When the picture arrived, I was so blown away by it that I couldn’t wait to give it to my mother. I surprised her with it, and she was overcome with emotion. It was as if he had taken a step out of eternity to join us again. It now hangs above the piano in her living room, and journeys with her in the summer to her lake refuge. It’s not my father, but it sure reminds us of him, as he presides over family gatherings as if he were there with us still. He is remembered and loved, and his love is mysteriously made present to those who knew him well.
Memory is an amazing thing, for it shows our connection to the past and makes present what happened then. Memory can be a curse, if our view of the past is negative, or we bring up painful things that we endured. Those who have gone through trauma can feel just as bad by memories of past sufferings as they did when they endured them. On the other hand, memory is a blessing when we recall past joyful events, gifts given and received, the love of friends and family who may have passed away.
When the Lord Jesus instituted the Eucharist, He commanded the apostles “do this in memory of me.” Of all the things that were done and said at the Last Supper, the blessing of the bread and wine are significantly pointed out by three evangelists and Saint Paul. From after the Resurrection until this very moment, the Church has obeyed the command of Christ. While the apostles probably did not understand the significance of what Jesus was doing at the time, they certainly learned later on with the gift of the Holy Spirit. They also recalled His words in Capharnaum about eating His Body and drinking His Blood. In the light of the Last Supper and by the gift of the Holy Spirit they came to know that what Jesus had given them was the means of receiving, eating and drinking His Body and Blood.
Those words of institution also led them to realize that what happened to Jesus on Good Friday was not a mere railroad job, but a deliberate act on His part. He did not just acquiesce to the brutality of His enemies; He was literally giving His body and shedding His blood on purpose. The Last Supper words and deeds of Jesus showed that His death was a true sacrifice, a giving over of His very self in obedience to the Father.
Putting two and two together, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they realized that Jesus had designed a way to make Himself present to them in the here and now, even though He had ascended into heaven. Jesus did not command what He would not make possible by grace. As He commanded that we must eat His body and drink His blood, and as He had told them to do with bread and wine what He did, so He had made possible the fulfillment of both. And that is the Mass.
When the Mass is celebrated, the priest, ordained in the line of the apostles, does what Jesus said to do: Take and eat, This is my Body; take and drink, This is my Blood. What Jesus did at the Last Supper is made present. And since the reality of the Real Body and Blood of Christ is made present, so Christ Himself, risen from the dead, is present, more than any picture or image. Furthermore, the gift of His sacrifice, foreshadowed by His own words at the Last Supper, is also made present; not in a bloody manner, for “Christ, once raised from the dead can never die again”, but in the reality of His now Risen Body.
So what the Mass offers to us is the marvelous way that Jesus can be with us in the here and now, hidden behind the appearance of bread and wine, and bringing with Him the intimate celebration with His apostles in the Upper Room, the bloody and painful death of the Cross, and the glorious power of His risen Body.
The memory of what Christ has done for us is supernaturalized by the Holy Spirit for us. It does not just bring Him to mind; He really is there, and abides there afterwards in the Tabernacle, so that we can remember what He has done for us, and wants to do for us who believe in Him.