This evening, we are opening the celebrations of the Paschal Triduum: the three sacred days when the Church celebrates how Jesus went through His Passion and death in order to enter the glory of the Resurrection. And this year we are again together. In this not yet quite ‘post-Covid’ world, we do not take things for granted. We really appreciate the grace of the Holy Spirit who gathers us together around the sacred table. There, Jesus is the host and the food; the Word and the Sacrament; the priest and the sacrifice. He offers us the most intimate communion between God and each of us, and links us all in the strong bond of His love.
This is a joyful table. It is not one of these tables where you try to forget for an instant the harshness of this world by illusory pleasures. This table is filled with a mysterious joy, fully human and fully divine. Nothing genuinely human is excluded from it. To put it in the words of Vatican II:
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men and women. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every human being. (GS 1)
All these realities are present to us now, because in the first place they were present in the Heart of Jesus on this mysterious evening when He distributed the broken Bread and shared the Cup with His disciples. It was no ordinary meal, but the most religious meal of the year: the Passover meal during which the Paschal Lamb was reverently eaten. Jesus took on Himself the role and the meaning of the Lamb through whom God granted His people liberation from sin and salvation from death. Jesus even identified with the Lamb: His own body was from now on to be our food; His own blood procured once for all our redemption.
We have gathered around the table of the greatest joy: the great joy of God who saves the world out of His unfathomable love; the great joy of faith, through which we welcome God’s gift with infinite gratitude; the great joy of charity which throws down the walls of sin who separate us from one another and from God, and makes us one in God’s love.
We come to Mass, we celebrate Mass, precisely for this joy. If we are just looking for some sort of socialising, we could visit many other places. If we are after an intellectual or aesthetic experience, there are indeed many good books and marvellous recordings. If our drive is social charity, we can volunteer in an organisation. But beyond all that, we are seeking joy; even God’s joy. We know this table is unique. We know it gives a joy and a blessing which nothing and no one else can give, a joy which no one can take from us. This is not usually an exalted joy; rather, a humble and silent one, but how deep, how peaceful, how filled with comforting hope!
We love the table of the Eucharist because it is the place where we learn, again and again, to give ourselves with and like Jesus who gave Himself up for us all. We learn to present our bodies, that is to say all that we are, as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. This is our spiritual worship which through the Holy Spirit we offer in union with Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. At Mass, we confess and we adore the Father in Spirit and Truth. As we serve Him out of love, we enter ever more the mystery of His Joy, the gift that is eternal. And we give thanks for the gift of God which makes our world, for all its dramas and sufferings, already filled with the joy of salvation.