March 23 (EWTNews) Today Pope John Paul II traveled by motorcade to the Cenacle near Mt. Zion to celebrate a private Mass at the place where Jesus Christ initiated the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood, a sacrament of Love. This liturgical celebration is the heart and soul of the Christian community as it is from the Eucharist that the Church is born.

Celebrating this Mass on a Thursday in the Cennacle also has special significance because it was on Holy Thursday that Jesus first gave us this gift of Himself. In addition, the Cenacle has further significance in salvation history because this was also the place where the Risen Christ appeared to the Apostles and the place where the Holy Spirit descended upon the early Church on the day of the Pentecost.

"This is my Body," began the Holy Father’s homily, "God’s covenant with his People is about to culminate in the sacrifice of his Son." "It is with deep emotion that we listen once more to these words spoken here, in this Upper Room two thousand years ago. Since then they have been repeated, generation after generation, by those who share in the priesthood of Christ through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. In this way, Christ himself constantly says these words anew, through the voice of his priests in every corner of the world."

"This is the cup of my Blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant; it will be shed for you and for all, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me" are the words the Church repeats every day in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in obedience to Christ’s commands. The Pope explained, "Words that rise from the depths of the mystery of the Redemption and words that proclaim the mystery of his Passion and Death."

"Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" is the mystery of faith that is proclaimed at every Holy Mass. "In a sense," the Holy Father said, "Peter and the Apostles, in the person of their Successors, have come back today to the Upper Room, to profess the unchanging faith of the Church."

The Holy Father stated, "The Eucharist is both a banquet of communion in the new and everlasting Covenant and the sacrifice which makes present the power of the Cross; it, is also a mystery of spiritual communion in the Church and builds the Church up." He went on to comment, " this Year of the Great Jubilee is a special opportunity for priests to grow in appreciation of the mystery which they celebrate at the altar. For that reason, I wish to sign this year’s Letter to the Priests for Holy Thursday, in the Upper Room, where the one priesthood of Jesus Christ, in which we all celebrate, was instituted."

The Papal homily concluded with Pope John Paul praying, "Come, Lord Jesus! Bring us and all your chosen ones to the fullness of grace in your eternal Kingdom."

At the end of Mass, the Holy Father signed, as promised in his homily, the Letter to the Priests for Holy Thursday. After the attending concelebrants and clerics processed out of the Upper Room, the Holy Father knelt at the altar and then sat in his chair for a few private moments of prayer.

The Holy Father, as Universal Pastor, celebrated the Mass with texts taken from the Votive Mass of the Most Holy Eucharist using the words of institution in the Gospel of Mark (Mk 14:12-16, 22-26), "This is my Body; this is my Blood." Mass was said in Latin, while the Liturgy of the Word was said in Italian and French. The Pope celebrated Mass with the Local Ordinaries and the Bishops and Priests in his entourage. The fact that representatives of the various rites were present at one Mass, each wearing his own ritual vestments and concelebrating Mass, gave witness to the unity of the Church.

Another event that occurred in the Cennacle on this day in which our Lord began the Holy Eucharist was the dispute between the disciples as to which one was the greatest. Jesus pointed out to Simon Peter that he would be sifted out like wheat, but he would strengthen his brothers. Here today, in the great Jubilee year celebrating the 2000 years of Christianity, the successor of Peter, returned to the Upper Room and celebrated Mass.

Six months before his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Pope John Paul made these remarks about visiting the Upper Room, "I will have to visit the Upper Room, where Jesus instituted the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Church's life. Here too, according to tradition, the Apostles were gathered in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Christ, when on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them. Then began the final stage of the journey of the history of salvation, the time of the Church, Body and Bride of Christ, a people making its pilgrim way through time, called to be the sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the entire human race (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 1)."

"The visit to the Upper Room is thus meant to be a return to the very origins of the Church. The Successor of Peter, who in Rome lives at the place where the Prince of the Apostles faced martyrdom, cannot but constantly retrace the steps to the place where Peter, on the day of Pentecost, began to proclaim in a loud voice with the inebriating power of the Spirit, the "good news" that Jesus Christ is Lord (cf. Acts 2:36)."