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November 23, 2022

Worn out from the journey: Reviving our eucharistic faith

Director of Hispanic Initiatives

Jean-Jaques aka James Tissot (1836-1902) is famous for having gone to what was then Palestine in order to sketch subjects that he later used in his art. You can see the influence of his travels on his painting “The Last Supper,” which is striking for its time. Even now, Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece is what most people think of when they imagine the last supper of Christ. Obviously, Tissot’s image is a real departure – and one that should animate our thinking during this time of the Eucharistic Revival.

Last supper - Tissot

In his “Last Supper,” Tissot preserves the scriptural moment: Judas is in the process of leaving; you can see him standing behind the apostles just to the right of center. Jesus is on the extreme right of the painting, and it appears that he and the apostles are singing or praying a hymn at the end of the meal. To choose that moment presents us with some interesting details and some challenges as we seek to revive our eucharistic faith. Look, for example, at the garments worn by the apostles with their backs to us. They show signs of tears and are clearly well-worn from the journey. They do not appear to have been laundered. Every time we come to Eucharist, that is the condition of our lives. We are worn out from the journey and come with our lives messy and torn. And as we look to those with whom we gather, we need to welcome all who come. We need to invite to join us those who seem to be a little less connected to the world as we know it, those struggling to keep house or family intact. It is clearly not a question of us and them: to be disheveled is our common lot.

Perhaps the most striking feature of this last supper is that all the participants are standing, facing Jesus with hands lifted in prayer. Here, at what appears to be the end of the supper, they are ready to face what comes. All but Judas and Jesus are unaware of what is about to transpire, and that is probably for the best. All will be tested. All but two will fail in keeping their commitments. Jesus keeps his commitment of loving us to the end, and in an ironic sense, Judas keeps promises he never should have made, as he betrays the Lord.

As we celebrate the Eucharist, week to week, let this be an inspiration for us. We need to stand ready to meet a future that we do not know. Change, as we know better than many generations, sometimes comes quickly and will require much of us. With the apostles standing before the altar, standing there with Christ, we pray that we might succeed as we face the unknown challenges of the coming day or week. At the same time, even as we leave the table, and even should we fail, we promise to come back to the celebration of the Eucharist, to be that community who stand honestly before Christ in our successes and failures, who recommit ourselves to the body and blood become food and drink. These will strengthen us in our journey, no matter how ragged our lives become.

Dr. Glenn CJ Byer
Dr. Glenn CJ Byer

Glenn CJ Byer has written widely on the liturgy, including articles on the meaning of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, marriage preparation, the renovation of churches and the anointing of the sick. He speaks widely on the role of lay ministers in the Mass.