At the last supper, Jesus took the bread and wine and said these sacred words: “This is my body… This is my blood… Do this in memory of me.” Let us take a few minutes today to reflect on the beautiful gift of the Eucharist. We will do so under these three aspects: Gathering, Listening, and Loving.
Gathering. The first thing we noticed when we celebrate the Eucharist is this: We gather with others to celebrate it. In other words, the Eucharist is essentially communal. This aspect of the Eucharist was not always emphasized. For centuries there was a privatization of the Eucharist where individuals recited their own prayers (like the rosary) while the priest “said Mass” at the altar. Since Vatican II, however, there has been a renewed emphasis on the gathering community.
Gathering to celebrate Mass is not always easy. The time of the liturgy may be inconvenient. The weather and distance may be challenging. The church itself might be too cold, too hot, too crowded. And if we worship with pretty much the same community every week, we soon become familiar with the shortcomings of our fellow worshipers. Even the presider can be annoying: He talks too loud, too soft, too long. Yet our faith tells us that it is within this gathering of “motley” individuals that Jesus resides. (Look at the “motley congregation” Jesus had at the last supper: a traitor and a group of close friends who were about to desert him!) The writer Fr. Paul Bernier reminds us that, at every celebration of the Eucharist, “the most visible sign of Jesus’ presence is the community that is gathered.”
Listening. When we gather for Mass, we gather to listen to the Word of God. The Church, in her great wisdom, exposes us to a wide variety of Scripture readings. Some readings are consoling—like Psalm 23 and the parable of the prodigal son. Other readings are less appealing or downright disturbing. Although it is wonderful to have some favorite scripture passages, we must be open to all of the readings. The readings that disturb us the most might be the ones we need to hear the most.
At the Eucharist we also listen to the homily. The main purpose of the homily is to relate the readings to our particular time and place. Some of us are blessed with good homilies on a regular basis. Others of us may be frustrated by what we hear or do not hear in the homily. Rather than merely criticize the homilist, we might try writing our own homily on the readings. We might discover how hard it is! At Mass we also listen to the prayers and hymns we sing. Sometimes a word or phrase from these sources can also have an impact on us.
Loving. A third aspect of the Eucharist is loving. I am reminded of a story by the bishop of Recife, Brazil. One day thieves broke into a church in his diocese and pried open the tabernacle. They grabbed the gold vessels, dumped the hosts into the mud outside the church, and trampled upon the hosts as they fled. The parish community was appalled by what had happened. They begged the bishop to come and pray with them where the sacrilege had been committed. The bishop came and prayed with the people. But then he said, “People broke into the tabernacle and trampled the body of Christ into the mud outside our church. This has saddened us, and rightly so. But, my dear people, in our country Christ is daily trampled in the mud in the persons who make up his body, and no one sheds a tear.”
The Eucharist reminds us that Jesus is present in all of humanity. This sacrament is given to us not to make us feel good; but to make us do good. As Fr. Bernier says, “A properly celebrated Eucharist should bring about a cosmic change in our way of thinking and behaving.” At Mass, we not only listen to what Jesus taught, we receive strength to live as Jesus lived. And the essence of his living was selfless loving.
On Holy Thursday we commemorate the Eucharist in a special way. Many of you will attend this beautiful service. You might also want to reflect on these simple questions this week:
How accepting and appreciative am I of the human community in which I celebrate the Eucharist?
What scripture readings am I naturally drawn to? Why? Which ones disturb me? Why?
How is the Eucharist calling me to love and serve others at this particular time in my life?
My Easter reflection will be posted next Monday. Meanwhile, I offer you this song for holy week: “Now We Remain” by David Haas:
Is there anything you wish to share with us this week? We’d love to hear from you!
PS: I am leading a retreat day for women on Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at Notre Dame Educational Center, 13000 Auburn Road, Chardon, OH. The day is based on Psalm 23: “The Lord Is My Shepherd.” It begins with a continental breakfast at 8:00, includes a nice lunch, and ends at 2:30. The program consists of input sessions, prayer, sharing, and personal quiet time. The cost is only $15. To register contact Sister Carol Marek at 440-279-1183 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Bring a friend!