Was Holy Mary, the mother of Jesus, present at the last Supper, the supper on which we base our celebration of Mass? The answer must be a resounding Yes, because we know she was in Jerusalem the following day, the Friday when Jesus was crucified. We know that, because St John tells us that he stood at the foot of the cross with her.(John 19:25-27) I suspect that the reason her presence is not mentioned on the night before, is probably that anyone reading it in those days would have taken it for granted that she and the other women would be present. Minds at that time, and until quite recently would have thought “Who else would have cooked the food and laid the table?” But further, if any of you have been to a Jewish Sabbath meal or Passover meal, or seen it on the TV, you would know that the mother of the house has a specific role in the ceremonies, and not just in the cooking.
Our Gospel today (Luke 1:39-56) however takes us right back to before the birth of Jesus, when a pregnant Mary visits Elizabeth, and clearly proclaims that in some way her son Jesus is going to defeat the evil powers of the world. “He has routed the proud of heart. …pulled down princes from their thrones” etc. – and “princes” here means evil powers, not Prince William or Harry! Knowing this, Mary will not want Jesus to avoid the coming confrontation that she, like he, knows must happen. But she can also remember the words spoken when she presented her baby in the Temple (Luke 2:29-35) “This child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel ….. (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.)” So, unlike the disciples, Mary knows that her son’s defeat of evil will come through suffering and sacrifice, and that she will have to watch and suffer alongside him, before a greater glory appears beyond his death.
So when at the Last Supper, Jesus says “This is my body.. broken for you… this is my Blood.. shed for you”, Mary is more aware than anyone else there what that must mean. Yet there is no sign of her trying to stop him, only a deep faith that somehow, as she watches her son go forward into suffering, God will be at work; only a realisation that, as she suffers agonies as she watches her beloved one die, somehow that death will defeat all the evil that oppresses the human world. As St Paul says in our 2nd Reading (1 Cor 15:20-26) “Just as all die in Adam, so all will be brought to life in Christ.”
This is why one of the most important things we must realise about the Mass is, that it is the way above all ways in which we, like Mary, are drawn into the sacrifice of Christ. The Mass is the way in which we can become one with that suffering that, though so dreadful, defeats all the evil we human beings either suffer ourselves, or inflict on others, through our own greed, and anger and stupidity.
The Church therefore often refers to the Mass as a sacrifice, but we must be careful about the use of this term, as it is one of the misunderstandings that led to the Protestants splitting from the Church at the Reformation. The Mass is a sacrifice not in its own right, like the sacrifices the priests used to offer in the old days; but because it is the bringing into the present of the one perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross. As we hear in the Letter to the Hebrews (7:26-27) “We have.. a high priest, (Jesus) holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily…. he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” (on the cross)
So the priest at Mass prays to God on our behalf, “Look upon the oblation (which means the offering) of your Church (that’s us) and, recognising the sacrificial Victim (that’s Jesus on the cross)… we may become one Body, one Spirit in Christ.” In other words we ask that we may be drawn into his sacrifice, that like Mary at the foot of the cross, we might be certain, despite the tragedy which pierces our soul, that this will ultimately lead to glory. But the Prayer at Mass makes this even more explicit, for the Priest says a few seconds later “May this Sacrifice of our reconciliation,,, advance the peace and salvation of all the world.” In other words, what we celebrate at Mass, which includes our own offering, our own little sacrifices of love and service (more on that next week) is not just for us, it is celebrated for the whole world.
This is why Mass is so important. It’s not a ceremony put on for us to make us feel better or more holy. The Mass exists to draw us into the love of God himself, shown to us most of all by that suffering on the Cross, and shown to us too by the image of Our Lady of Sorrows watching her son suffer and die, and yet believing that this was not the end. We are being called into love, so that we may learn to love like that, every day. No wonder those who come wanting to be entertained at Mass get nothing out of it! They have missed the point!
Today, we celebrate the glory of Mary drawn into the glory of heaven just as we will be, not by our own efforts however worthy they may be, but by the mystery of God’s sacrificial love. We celebrate the dragon– that is the evil of this world – defeated – the dragon we heard of in our 1st Reading (Rev 11:19.12:1-10) But note where that defeat takes us….for the woman there is not just Mary but us the Church and we are taken, not immediately into the glory of heaven, but into the desert. Like Jesus after his baptism choosing to go into the desert, so we choose to follow him into that world of struggle and service that we are called to as members of the Church. Holy Mary, Mother of the Church, you know what suffering means, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen