering. Third, it clarifies for me the importance of making St Paul’s injunction in his letter to the Romans my own life program: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21). This I do because Christ solemnly assures me: I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die (John 11:25-26).
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap