Sacred Seeing: The Last Supper

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life in 2017!

The Last Supper


Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
Write down any first impressions you have.
What questions does this image raise for you?

Read the Scripture: Matthew 26:20-29
20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve;21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the[b]covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
The scripture reference for this image records two major events taking place at the table in the Upper Room – the betrayal and the institution of the Lord’s Supper. How does the fresco express them both?

If you were to imagine yourself as one of these disciples, which one would it be? Why?

Judas is unmistakable in this image. How does the artist depicted the characteristics of his betrayal? What details does he include? What message do you draw from this?

In the Gospel, Jesus refers to everyone at the table sharing from the same dish. Why is this significant?

What does this image tell you about the Eucharist?

The brilliant light around Jesus – radiating from Jesus – is not unlike the light that shone at the Transfiguration. How are these two events related and what does this say about every celebration of the Eucharist?


Which side of the table in my sitting on today, Lord?
I want to be close by your side,
but if these men didn’t have the strength to stay with you,
how can I?
I can at least sit with you today,
in the wash of your light,
even if I am afraid my choices may someday betray you…
will someday betray you.
I can at least come to the Meal.
Whenever you serve it, I can come.
And I will keep on coming, Lord,
until your side of the table
becomes the only place for me to sit.

O sacrum convivium
O sacred banquet!
In which Christ is received,
the memory of his passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge a future glory to us is given.
– Thomas Aquinas

A Word from the Tradition
With complete confidence let us all partake of the body and blood of Christ. For in the type of bread his body is given to you, and in the type of wine his blood, that by partaking of the body and blood of Christ you may become one body and one blood with him. Thus, when his body and blood or imparted to our bodies, we become Christ bears. As the blessed Peter himself said: we become partakers of the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4)
– From instructions to the Newly Baptized, Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313–386)

Image: © The Lord’s Supper by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration


By Sr. Fidelis

There is a wonderful turn in the liturgy, starting with Week 6 of Eastertide. The message of Jesus’ impending departure, and his promise of the Holy Spirit’s coming begin to filter through the various antiphons and Propers for the next two weeks. Spiritus Sanctus is this year’s Communion piece.

The text from John 14:26 states: “The Holy Spirit will teach you whatever I have said to you.” This succinct chant is filled with triumphant joy, which is displayed in the major sound of Mode 8. It fluctuates back and forth between its Home Tone SOL and Reciting Tone DO, giving it a sense of real conversation.

Spiritus Sanctus


Maundy Thursday: A Shared Meal

Maundy Thursday engages us in deep remembrance. Looking at Moses and Aaron as they prepare the first Passover meal in Egypt, we better understand what acts of remembrance can mean for a people, and a religion. The Passover seder is still at the heart of Jewish faith and tradition. And in that Passover supper in Jerusalem depicted in Luke we witness the birth of our own Eucharistic meal.
But I want us to pay attention to what happened not in Egypt or Jerusalem, but in the desert of Exodus, depicted in Psalm 78. God had worked many wonders for the people fleeing from slavery in Egypt: parting the Red Sea, leading by fire and by cloud, drawing water from hard rock to quench their thirst. Still, as time goes by and the hardships continue, their faith in God’s providence fails. In their hunger they doubt, and ask, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” In response, God sends them manna, bread from heaven.
We have been given so many great gifts in our lives, and in the lived tradition of our faith communities. The opportunity to gather in worship with others at the eucharistic table is a blessing beyond compare. But we often take it for granted, and when we face a desert journey – through illness, divorce, job loss, or any unwelcome change – we are still capable of asking if God can provide enough nourishment to see us through.
Even worse, we may be so distracted, enslaved by a desire for worldly goods, that we, like Jesus’s disciples, fail to comprehend the gifts are right before us. Any meal shared with those we love, whether it be at the altar or around a kitchen table, can be a foretaste of the heavenly feast to come, if only we will heed the words of the traditional Maundy Thursday hymn, “Ubi Caritas”, which asks us to set aside our bitterness and quarreling and remember that “where charity and love are found, there is God.”

By Kathleen Norris
excerpted from God For Us, Paraclete Press

Passover fresco spandrel by Silvestro Pistolesi

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Son

By Sr. Fidelis


Easter 6 marks a significant transitional time in our Paschal journey.  Up until now, we’ve been in a wonderful “cocoon” of intimacy with the Risen Christ, and all the ways he’s made himself known to us — in the breaking of bread, in him as the good shepherd, and true vine.

But now, all the texts for both the Divine Office and Eucharist point to his imminent departure and the promise of the Holy Spirit’s coming. He is preparing us for the future, and what we are truly called to.

