O Sacrum Convivium! | Holy Thursday in a Time of Pandemic

Fra Angelico, The Last Supper | Detail, Silver Treasury of Santissima Annunziata | ca. 1450-53, Tempera on Panel | Museo di San Marco, Firenze

Fra Angelico, The Last Supper | Detail, Silver Treasury for Santissima Annunziata | ca. 1450-53, Tempera on Panel | Museo di San Marco, Firenze


O Sacred Banquet…

The Master hosts the dinner—man and God, He sits at table.  This is the banquet of the end. The end has come.  “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13.1).  He loved His own, and He loved them to the end. And He becomes the host—He makes Himself bread that we may receive him as food.

And so the banquet is sacred.  Sacred, because it anticipates the Supreme Sacrifice.  A banquet, because it is the lavish feast that enables our communion with God The Son.  Here we become sharers in divine life as we are nourished by its Source.  We are redeemed, as we are fed with the sacrifice of His Flesh and Blood offered on the Cross.  The sacred feast of redemption begins on the evening of Holy Thursday.  He came to die. The hour brings the beginning of the consummation of the Savior’s life upon the altar of Calvary.

…At which Christ is received

There is no distance now; no spiritual isolation.  “He gave them bread from heaven; mortals ate the bread of angels” (Ps 77).  Mortals feast on divine food: the food that angels delight in—heavenly manna for the present exile.  Ecce Panis Angelorum: “Behold the bread of angels, sent for pilgrims in their banishment”, St. Thomas Aquinas sings.

The Bread of Angels becomes the life of men.  It is an extraordinary conversion by which an exchange takes place—for the sake of incorporation.  God gives himself as bread for us.  He gives himself in the way we can receive Him, in order to give us a way into Him.  This priestly work is both the action and the identity of Christ.  Through His priesthood—the One Priesthood—He consecrates bread and wine.  It is His divine Priesthood that becomes the offering—His Priestly Flesh and His Priestly Blood that we consume.

The intrinsic relationship between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Holy Orders clearly emerges from Jesus’ own words in the Upper Room: “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19).  On the night before he died, Jesus instituted the Eucharist and at the same time established the priesthood of the New Covenant.  He is priest, victim and altar: the mediator between God the Father and his people (cf. Heb 5:5-10), the victim of atonement (cf. 1 Jn 2:2, 4:10) who offers himself on the altar of the Cross.  No one can say “this is my body” and “this is the cup of my blood” except in the name and in the person of Christ, the one high priest of the new and eternal Covenant (cf. Heb 8-9).

Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 23

What do we bring to the altar?  Our flesh. In receiving Christ, we became what we receive—we become Christ.

The bread you see on the altar, sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. The chalice, or rather, what the chalice contains, sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ. In these signs, Christ the Lord willed to entrust to us his body and the blood which he shed for the forgiveness of our sins. If you have received them properly, you yourselves are what you have received.

-St. Augustine of Hippo, In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, 21, 8

He is Himself the Feast.  Himself, the Lamb.  Himself, the Altar of the sacrifice.  We incarnate this mystery.  And this is a double consecration: He consecrates bread and wine, to consecrate us.  “Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people; and God himself with them shall be their God” (Revelation 21.3).

…The memory of His Passion is renewed

The memory of the slain Lamb is celebrated.  “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22.19).  

The Eucharistic work of remembrance is our participation by grace in the Mystery of the Incarnation—our portal into the Mystery of the Word Made Flesh in Bread made God.

The Eucharist, […], should be regarded as in a manner a continuation and extension of the Incarnation.  For in and by it the substance of the incarnate Word is united with individual men, and the supreme Sacrifice offered on Calvary is in a wondrous manner renewed, as was signified before and by Malachy in the words: “In every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a pure oblation” (Mal. i., II).

-Pope Leo XIII,  Miræ Caritatis, 7

Only Christ’s oblation may be a pure oblation.  And His oblation purifies.  We are recipients of the infinite merits of His Sacrifice to the Father.  By His Priestly oblation we are fed, and now again, by priestly intercession, we are brought to the Sacrifice.  It is offered for us and with us.  And we can offer it with Him.  “Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2.4-5).

Do this in remembrance of Me.  This command is specific.  It is a command to offer The Son to the Father for the salvation of the world.  It is an eternal remembrance—a living remembrance, and a living sacrifice.  It is the remembrance of a living Love. 

