One of the most famous paintings in the western world is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper.” Found in the refectory (dining hall) of a Dominican monastery in Milan, Italy, the painting depicts the dramatic scene in which Jesus declares that one of the apostles will betray Him and — in the greater context — of the institution of the Eucharist. One can well imagine how this painting of the Last Supper would have captured the prayerful attention of the monks as they broke their own daily bread. It certainly has captured the attention of the world throughout the centuries.

There is much to say about this painting, but one point that I have always found of interest is that Jesus is depicted without a halo, something that would have been rather expected in Renaissance art. While some have proposed that the light from the window behind Jesus serves as a kind of natural halo, I prefer a theory as to the “missing halo” that is more theological and mystical: The lack of a halo suggests that Jesus is still a human being who, as such, will endure the pain and suffering of the Passion.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday.” This is true in the personal, spiritual sense of how a Christian lives his or her life, but it also indicates an important theological point regarding the salvific necessity of the cross of Good Friday. Unless there is a Good Friday and Christ’s sacrifice of His life on the Cross, there is no Easter Sunday, no empty tomb. But also this: Unless there is a Good Friday, there is no Holy Thursday as the moment in which the Eucharist is instituted. The Last Supper and the words and actions of Jesus Christ with His disciples at that meal point to Jesus’ death on the cross. One cannot understand what Jesus said and did then without the reality of what happened the next day, what we call Good Friday.

The celebration of the Eucharist is the unbloodied offering of the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In the celebration of the Mass, we are privileged to participate in that sacrifice and receive the fruits of that sacrifice in the Body and Blood of Christ.

During this time of Eucharistic renewal within the Catholic Church in the United States, there is much for us to consider and ponder. Perhaps spending time with some artwork depicting the Last Supper, the Eucharist or the sacrifice of the cross is one place to start. But then again, there is always the real thing present to us now — the Church’s celebration of the Mass.

—Originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.