The text chosen for this year’s liturgical cycle in both the Alleluia and the Communion is:  I myself have chosen you out of the world, that you should go and bear fruit, and your fruit should remain.

The connection is so clear.  We cannot do this without abiding in him for sustenance, comfort and life itself.

The Community of Jesus


Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Sr. Fidelis

Revelations – Easter 5

Each week of Paschaltide, Jesus has been giving us keys to the way he reveals himself to us.

The last several weeks, we’ve seen the word cognoscere  (to know) in the Communion antiphons, implying that this is an active “knowing” that we work at in our relationship with him.  He is “known” to us in the breaking of bread, and in his role as Good Shepherd.

This week’s Communion antiphon starts with the same tune and words as last week’s; Ego sum – I AM.  We see these words and remember that when God was revealed to Moses in the burning bush, he used these very words to identify himself. “I AM has sent me to you.”

I AM the true vine and you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.  This is a staggering statement.  All of life itself comes to the branches from the vine, if the branches are truly attached to the Source.

The Community of Jesus

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Sr. Fidelis

Pastor Bonus

In the Communion for the 4th week of Easter, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know my sheep and mine know me.”  (John 10:14).

In a simple two and a half line melody, the joy and safety of being known is beautifully portrayed.  Last week he was known in the breaking of the bread.  This week we are made even more aware of his watchcare over each one of us in an intimate, personal way.

Ego sum pastor bonus et cognosco oves meas, et cognoscunt me meae.

The Community of Jesus

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Sr. Fidelis

The Alleluia for the third week of Paschaltide takes its’ verse from Luke 24: 35.

Cognoverunt discipuli Dominum Jesum in fractione panis.  The disciples knew the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

A Latin word study gives numerous enlightening meanings:  to know….to become thoroughly acquainted with, to learn by inquiring, to examine, to perceive.  One meaning implied that it required individual exertion to strive to know.  Can we imagine the enlightening of spirit, paired with the reality of the recent Last Supper, and the breaking of the bread of the body on the cross that filled the disciples when the Lord Jesus broke the bread in their presence?

Alleluia….may we know him to that depth today.


Security Blanket

By Melodious Monk
One of my favorite prayers at Eucharist is the Proper Preface leading into the Sanctus of the Mass. These prayers seem so resolute, so secure, and so unwavering in faith. For the second Sunday of Easter, one version prays: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, at all times to acclaim you, O Lord, but in this time (Easter) above all to laud you yet more gloriously.” The absoluteness, the beauty imagined, and the clarity from these words temporarily pushes away nagging thoughts of self, of doubt and of fear. It’s a hopeful moment when the best promises are again declared aloud that they will be so. For “Through him, the children of light rise to eternal life and the halls of the heavenly Kingdom are thrown open to the faithful…”

The Community of Jesus

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Sr. Fidelis

Easter 2

The second Sunday of Easter is full of spiritual meaning and has been given several different names over the centuries.  It is known as “Low Sunday”, because it finishes the Octave of Easter.  It is also known as “Quasi modo Sunday.”  This immediately brings to mind Victor Hugo’s protagonist in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but the name is actually taken from the first words of the Introit for that day!   1 Peter 2:2, reads: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word.”

This is a word to those newly baptized on Easter Eve.  The introit is a simple chant in Mode 6, punctuated with Alleluias. “St. Thomas Sunday” is also a name given to the day, perhaps because the Communion for that day is Mitte manum, Jesus’ words to Thomas: “Place your hand in my side and be not faithless but believing.”

There is such a connection between the chant and the liturgy!  These well-known melodies actually helped to identify the day.

The Community of Jesus


Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

Chanting by Heart: A Path to Lively Prayer

Just by reading the words “Salve Regina,” many of us have a very familiar and beloved tune begin streaming through our “inner ear” — a sound many of us have known since childhood. Likewise, “O Come Emmanuel” will instantly whisk us inwardly to the time of Advent. If we even begin chanting “Humbly I adore Thee, verity unseen”, we are reminded of Maundy Thursday or the celebration of Eucharist itself.

In current-day language, most people speak of performing “by memory” or “without music.” As I re-read my old notes from classes with Mary Berry, I am struck with her continual references to knowing the chant “by heart.”  “By heart” says something very different than “by memory.” “By heart” implies having something buried deep inside ourselves, something which has truly become part of us and which has become connected not just to our memories, but our emotions and spirit as well. THIS is chanting “by heart” and is one of the greatest joys of chant — to learn and know it so well that it becomes a conduit for prayer as a living conversation, full of spirit and verve!

The Community of Jesus








Image Credit
Gregorian Institute of Canada: News