Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for Maundy Thursday: "In Remembrance of Me: Jesus’ words are also meant for all of those who today cannot receive sacramental communion."

Maundy Thursday

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, April 9, 2020

Hoc facite... in meam commemorationem.
Do this in remembrance of Me.
(1 Co 11:25)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

This morning, the sacred Triduum began, three days which will end on Easter morning by the announcement, borne by a few women to the disciples, of their discovery of the rolled stone and the empty tomb. He is risen.

These days are at the heart of our faith. Many years have elapsed since then, two thousand years ago. Yet, pilgrims in Jerusalem are still able today to point out the place: He has risen there, in this town, in this very place. Yet, does this mean that this link with the past is the sole one surviving after many centuries?

After the words of the consecration of the bread and wine, such as they are told by the epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, but also by St. Luke (cf. 22:19), the Lord gave His apostles a commandment, “Do this in remembrance of Me”, instituting by these very words the sacrament of the Eucharist.

This request of the Lord might seem paradoxical today, whereas so many churches are closed during these holy days, and so many Christians have been unable for several weeks now to receive the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance. Beyond the very special times we are living, we should add the fact that in our countries of old Christendom, priestly vocations are becoming more rare. How shall we answer this request of the Lord within twenty, ten, or even barely five years?

Tonight, we solemnly commemorate the act the Lord carried out amidst His disciples. But is it a mere meal, the remembrance of which we should keep alive?

What Jesus lived with His disciples “on the night He was betrayed” is a mystery. As such, it includes both a visible side, and a hidden side: a dimension easily grasped by the senses, and a spiritual dimension, that can be partly grasped by the intellect, and that is partly hidden, to be received in faith.

Jesus therefore gives a command, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” It is truly a command, “Do.” It comes from a man, from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, from God. Any word coming from this Heart cannot but be the expression of an immense love. The Lord’s invitation thus points out the sacrament of the Eucharist as the prominent place where God wants to encounter us. As we receive it, we receive not only grace, but the very Author of grace. Priests obey the command the Lord gave by remaining unremittingly faithful to the daily celebration of Mass, and the faithful comply by receiving this sacrament as frequently as they can.

But Jesus didn’t merely say, “Do.” He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Too often, when we do something, what is at stake for us is only to do, to do so as to do. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Remembering someone cannot be limited to remembering a convivial moment, such as may have been the moment of the Last Supper for Jesus and His apostles.

For that matter, the context of the event is not that of a commonplace meal. It is the Passover meal. Jesus carries out the rite prescribed to Moses and the Hebrew people, when the latter was preparing to flee from Egypt. With Jesus, the rite takes an altogether different meaning, or rather, it receives its full meaning. This rite was carried out in favor of a few Hebrews kept captive in Egypt, then repeated by their offspring as a thanksgiving for the faithfulness and goodness of God, Who set free His people. This rite becomes in Christ the expression of God’s mercy and affection towards all men and women ensnared by sin, and who are seeking a savior.

The passover of the Hebrews had begun with the preparation of a ritual meal, then they had fled towards the Red Sea, gone down into the depths of the sea on dry ground, and climbed back on the other bank, then entered the promised land. Christ’s Passover begins with the meal of the Last Supper, continues as He dies on the cross, then goes down among the dead, and climbs back triumphantly in resurrection on the morning of Easter. Just as the entry into the promised land gave its meaning to the first passover, Christ’s resurrection gives its sense to the last meal He took with His disciples, to the whole Paschal mystery, and thereby, to each Mass and each communion.

“Do this in remembrance of Me.” At the centre of this mystery there is a person, Christ. It is in His remembrance that the rites will have to be carried out. But are we talking of a mere remembrance? Christ didn’t leave us these few words as the last will and testament of someone who soon will no longer be able to speak. Christ today is not dead, but He is alive, and He makes us alive. Christ’s Passover is continued and completed in each of our own passovers. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the supreme gift God gives man. We are not forsaken in the valley of shadows and death. As a shepherd, Christ is heading and leading His fold. He was the first one to break the bonds of death, and opened up for us the path towards true Life.

“Do this in remembrance of Me.” By these words, Christ shows us the sole path towards salvation:

This is My body, which is for you. [...] This cup is the new covenant in My blood. (1 Co 11:24-25)
“Do this in remembrance of Me.” Christ invites every man to communion with His life. St. Paul asserted, “To me, to live is Christ.” (Ph 1:20-21) Jesus’ words are also meant for all of those who today cannot receive sacramental communion. Just as He offers His body, He also offers an abundance of grace to whomever is willing to receive it.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me,

Body of Christ, save me,
Blood of Christ, inebriate me,
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me,
O good Jesus, hear me,
Within Thy wounds hide me,
Permit me not to be separated from Thee.
From the wicked foe defend me,
At the hour of my death call me,
And bid me come to Thee,
That with Thy saints I may praise Thee
For ever and ever.