Deepening Formation

Do This In Memory of Me

Art: Ugolino da Siena, The Last Supper, Metropolitan Museum of Art

At every Mass, we hear Jesus’ words of institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper: “Take it; this is my body... This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many” (Mark 14:22, 24). Before his Passion and Death on the Cross, Jesus made sure that his disciples—and the Church—had the means to participate in his victory over sin on the Cross. As Jesus institutes the Eucharist and the priesthood, he tells his disciples—and us—“Do this in memory of me.”

Sharing in Jesus’ Paschal Mystery

As the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ in the year of a National Eucharistic Congress, these words of Jesus at the Last Supper invite renewed love of the gift and mystery of the Eucharist. While countless artists have been inspired by the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood, each artistic vision calls forth our contemplative gaze on Jesus’ Paschal Mystery in which we are invited to share.

One such Last Supper image is a serene painting by the Sienese artist, Ugolino da Siena. Completed in the early 14th century for the high altar of the Church of Santa Croce in Florence, the predella altarpiece invites us into the scene of the Last Supper so that we, too, might take our place at the table of Word and sacrament.

We see the disciples of Jesus gathered around a long table covered in a white linen cloth. The interior is tightly spaced, with the table occupying the entire room. The haloed heads of the disciples move animatedly in a variety of gestures, and their richly-hued robes create a brightly colored scene. Only one of the disciples, seated with his back to us, has no halo. We are reminded that Judas’ greedy betrayal was part of this solemn moment.

Taking Our Place at the Table

The disciples’ lively gestures indicate the high point of the meal as Jesus blesses, breaks, and shares bread. Around the table we see plates, cups, and utensils with bread, wine, and other foods evoking Jesus’ desire to nourish his disciples—and us—with the food of his presence and love. Every Eucharist is a fulfillment of that divine desire for friendship with creatures, created in and for love.

The serene figure of Jesus seated at the head of the table on the left captures our attention. John, the beloved disciple, leans over to remain close to Jesus. And as he institutes the Eucharist, Jesus desires only that we take our place at this sacred meal by joining the Church in living out his command, “Do this in memory of me.”

Jem Sullivan, Ph.D., is an associate professor at The Catholic University of America and author of Way of Beauty: Rekindling Eucharistic Amazement with Visio Divina from Our Sunday Visitor.