“To the unbloody gift of Himself, under the appearance of bread and wine, Our Savior, Jesus Christ, wished, as a special proof of His intimate and infinite love to add the bloody Sacrifice of the Cross. Indeed, in His way of acting, He gave an example of that sublime charity which He set before His disciples as the highest measure of love: ‘Greater love than this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). Wherefore, the love of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, by the Sacrifice of Golgotha, clearly and richly proves the love of God Himself: ‘In this we have come to know His love, that He laid down His life for us; and we likewise ought to lay down our life for the brethren’ (John 2:16). And in fact Our Divine Redeemer was nailed to the Cross more by His love than by the force of the executioners. His voluntary holocaust is the supreme gift which He bestowed on each man according to the concise words of the Apostle: ‘Who loved me, and gave Himself up for me’ (Gal. 2:20)”.

-Pius XII, Haurietis Aquas, 73-74

St. Augustine teaches that when we see love, we see the Trinity (cf. De Trinitate, VIII, 8.12).  What is true of human charity is first manifest in the Trinitarian oblation of the Son.  His oblation, and His divine love, are what we remember.  Our love for His sublime sacrifice is the way we remember—the way we see God The Trinity—yes, even as we are cloistered in our homes on a Holy Thursday evening.

And why would we do this?  Because the Eucharistic banquet feast of Holy Thursday, and the sacred oblation of Good Friday bring mortal flesh to the holy silence of the tomb, where death will die in the victory of Life.

…The soul is filled with grace

The soul—our soul—is now a temple: it is the place where God dwells.  Grace and charity abide there.  “God is love; and he that dwells in love, dwells in God, and God in him” (I John 4.16).  He wished communion with his own whom he loved in the world, and whom loved to the end.

The soul—our soul— is now the altar. It is the place where the oblation is made—the place when union is born. It is stone anointed with the oil of gladness, consecrated for sacrifice.

The soul—our soul— is now the paten, and the chalice. The ‘Sacramentum Caritatis’—the Sacrament of Love rests there.

Temples are closed, but we are filled with grace. Filled with grace, because the God who became flesh and then became bread for us is not held back by temporal contingencies, but transubstantiates them, making Himself so deeply accessible as to enter the intimacy of our bodies—of each human soul.  Love does this.  And only the malady of sin impedes it.  It is for this reason that the banquet of the Upper Room becomes ours today.  Spiritually ours.  Truly ours.

In isolation, we are guests of God.

And a pledge of future glory is given to us

And we are now promised even more—a future glory.  “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6.54-56).

A bold and profound eschatological truth is unleashed for us in these words.  Having fed on the Sacred Body and Precious Blood, now, in pandemic isolation, we hope for eternity.  Now, we become signs of the life of beatitude.  Now, each hidden in or own home, we are already spiritually witnessing the Banquet to come—the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, when God becomes all in all.  Now, we prepare for our hour—for that finality of our earthly lives, when having loved those who are our own in the world, and having loved them to the end, we may partake of the banquet feast of paradise.

In the calling of the Twelve, which is to be understood in relation to the twelve tribes of Israel, and in the command he gave them at the Last Supper, before his redemptive passion, to celebrate his memorial, Jesus showed that he wished to transfer to the entire community which he had founded the task of being, within history, the sign and instrument of the eschatological gathering that had its origin in him.  Consequently, every eucharistic celebration sacramentally accomplishes the eschatological gathering of the People of God.  For us, the eucharistic banquet is a real foretaste of the final banquet foretold by the prophets (cf. Is 25:6-9) and described in the New Testament as “the marriage-feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:7-9), to be celebrated in the joy of the communion of saints

Sacramentum Caritatis, 31

O Sacred Banquet!  O Banquet where we receive “the medicine of immortality, the antidote to prevent us from dying” (cf. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians, 20)!  O Holy Feast that strengthens our faith and sustains our frailty!  O Fount of Grace who purify our feeble love, and transform us into You.

O transforming Sacrament of Love!

O Sacred Hope! Abound, now, in a plague-stricken world!


St. Thomas Aquinas composed the O Sacred Banquet (O Sacrum Convivium) prayer as an antiphon for the Feast of Corpus Christi.  It is also traditionally prayed within the Order of Preachers on entering a church, and preceding the each of the hours of the Divine Office.


O Sacred Banquet,

In which Christ is received,

The memory of His Passion is renewed,

The mind is filled with grace,

And a pledge of future glory is given to us.

V.  Thou didst give them bread from heaven:

R.  Containing in itself all sweetness.

O God, who under a wonderful Sacrament hast left us a memorial of Thy Passion; grant us, we beseech Thee, so to reverence the sacred mysteries of Thy Body and Blood, that we may ever feel within ourselves the fruit of Thy Redemption.

Who livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen.