"Living is Christ and dying is gain"

Tom Bartolomeo
Holy Thursday C 2013c
Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116;
Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-15
Reproduced with Permission

Is there anything more remarkable in the Gospels than his Apostles' denial that Jesus would die although he had explicitly told them this at least three times? After his Transfiguration on Mont Tabor, for example, when Jesus told Peter, John and James "tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead" - the Apostles were confounded, too embarrassed to ask Jesus "what this rising from the dead could mean" (Mark 9: 9-10) although he had told them in another instance, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live." (John 11,25). What is this fear of death for a man of faith?

To this day at nearly every funeral service I have conducted I have meet many who also are confounded by issues of life and death not grasping Jesus' teaching, "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12, 24-25) (Italics mine). Where is our treasure: "in this world" or in the world to come . . . without Christ or with Christ? One world must give way to the other. We can not straddle both worlds - serve the prince of this world and God's world at the same time - which is the cause of most people's anxieties and denials. The Apostle Paul put it very succinctly, "For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain". (Philippians 1, 21).

Jesus at his Last Supper embraced this ideal - "living is Christ and dying is gain". When Judas set in motion Christ's betrayal Jesus told Judas before he left to conspire with Jesus' enemies, "What you are going to do, do quickly . . . . When he had left, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified." (John 13: 27-32). Then the funeral service began with Christ as priest, sacrifice and meal transforming Himself into the new Passover, into "The new and eternal covenant" we celebrate at the Eucharist which would be completed with Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. All the other temporal covenants of God with ordinary men, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David would then be supplanted with the eternal covenant of the Son of God, Son of Man, with God the Father. At Mass the Body and Blood of Christ are consecrated separately, singly and not together. In Christ's own words you will first hear at the consecration, "Take this . . . and eat of it, for this is my Body" and then,"Take this . . . and drink . . . This is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins." Yes, Christ dies here on this altar, His body is separated from his blood. This is not simply God's way of sharing his living Son with us but our means of incorporating in ourselves his dead, risen, living body altogether! We consume in Holy Communion his death and resurrection in a body broken on a Cross and glorified in heaven. In this and every Mass the Son God made-man lives, suffers, dies and rises from the dead over the course of the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday which is repeated every time the Mass is celebrated as Christ commanded his Church, "Do this in Memory of Me."

When Jesus commanded, "Do this in memory of Me" he replaced the Jewish Passover sacrifice and meal with Himself, at once Priest, Victim and Savior prefigured for nearly fifteen hundred years of Jewish Scripture and ritual reconciling man with God through His Son, the only plausible intermediary with God the Father - the new and everlasting Passover, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." At the same time Christ's command "Do this in memory of me" became the means of our salvation, and established the Priesthood of Jesus Christ and the memorial of his death and resurrection we call the Mass. "Ite Missa Est, "Go forth" and live the life God gave you. Tomorrow, Good Friday, as a Priest of Jesus Christ I will commemorate Christ's death in a memorial service, not Mass - He is in the tomb. On the ancient Vigil of the Passover established by God with Moses we, too, once more will wait for the deliverance of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.

Unfortunately, many Catholics do not understand this liturgy, the work of the Mass, and think of Church primarily as a gathering place for fellowship. This is, rather, a place made holy by the presence of God in the Holy of Holies when at another time only Moses could enter the tent of the Lord and the sanctuary to the tabernacle, where in the time of Christ only the high priest once a year could enter on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for the sins of the people wherein were the Ark of the Covenant and the tablets of the Ten Commandments, not Jesus Christ in person as we have. This sanctuary of God is reserved for worship not a place for meetings and conversations. I also find our conduct in Church before and after Mass often scandalous. What would a non-Catholic considering our Faith think? This is not an assembly hall as some other churches have become. At Mass my total focus is on Jesus as the servant of God for whom I stand in His place. My focus is not on you except to read the gospel and to preach the Word as Jesus commanded. The exchange of peace, for instance, is not a time for conversation before receiving Holy Communion but simply an exchange, "Peace be with you. And with your spirit" from one worshiper to another, not groups of worshipers across aisles. It is an optional gesture at Mass which the priest can forgo. Do we remember how outraged Jesus was when he drove out those who defamed the temple, "My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers", he said. (Luke 19:46).

The truth is that the work of the Mass embodies the action of Christ through his Priest to God the Father which defines the sacrifice of the Mass, completely. Our worship and interests are attached to Christ's or have no value or meaning at all. Jesus clearly stated this in his final instructions to his Apostles following the Passover meal "when Jesus had spoken these words he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said . . . I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may be one; even as thou, Father, are in me and I in thee, that they also may be in us." (John 17: 1, 20) Only Christ through the priest can mediate to the Father for man. No one else in justice would be capable of such mediation, standing before God, our Father and Creator. The consecration of bread and wine into Jesus' Body and Blood achieves this. Why, too, we should be mindful, "Whoever . . . eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner," warned Saint Paul, "will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord." (The Sacrament of penance is required for the remission of any grave serious sin before receiving Holy Communion and is reserved for baptized professed Catholics only.) All the power and grace of Our Lord are dispensed through the Mass. At Mass we essentially and briefly coexist in two worlds, heaven and earth, as expressed in the oldest Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass - by attaching our minds and wills to the Priest Celebrant who says:

"In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing."