Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16.22-26
For many centuries historians, archaeologists, and romantic adventurers have been engaged in the search to find the chalice (or bowl) Jesus used at the Last Supper when he celebrated Mass for the first time. This sacred utensil is often called the Holy Grail.
Surprisingly, the official Church seems not to have shown much interest in the quest for the Holy Grail and I have a suspicion this is because the Church already knows where it is. What’s more, if you listen carefully to Eucharistic Prayer I today you will discover the secret of it's whereabouts buried in the words of consecration which, in a few moments, I will speak over the chalice:
In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took this precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands, and once more giving you thanks, he said the blessing and gave the chalice to his disciples, saying:
TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND DRINK FROM IT...
There you have it! When supper was ended, he took this precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands. This chalice! The one on the altar; the one I will use today!
Not a chalice, or the chalice but this chalice. Not a chalice like this one but this one.
Now you are probably a bit stunned and confused by what I am telling you. Could this be a misprint? How could Jesus have used this chalice?
My brothers and sisters, we stand here before a wondrous mystery; a mystery better entered into in silent, humble reflection than by wordy, faltering explanation. Nevertheless, allow me to continue speaking for a few minutes so that your reflection might be a little more focussed.
Our starting point must be on the firm ground of a very familiar truth about which we can all agree because it is Church teaching, and that is – Jesus suffered, died and rose for us once and once only - there was only ever one sacrifice on the cross and one resurrection.
A second well-known truth is that on the night before he offered this sacrifice on the cross Jesus took his disciples to an upper room and celebrated with them a meal which seems in many respects to be like a Passover Meal. During this meal he took bread and over it said the words: This is my body which will be given up for you. Then over the cup he said: This is my blood which will be poured out for you.
By separating his body and blood, and by offering it in atonement for sins, not to mention his requirement that the offering be consumed (just like the Passover lamb), Jesus was clearly indicating to us that that the sacrificial offering he was making ‘on the table’ was the same sacrificial offering he would be making the next day ‘on the cross’.
Yes, the Mass is the once-and-for-all sacrifice of the cross! This stupendous mystery can only be made sense of by faith; by our willingness to believe that the sacramental action in the upper room is the same action as that accomplished the next day on the cross in the terrible agony of the Lord’s Passion.
To really grasp this truth we need to imaginatively ‘do away with’ time; to ‘remove’ the hours which intervened between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion and to let the two actions come together in the one ‘eternal’ moment. When we do this we will discover that the two are really one and the same sacrifice. Not the same sacrifice repeated but the one sacrifice. In other words, the table is the cross.
Just as Jesus offered himself ‘in blood’ on the Cross, he offered himself ‘in sacrament’ at the Last Supper. On both occasions there was one priest offering the one sacrifice on the one altar.
If you are able to believe this then you may also have the grace to believe that this altar here, to my left, is the table of the Last Supper and the Cross of Calvary. If you have eyes of faith you will see, not the priest, but Jesus himself, standing at the one altar making the one offering to his Father of the one sacrifice of his precious body and blood.
My brothers and sisters, if you are fortunate enough to be drawn to meditate on all this you will come to recognise that there has only ever been one Mass. This is a profound truth. This is the heart of our faith.
One priest, one victim, one altar, one cup offered only once; an eternal offering, to the one Father of us all.