I have been strangely comforted over the last few weeks by the realization that the Eucharist is not only “the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being” (CCC # 1325), but also, at its heart and in its roots, a moment of profound betrayal.
In the times we are forced to live through, I have returned to this realization repeatedly, especially at Mass. I have understood more deeply than before that, when the Eucharistic Prayer invites us to ponder the night before Jesus’s death, it is both the night on which he shared a last meal with friends and the night in which he was betrayed. In this night, Jesus broke open the meaning of his life as Divine gift of self in the sharing of bread and wine, and found that gift to be betrayed, not by a stranger or outsider but by one of the twelve. In other words, the night and the meal we recall at every celebration of the Eucharist is not only about the ultimate gift of self for the life of the world for all ages to come, but woven deeply into that Divine gift of self is the human betrayal of that gift.
I take strange comfort in that knowledge these days: that what we enter into in every celebration of the Eucharist is both “the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship [we] offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit” (CCC # 1325) and at the same time the very denial of all that. Woven into every eucharistic celebration, ever since the Last Supper, are glimpses of human betrayal, or, more basic and all-encompassing, the mysterium iniquitatis (“the mystery of evil”).
Maybe there is a flicker of hope in that, for the living of these days? Jesus, after all, did not offer to us a perfect, harmonious, beautiful moment of self-giving, but a deeply troubled night and meal, that nevertheless – and precisely in all its troubled-ness – spells life for the world, and for each of us. Who, after all, ever comes to the eucharistic table without having betrayed, if only in the smallest of ways, what God calls us to be?
Image: from the altarpiece of a Carthusian monastery in Miraflores, Spain