In this series of essays Father Manny considers the nature of The Sacraments and reflects upon their meaning in our lives.
The Sacrament of The Eucharist
Leaving Church one morning an elderly gentleman began to talk to me about the various difficulties facing the Church. As our conversation drew to a close he placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder and said, “Father whilst we have the Mass we will be alright”.
Instinctively I sensed that there was a profound truth in what he was saying. After all it is in the Mass that we encounter the real presence of Christ and, through the Mass Christ fulfills in a wonderful way His promise to abide with us even to the end of time. Moreover the Second Vatican Council reminds us that the Mass is the source and summit of the Church’s life. We draw our life and strength from this sacred banquet . It is our food for the pilgrim journey of life and points us to our Journey’s end the Heavenly Banquet. Every Mass is a foretaste of the Heavenly Liturgy.
It is all too easy for familiarity to lead us to take for granted the great gift of the Eucharist and so It is good to remind ourselves that the Mass is a miracle of God’s loving presence in the midst of His Church. The bread and wine actually become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. At the altar He truly comes to us again and again in His Real Presence. Moreover this presence is not something static and lifeless, on the contrary it is a dynamic, living presence. The Greek word ‘Soma’ used to refer to the Lord’s Body at the Last Supper means more than just the outer appearance of Jesus. It means rather the whole person of Jesus, His personality and living presence. In Jewish culture blood is regarded as sacred, because the life of a creature was regarded as being in the blood (Lev. 17:11) and all life comes from God. In consequence when Jesus gives us his blood he is saying this is my very life-blood poured out for you. In the Mass Jesus therefore gives us his body and blood, and in eating and drinking this sacred food we enter into His own self-gift to the Father.
We enter into His Passover from this world to His heavenly Father. In fact at the Last Supper the whole history of Israel finds its meaning, and we the Church, the ‘New Israel’ also find meaning. The New Exodus is not from slavery in Egypt but from slavery to sin from death, an Exodus to the New Life of heaven. This is the true Passover that gives meaning to all life.
In the celebration of the Mass this Paschal (Easter) Mystery, is rendered present and through our prayers, gestures, songs and silence we enter into and participate in the great mystery. Hence the Church calls us to full, active and conscious participation at every Mass. We are not simply spectators gazing upon a miracle on the altar, we are participants entering into the mystery of our salvation. As we participate in Jesus’ self gift of His life to the Father we are reminded that this was achieved through His death on the cross, therefore inevitably there is a sacrificial dimension to the Mass as John Paul II states:
“the Eucharistic meal has a profoundly and primarily sacrificial meaning. In the Eucharist Christ makes present to us anew the sacrifice offered once and for all on Calvary”.
How are we to respond to so great a gift? As ever Mary the Mother of God is our pattern and example. Mary, the ‘Woman of the Eucharist’ guides us in our approach to the Mass. She was the first tabernacle in which dwelt the body and blood of her Son. We too are to be living tabernacles. At the foot of the cross she participated fully and intimately in Her Son’s sacrifice and she has experienced in all its fullness the Paschal Mystery. She has journeyed from this world, in union with her Son to the Father.
The Lord truly does raise up the lowly. In the Eucharist we receive what we are, the Body of Christ, the Risen Christ who abides in us as he did in Mary, abides for all eternity and raises us up to everlasting life . Indeed that elderly parishioner was absolutely right – “…whilst we have the Mass we will be alright”.
Rev. Emmanuel Gribben