The Gospels tell us that Christ prayed the way a devout Jew faithful to the law prayed. Just as he made pilgrimages to Jerusalem at the prescribed times with his parents as a child, so he later journeyed to the temple to celebrate the high feasts there with his disciples. Surely he sang with holy enthusiasm along with his people the exultant hymns in which the pilgrim’s joyous anticipation streamed forth: “I rejoiced when I heard them say: Let us go to God’s house” (Ps 122:1).
From his last supper with his disciples, we know that Jesus said the old blessings over bread, wine, and the fruits of the earth, as they are prayed to this day. So he fulfilled one of the most sacred religious duties: the ceremonial Passover Seder to commemorate deliverance from slavery in Egypt. And perhaps this very gathering gives us the most profound glimpse into Christ’s prayer and the key to understanding the prayer of the Church.
While they were at supper, he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.”
In the same way, he took the cup, filled with wine. He gave you thanks, and giving the cup to his disciples, said, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven” (Roman Missal, Cf. Mt 26:26-28).
Blessing and distributing bread and wine were part of the Passover rite. But here both receive an entirely new meaning. This is where the life of the Church begins. Only at Pentecost will it appear publicly as a Spirit-filled and visible community. But here at the Passover meal, the seeds of the vineyard are planted that make the outpouring of the Spirit possible. In the mouth of Christ, the old blessings become life-giving words. The fruits of the earth become his body and blood, filled with his life.
Visible creation, which he entered when he became a human being, is now united with him in a new, mysterious way. The things that serve to sustain human life are fundamentally transformed, and the people who partake of them in faith are transformed too, drawn into the unity of life with Christ and filled with his divine life.
The Word’s life-giving power is bound to the sacrifice. The Word became flesh in order to surrender the life he assumed, to offer himself and a creation redeemed by his sacrifice in praise to the Creator.
Through the Lord’s last supper, the Passover meal of the Old Covenant is converted into the Easter meal of the New Covenant: into the sacrifice on the cross at Golgotha and those joyous meals between Easter and Ascension when the disciples recognized the Lord in the breaking of bread, and into the sacrifice of the Mass with Holy Communion.
Saint Edith Stein
The Prayer of the Church (excerpt)
Akademischen Bonifacius-Einigung, Paderborn (1936)
Stein, E. 2014, The Hidden Life: hagiographic essays, meditations, spiritual texts, translated from the German by Stein, W, ICS Publications, Washington DC.