Get Ready for Good Friday With These Reflections
On Holy Thursday, Christ established the sacrament through which we experience His lasting presence on earth, the Eucharist. On Good Friday, He died for us and our sins so that we may be united with Him forever after death in Heaven, our true home.
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:23-26)
This highlights the extraordinary nature of Jesus' revelation to Paul—that the resurrected Jesus instructed Paul personally. He mentions to the Galatians (1:1, 12) and Ephesians (3:1-3) that it was Jesus who revealed the mysteries of the faith to him.
For all the beautiful theology of the Eucharist that has developed over the course of two centuries, the sacrament is rather simple. The Eucharist is Jesus Himself (John 6:51) and comes from Jesus Himself. Our Savior instituted the sacrament at the at the Last Supper (see Matt 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-39) and passed on the very same to Paul in Person. The Church didn’t dream up the sacrament, she is just following instructions from her founder! He commanded his followers to “do this in remembrance” of Him.
The Eucharist encompasses the full revelation of Jesus Christ. The Word is made flesh and dwells among us every Sunday in every Catholic Church, recalling the Incarnation and the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel. Jesus came to fulfill all the prophecies given in the Old Testament. He is the bread of life and the true bread from heaven: which is the fulfillment of the manna in the desert (Exodus 16). We proclaim Jesus as the Lamb of God, which is the fulfillment of the Passover lamb. The sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary is anticipated at the Last Supper (“this is My Body, which will be given up for you”) and that sacrifice is mystically made present at each Mass. It also makes present the resurrection, and fulfills Jesus’ promise to be with us always, even to the end of the age.
Finally, we call the Eucharist “holy communion” because it accomplishes what Jesus prayed, “that we may be one” (John 17:21). It unites us not only to Him, but to all the members of the Body of Christ as well: the Church throughout the world, those in heaven, and those in Purgatory.
The resurrected Jesus may not appear to each of us in person like He did to Paul. Still, we can encounter Him in the Eucharist—the very same sacrament that Paul himself celebrated.
“[Pilate] said to the Jews, 'Here is your King!' They cried out, 'Away with him, away with him, crucify him!' Pilate said to them, 'Shall I crucify your King?' The chief priests answered, 'We have no king but Caesar.' Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.” (John 19:14-16)
Pilate's best efforts not to get involved with Jesus didn't work; he had no choice but to take a stand one way or the other. Is it any different today? The world today shouts, 'Jesus is not our king' just as the Jews of the day did.
Being the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus knew what would happen. He tried to drop hints to the apostles on a few occasions that He must suffer and die and be rejected (e.g. Mark 9:12, Matt 16:21). The apostles were excited to be in the company of the Messiah, and the talk of the cross and the Passion didn’t make sense. Peter tried to talk Jesus out of it, earning a memorable rebuke.
What was Jesus' response to the push back of the apostles? He went anyway. He knew what was going to happen; He anticipated every lash, the puncture of each thorn, and the holes in His hands and feet. This isn't Jesus weakly acquiescing to torture; on the cross, He is fighting for us. It’s difficult for us to see, for He didn't fight with fists or weapons. With charity and humility, He grabbed hold of sin, evil, and death and drowned them in His infinite love.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom 6:3-5)
The readings of the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday are a great course in salvation history. One of the central themes is water, since new Catholics are usually baptized at the Easter Vigil. The account of creation in the first reading mentions the Spirit of God hovering over the waters (from Gen 1). The third reading recounts the crossing of the Red Sea by Moses and the Israelites (Ex 14-15), passing from a state of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land. In the fifth reading, Isaiah exhorts all the thirsty to come to the water (Is 55). With all that as a backdrop, the Church is guiding us to look typologically at the Old Testament. The New Testament reading finishes with St. Paul’s teaching on baptism in Romans 6.
No more are the ritual washings of the Old Covenant; there is but one that washes away sin and unites us corporeally with Jesus. Both the death and the resurrection of Jesus are present in the rite of baptism; many of the same symbols carry over into the funeral rites. After being baptized, the new son or daughter of God is clothed in a white garment. At a funeral, the coffin is covered with a white pall, recalling the baptismal garment and pointing toward the resurrection. The paschal candle is present at both baptisms and funerals, and at a funeral, holy water is used to bless the coffin.
In the waters of baptism, Jesus opened to us an endless treasury of divine love! The sting of death is gone, and eternal communion with the Holy Trinity awaits. What previously felt like the end is now a beginning. We must stay true to the Catholic faith and to the promises made at our baptism—we have everything to gain.
Praise Jesus, conqueror of sin and death!