The Last Supper and the Sacred Passion of Christ.
For centuries theologians and scholars have debated questions like, “Why did Jesus die?” and “How does Christ’s sacrifice save us?” Does Christ take on our own punishments in order to satisfy the justice of God? Or does Christ die in order to break the power of the devil over humankind? Or is Christ’s Sacred Passion simply the expression of God’s infinite Love that seeks to save that which was lost?
These various theories of the Redemption have been perceived as competing explanations of the Redemption. I would like to suggest, however, that they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Perhaps we can find an overarching theory that would incorporate the results of each of the other theories, and offer us a more comprehensive understanding of the Redemption.
One such overarching theory has been inspired by the idea of the underlying unity of the Last Supper and the Sacred Passion of Christ. Let’s call it the Theory of Unity. St Faustina, for one, seems to have had some insight into this aspect of the Redemption. I will consider her account of this and what might be the implications of a Theory of Unity.
Saint Faustina Kowalska, who started writing her Diary in the 1930s after the Lord Jesus had initiated her into the depths of His Divine Mercy, gives us an interesting perspective on this question. She wrote that Jesus’ Sacred Passion is the “external ceremony” of what He had already given in the Eucharist: His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. It is worth quoting this passage in full:
“+Holy Hour. –Thursday. During this hour of prayer, Jesus allowed me to enter the Cenacle, and I was a witness to what happened there. However, I was most deeply moved when, before the Consecration, Jesus raised His eyes to heaven and entered into a mysterious conversation with His Father. It is only in eternity that we shall really understand that moment. His eyes were like two flames; His face was radiant, white as snow; His whole personage full of majesty, His soul full of longing. At the moment of Consecration, love rested satiated–the sacrifice fully consummated. Now only the external ceremony of death will be carried out–external destruction; the essence [of it] is in the Cenacle. Never in my whole life had I understood this mystery so profoundly as during that hour of adoration. Oh, how ardently I desire that the whole world would come to know this unfathomable mystery!” (Diary 684)
At the Last Supper Jesus, as God-made-Man, communes with His Father and invites His disciples to enter into the same communion. Jesus offers Himself to the Father, enters into mysterious communion with His Father, and then offers this same Holy Communion of Himself to the disciples in the Blessed Eucharist. This is the essence of our Redemption which Jesus accomplishes: giving Himself in Holy Communion, completely offering Himself as Nourishment, the Bread of Life (see John 6:35). The sacrifice is “fully consummated”.
This is the essence of our Redemption: to enter into Christ’s perfect communion with the Father. In His offering Jesus both satisfies God’s Justice and dispenses God’s Mercy, enabling the forgiveness of sins and the gift of Eternal Life. Remember Jesus’ prayer to the Father after the Last Supper: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:22,23)
He then freely endures the Sacred Passion, the “external ceremony” of what He had already accomplished at the Last Supper, so that souls may begin to understand, may consciously respond to His offering, and may begin to participate in His Love. Compare with Jesus’ penultimate words on the Cross: “It is accomplished.” (John 19:30). And then: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) wrote that Christ’s Cross and Resurrection is a “gratuitous show of love to reorient sinners back to God” (Introduction to Christianity).
The Last Supper and the Sacred Passion are one. The first is the essential gift of His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity (the Blessed Eucharist), the second is the “external ceremony of death” (the Sacred Passion); one is communicated in the Sacrament and in secret, the other is communicated openly in actions that even the hardest heart can understand; in the first Jesus communicates Himself to those who are able to receive Him in faith, in the second Jesus communicates Himself to those who do not yet know the depths of His love, so that all together may come to know God’s Love and Mercy.
We might conclude, therefore, that Jesus died in order to demonstrate and communicate visibly that which He had already offered in Holy Communion, and that by doing so–in His Sacred Passion–He clearly and definitively communicates the infinite depths of God’s tender Love and Mercy, which in essence is our Redemption. Our Redemption is constituted essentially by Jesus’ offering to the Father, the communication of His perfect communion with the Father, and its visible manifestation in His Sacred Passion.
The various theories of the Redemption mentioned above can perhaps be integrated as one–under such a Theory of Unity. In this essay, I wanted only to present a Theory of Unity, based on the work of Saint Faustina, and suggest that this may be a foundation for reconciling the various theories of the Redemption.
Lord Jesus, in virtue of Your Sacred Passion, grant me to know all the depths of Your Love and Mercy, and to confide my whole being to You, with all my cares and concerns and intentions. Amen.
Leba Sleiman © 2015