Let me begin by wishing all of you a happy and holy Easter, filled with the joy that comes from the knowledge that our Lord has been victorious over death, and has risen to life—filled with the knowledge that He has redeemed us and will, one day, raise us up as He raised Himself—filled with the joy that by His sacrifice on the Cross, He has given us the means to our own holiness, salvation, and joyful resurrection.
And let me thank all of you who contributed in any way to our celebration of Holy Week and Easter. Your efforts are truly appreciated!
When I wrote this sermon, about a week ago, I had no idea who would be here at Mass. We joke about the “Christmas and Easter Catholics,” but we genuinely hope that we will see them in good numbers. Please feel welcome, and know that we would love to see you again—perhaps even before Christmas.
Christmas, the birth of Christ, and Easter, the resurrection of Christ from the grave are certainly important events in the Church’s calendar, but it might surprise you to hear me say neither is the most important event from the perspective of sinful mankind, eager to begin on the path to salvation. Obviously, all of the events in the life of Christ are of great importance to us, and it would be difficult or impossible to imagine what things would have been like, had not this one, or that one, taken place.
For Christ to have been born on Christmas, it was necessary that some nine months earlier he had condescended to unite His divinity with our humanity, and be conceived as a child in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The feast of the Annunciation, the day on which this conception took place with our Lady’s free consent to the Angel—“Be it done to me according to thy word”—is celebrated on March 25th with relatively little fanfare. But obviously, all of the other events in our Lord life depended on the reality of His Incarnation—His taking up of human nature in order to be like us in all things but sin.
Almost at the other end of His life came the events that we celebrated during this past week on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. On Thursday, He celebrated the Passover Sacrifice with His Apostles. In accordance with Jewish tradition, they sacrificed a lamb at the Temple, and then roasted it over the fire and ate it together with unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and several cups of wine. (The modern menu is more elaborate, but these were the essentials prescribed by God before the Exodus.) They did what Jewish people had been doing for well over a millennium. But that night, the character of this supper ritual would be changed forever.
From that day forward, God’s people would no longer take an animal to be slaughtered by one of the priests at the Temple in Jerusalem. Their Sacrificial Victim would be far more precious than a spotless lamb; and Jesus, their Priest, would be far more holy than the priests of the Temple. A year earlier, Christ had promised to give His followers “His flesh to eat and His blood to drink, and those who ate and drank of it would have life everlasting, and He would raise them up on the last day.” Many in the crowd drew away, thinking this was impossible—but He was adamant; He meant what He had said.
So, during that Last Supper, on Thursday night, he altered the ancient ritual. He took the unleavened bread and broke it, as the host was supposed to do, but before He passed it around, He said: “This is My body, which is being given for you.” And then, toward the end of the supper, He took a cup of wine, as the host was supposed to do, but before passing it around, He said: “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins.” Note the use of the present tense: “is being given ... is being shed.” The evangelists all use it, although “shall be” enters once or twice—our Lord was saying that, at the very moment of the Last Supper, His Sacrifice on the Cross had already begun. And it continued into the next day as His false accusers nailed Him to the Cross, and His life flowed out of Him.
At that Supper He gave directions that His Apostles were to follow the same ritual—“In memory of Me.” Both Luke and Paul record this command, using the Greek word “αναμνησιν=anamnesis” which means “to recall” or “to recollect.” And that word in turn comes from “μίμηςισ=mimesis,” for the Apostles were to “mimic” our Lord, “imitating” Him, and re-presenting His sacrificial action in His place throughout time and throughout the world.
Sixty years ago Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical letter on the Sacred Liturgy, Mediator Dei. He wrote to encourage Catholics to become more deeply aware of what took place at Holy Mass, and to take a greater part in It. But, also, he wrote to warn against the modern tendency to remove the Faith from the realities of sin and suffering, and the need for penance. In that encyclical, he reminded us that our Lord’s “bitter sufferings constitute the principal mystery of our redemption. It is only fitting that the Catholic faith should give it the greatest prominence. This mystery is the very center of divine worship since the Mass represents and renews it every day.” It would be wrong, He said, to have “the crucifix so designed that the Divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings.” The Cross without Christ, or Christ without the Cross are distortions.
It is this Sacrifice of the Cross, renewed each day at Holy Mass, that culminates in the glory and joy of Easter. Our Lord Himself, walking with two of His disciples to the town of Emmaus on Easter Monday, assured them that His suffering and death was precisely what God had predicted through the Prophets of the Old Testament: “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things before entering into His glory?”
I mention these things to you, not in any way to detract from your joyful celebration of Easter, but rather so that your can appreciate the true source of that joy. I mention them also so that you might take notice of the fact that we celebrate the central mystery of our Faith each and every day at Mass. There is no need to wait for Christmas or for Easter. Every day is the day of our Redemption! Every day we are able to eat and drink of eternal life!
 Cf. Exodus xii.
 Cf. John vi.
 Luke xxii: 19.
 Matthew xxvi: 27.
 Luke xxi: 19; 1 Corinthians xi: 24.
 Mediator Dei, #164.
 Mediator Dei, #62.
 Luke xxiv: 25-26.