Thursday: Holy Week–A Dangerous Memory

Guest article by Fr Emmanuel McCarthy

Friends,

The Eucharist, thanks to which, God’s absolute ‘no’ to violence, pronounced on the cross, is kept alive through the centuries. The Eucharist is the sacrament of non-violence! 

-Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap. (March 11, 2005)

 The narrative of Jesus’ Passion and death was the first part of the Gospel Tradition to acquire a fixed structure and, of all portions of the Gospels, was the first to be included as a recited liturgical remembrance. Note it is the narrative of Jesus’ Passion and death that was the central remembrance around which the Gospels took form and that was the primal remembrance of Christian liturgical recital. Note also, it was narrative, and only narrative, tethered intrinsically to the Gospels’ Passion narrative, which was primal and paramountnot theological, metaphysical or mystical expositions of the Passion of Jesus.

Probably a billion Christians participate in the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Agape Meal, the Mass, the Divine Liturgy with some remembrance of Jesus’ Passion and death every week. Moreover, billions of other Christians over the last two thousand years have also participated in the Eucharist. Think what the Church and the world might be today, if today and yesterday, Christians continuously heard in the anamnesis/remembrance narrative of the Eucharist Prayer—instead of the verbal generalities “suffered” and “died” as the remembrance of Jesus Passion and death—a narrative of particulars drawn directly from the narratives of the Gospels. For example, suppose that instead of simply “suffered and died,” a billion Christians this week heard and billions of Christians going all the way back to the time of Constantinian continuously heard and pondered a liturgical recital of the Passion narrative along the lines of the following: what would be the state of the Church and humanity at this moment?

 On the night before He went forth to His eternally memorable and life-giving death, like a Lamb led to slaughter, rejecting violence, loving His enemies, and praying for His persecutors, He bestowed upon His disciples the gift of a New Commandment:

“Love one another. As I have loved you,
so you also should love one another.”

Then He took bread into His hands, and giving thanks, broke it, and gave it to His disciples saying:

“Take this, all of you, and eat of it,
for this is my body,
which will be given up for you.”

In a similar way, when the Supper was ended, He took the chalice. And once more giving thanks, He gave it to His disciples, saying:

“Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
for this is the cup 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,
“Do this in memory of me.”

Obedient, therefore, to this precept of salvation, we call to mind and reverence His passion where He lived to the fullest the precepts which He taught for our sanctification. We remember His suffering at the hands of a fallen humanity filled with the spirit of violence and enmity. But, we remember also that He endured this humiliation with a love free of retaliation, revenge, and retribution. We recall His execution on the cross. But, we recall also that He died loving enemies, praying for persecutors, forgiving, and being superabundantly merciful to those for whom justice would have demanded justice. Finally, we celebrate the memory of the fruits of His trustful obedience to thy will, O God: the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand, the second and glorious coming. Therefore we offer You your own, from what is your own, in all and for the sake of all…

Excerpt from The Nonviolent Eucharist (1991)

The intentional erasure or hiding or ignoring of a memory or of history always serves an end. It is not possible to envision any spiritual advantage or to find any good end that is served by truncating the Eucharistic Passion narrative down to “suffered and died.” Such an extremist shrinking of the narrative of Jesus’ Passion all but converts the Eucharistic anamnesis into a liturgical instrument of amnesia.

Holy Thursday of Holy Week is a dangerous memory because it is the memory of the institution of the Eucharistic with its two commands: “Do this in memory of me,” and the “new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.”  If the memory of me is bowdlerized, then the content and meaning of the new commandment will be correspondingly bowdlerized. And, the consequence of this interconnected and interactive bowdlerization will be, in the Church and in humanity, what? Look out of the window or turn on the television!

The insertion by the Churches of Christianity of a narrative of Jesus’ Passion—as clear and as descriptive as the narrative of the Gospels—into the anamnesis/remembrance of their Eucharistic Prayer is a requirement of truth, a requirement of agape, a requirement of fidelity to the Word of God Incarnate. It is a gift all Christians need to receive from the leaders of their various Churches. It is a witness to the grace of the cross that all Christians and all humanity need to encounter in Christian practice.

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