Appreciating Abiding Presence
Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ: Sunday, May 29, 2016 (Year C)
(No Ninth Sunday of Y ear C 2016).
What is the main blessing Eucharist has for you? What do you look forward to on the way to Mass? How do you feel afterwards? If there were no Eucharist, how much would you miss it? Why?
The Entrance Antiphon declares: “The Lord fed his people… their hunger was satisfied.” We “hunger” for many things. But Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry…. I am the bread of life… Whoever eats of this bread will live forever” (John 6:35-51). If we really believe that, we should experience a deep satisfaction in Eucharist; a satisfaction synonymous with peace.
In the Opening Prayer(s) we ask to “experience” the “salvation” Jesus won for us and the “peace of the kingdom.” And we say that through the Eucharist we are making two pledges: we “offer to our Father in heaven a solemn pledge of undivided love,” and to “our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service.” If we make these pledges consciously at Mass, we will experience both salvation and peace. Our experience of God at Mass depends on our awareness of what God is pledging to us and we to him.
In the Prayer over the Gifts we say that the bread and wine we present for the sacrifice “signify unity and peace.” And they do, if we see them as symbols of ourselves placed on the altar in re-affirmation of the gift we made when we “presented our bodies as a living sacrifice” at Baptism (Romans 12:2). We conclude the Presentation of the Gifts by standing and declaring out loud our personal involvement in what is going on: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice… for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all his Church.” If we all do this consciously, meaning what we say, we will experience unity and peace.
The Prayer after Communion specifies that receiving the body and blood of Christ in Eucharist is “a sign that even now we share your life.” If we use the time of silence after Communion to be aware of Christ’s presence within us, we will experience this. Communion is a physical sign or experience of what “grace” or “salvation” is: the favor of sharing in the divine life of God. With his life in us, we have inside of us, as our possession, all we need to be perfectly happy for all eternity. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (John 6:56).
Genesis 14:18-20 is inserted into the story of how Abraham went out to rescue Lot, his nephew, who had been captured in a revolt by four kings. When he returned, the king of Sodom went out to meet him with King Melchizedek of Salem, who “brought out bread and wine” and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth… who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” Abraham gave him a tenth of all the booty he had taken.
The focus of the story is on the victory God gave to Abraham. The same theme appears in the only other mention the Jewish Scriptures make of Melchizedek: God promises the Messiah: “The LORD says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’ …The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’” (Psalm 110:1-4; see Matthew 20:1-45). This last line is quoted in Hebrews (5:6-10) to say Jesus is both priest and king, and that through the victory of his sacrifice on the cross he “became the source” forever of a salvation that is eternal. The abiding presence of Jesus in Eucharist is an abiding sign of that. As long as he is present, God’s promise is visible.
“You give them…”
The words, “taking the loaves… he looked up to heaven, blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples” make it clear that Luke 9:11-17 is intended as a preview of Eucharist (see Luke 22:19, 24:30; 1Corinthians 11:24). What does it tell us?
First. it shows Christ’s love. Eucharist is called “the sacrament of love.”
Jesus shows his love by feeding people. Eucharist is called the “Bread of life.”
He feeds them in “a deserted place.” Jesus can provide for our needs even when no resources are available (see Luke 9:3). By reminding us of this, Eucharist sustains our hope.
Jesus did not feed the people with bread that “fell from heaven” like the manna (Exodus 16:11-15). Nor did he change stones into bread to show his power, as the devil had tempted him to do (Luke 4:3). When the apostles told him the people had no food, he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” He didn’t just work a miracle as God. He required the people to share what they had. Then he multiplied what they contributed. In Eucharist we feed each other.
This is important, because centuries of misguided and misguiding liturgy have distorted our understanding of the Mass. And discouraged “full, active, conscious participation” in it. Eucharist came to be perceived as a time when we gather to watch God do something awesome. Or to watch the ordained priest do something awesome with God while we sit spellbound (hopefully) in the pews. As good as this is, it is not what the Eucharistic celebration is meant to be.
Eucharist is a communal celebration. The closest thing to it is a communal meal. It is a time when people interact with each other. And God is present, blessing what they do. St. Paul describes this vividly in 1Corinthians 12:7-11; 14:26-33). We read his description of Eucharist and cannot relate to it at all. At our Masses “each one” decidedly does not have “a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” to offer. Anyone who tried to do any of that at Mass today would be asked to leave! And Paul himself called for more control (14:26-33). But the guiding principle he appeals to throughout is: “Let all things be done for building up.” We are at Mass to “build up the Church in love” (Ephesians 4:16). Every person present should make “manifest” his or her gift of the Spirit: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit.” And why? — “for the common good.” We come to Eucharist to share our experience of God and so “build up the Church.”
During the liturgically skewed period before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) the ordained priest did everything by himself! The laity were kept silent in the pews. This fostered reverence and a sense of mystery, but falsified the true nature of the Mass. It became something the ordained priest did. The laity were encouraged to immerse themselves in adoration, but they were excluded from the action.
Adoration is good, always. But when a focus on adoration distracts us from the action taking place, — an action we need to participate in “consciously, actively and fully” — the “good has become the enemy of the better.”
In 1Corinthians 11:23-26 St. Paul tells us what the “ better” is. He goes to the heart of the mystery of Mass. The essential action of the Mass is that Jesus becomes present in the act of offering himself on the cross. The sacrifice of Calvary is not repeated, but made present. It is happening now. We are there. Jesus is saying, “This is my body which is for you…. This… is the new covenant in my blood.” We need to say that with him.
On the cross Jesus offered his body for us, his “flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). At Mass that act, that offering, is made present to us as an act that is continuing to form and seal a covenant between God and us: “the new covenant in my blood.”
A covenant is a two-way agreement. In Eucharist we renew the two-way pledge summarized in the Opening Prayer(s): Jesus pledges “the salvation he won for us and the peace of the kingdom” (see Luke 24:36; John 20:19-26: Jesus proclaimed ”peace” as the fruit of the Resurrection). We pledge “undivided love” and a life “offered to our brothers and sisters” and “poured out in loving service of that kingdom.” We echo Jesus’ words to every living person: “This is my body, given for you.
The essential reason why we go to Mass is to “make present” — in a mystical remembering— the covenant Jesus made with us “in his blood” and to renew it with him in flesh and blood: his and our own. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Every Mass is an experience of the Body and Blood of Christ.
What is the one central reason why we participate in Eucharist?
Initiative: Give God’s life: At Mass offer yourself with Christ and in Christ for the “life of the world.”