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Thursday, April 01, 2010

In the Upper Room

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (1621-1674)
The Last Supper 1664
Oil on canvas
100 x 142 cm
The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


Christ has just announced that one of them will betray him. The disciples are all talking at once, turning to him: 'Is it me ?`

Pope John Paul II every year on Holy Thursday addressed a letter to Priests "from the Upper Room"

Here is part from his letter addressed to priests From Jerusalem, 23 March 2000 (Holy Thursday) :

"A letter from the Upper Room

2. From this Upper Room I would like to address this letter to you, as I have done for more than twenty years, on Holy Thursday, the day of the Eucharist and “our” day par excellence.

I am indeed writing to you from the Upper Room, thinking back to all that took place within these walls on that evening charged with mystery.

Spiritually, I see Jesus and the Apostles seated at table with him. I think of Peter especially: it is as if I can see him, with the other disciples, watching in amazement the Lord's actions, listening with deep emotion to his words and, for all the burden of his frailty, opening himself to the mystery proclaimed here and soon to be accomplished.

These are the hours of the great battle between the love which gives itself without reserve and the mysterium iniquitatis which is imprisoned in hostility.

The betrayal of Judas appears emblematic of humanity's sin. “It was night”, observes the Evangelist John (13:30): the hour of darkness, an hour of separation and of infinite sadness. Yet in the emotion-filled words of Christ the light of dawn already shines forth: “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:22).

3. We must never cease meditating anew on the mystery of that night. We should often return in spirit to this Upper Room, where we priests especially can feel in a sense “at home”. With regard to the Upper Room, it could be said of us what the Psalmist says of the peoples with regard to Jerusalem: “In the register of peoples, the Lord will write: These were born here” (Ps 86:6).

In this holy room I naturally find myself imagining you in all the various parts of the world, with your myriad faces, some younger, some more advanced in years, in all the different emotional states which you are experiencing: for many, thank God, joy and enthusiasm, for others perhaps suffering or weariness or discouragement.

In all of you I honour the image of Christ which you received at your consecration, the “character” which marks each of you indelibly. It is a sign of the special love which every priest has come to know and upon which he can always rely, either to move ahead joyfully or to make a fresh start with renewed enthusiasm, in the hope of ever greater fidelity. ...

6. It is true that in the history of the priesthood, no less than in the history of the whole People of God, the dark presence of sin is also found. Many times, the human frailty of priests has made it hard to see in them the face of Christ.

Here in the Upper Room why should this amaze us?

Not only did the betrayal of Judas reach its climax here, but Peter himself had to reckon with his weakness as he heard the bitter prediction of his denial. In choosing men like the Twelve, Christ was certainly under no illusions: it was upon this human weakness that he set the sacramental seal of his presence.

And Paul shows us why: “We bear this treasure in earthen vessels, so that it might be clear that this extraordinary power comes from God and not from us” (2 Cor 4:7).

For all the frailties of their priests, then, the People of God have not ceased to put their faith in the power of Christ at work through their ministry. How can we fail in this regard to recall the splendid witness of Saint Francis of Assisi?

Humility led him not to seek the priesthood, but in his Testament he expressed his faith in the mystery of Christ present in priests, declaring that he would turn to them even if they had persecuted him, taking no account of their sin. “And I do this”, he explained, “because the only thing I see of the flesh of the most high Son of God in this world is his most holy Body and Blood which they alone consecrate and they alone administer to others” (Fonti Francescane, No. 113)."


Eeckhout was a Dutch biblical, genre, and portrait painter, as well as a gifted and favourite pupil of Rembrandt, to whom he remained a close friend

It is thought that he studied with him from 1635 to 1640. In 1641, Eeckhout began to produce independent works, signing them with his own name.