Homily no. 21 – ‘Eucharist (I)’ (CCC 1322-55)

The Last Supper, by Bouveret, 19th century.

The Last Supper, by Bouveret, 19th century. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have reached a fascinating place in this interplay between our journey through the Catechism and the journey through the liturgical year!  We have been considering the Sacraments, haven’t we?  And we have come now to the point where we must consider the Eucharist.  And since it is so important, there are two Sundays given over to the Eucharist.  In fact, the Eucharist is so important that almost 100 paragraphs of the Catechism (1322–1419) treat this Blessed Sacrament, which the Church calls “the source, and summit, and all Christian life.”  Even two Sundays’ homilies will barely scratch the surface of this wondrous gift of God to us … We could almost spend the whole of the ‘Year of Faith’ meditating on the mystery of the Mass!  To be honest, we should be spending all our lives drawing closer and closer to, falling in love with, the Eucharist, which is Jesus Himself, “body and blood, soul and divinity.”

And we find that the Sundays on which we are thinking about the Eucharist are the Sunday before Easter — today — and the Sunday after Easter.  How fitting!  That the Eucharist which is the memorial of Jesus’s Passion, death, and Resurrection should, as it were, enclose the Mystery of Holy Week and Easter Week.  This is exactly what the Eucharist is!  Within these simple forms, under the appearance of bread and wine — what was bread and wine before the Eucharistic Prayer — Jesus gives His whole self; He gives us His body and blood; He gives us His sacrifice and His love; He gives us His willingness to go to the Cross and His faithfulness in the Resurrection.  In effect, every time we celebrate the Mass we are present at Calvary and at the empty tomb; each and every Mass is Good Friday and an Easter Sunday; every participation at Holy Mass is the whole sublime experience of God who “took the form of a servant, disregarding the lowliness of it, and was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a Cross … but God raised Him high.”

I would like to contrast two opinions on the Mass.  The first quotation you have probably heard many time before; the second quotation you may not have heard so often.  The first is: “the Mass is boring.”  OK — so you’ve all heard that before!  The second is this, from the Catechism:

1323 “At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood.  This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us’.”

What could be more different from the first quotation, “the Mass is boring”?  The Church’s belief in the power and sanctity of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is such a wonderful and beautiful thing, more beautiful than any other dimension of the Church’s life.  It is the centre of the Church’s life!

The Eucharist is the third and final of the ‘sacraments of initiation’ — Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist … these three form the initiation of the Catholic into the Christian life.  And the Eucharist is the most sublime, for it is the abiding presence of Jesus; it allows us to receive the most-holy Jesus Himself into our souls — something we should only do if we are free of grave sin.

The Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper, as we will recall powerfully together this Thursday.  Jesus took the Jewish celebration of Passover, which was the memorial of Israel’s redemption by God from slavery in Egypt, and transformed it to the greater celebration of redemption from sin and death.  No longer was the Passover bread and wine just a sign of God’s loving power to save; Jesus’s use of bread and wine were transformed by His power as Son of God: “this is my body … this is my blood.”  This was not just figurative language; He meant what He said.  His sacred body to be sacrificed on the Cross the next day, and His precious blood to be poured out to the last drop, were to be made available, by His free gift, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  We could feast on this food of eternal life; and so the Church has celebrated the Mass since the days of the apostles, ever since the Last Supper.

With these thoughts of thanksgiving in mind (for that is the meaning of the very word ‘Eucharist’ = ‘thanksgiving’) we can joyfully enter into Holy Week with Jesus.  All that we will recall as we spend Holy Week together, in our prayers and in church, is not a fleeting remembrance.  It is always with us; and it is why we are urged — why the Church pleads with every one of us — to be faithful to coming to Mass every Sunday.  “Do this in memory of me,” said Jesus.  We do, Lord, we love You in Your glorious sacrifice; and so we love and adore You present here in the Mass:

“May the heart of Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored, and loved with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even to the end of time. Amen. ”

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About Fr Philip Miller

I'm the Catholic Parish Priest at St Augustine's, Hoddesdon, Herts, UK, in the diocese of Westminster. This cycle of homilies is one of my contributions to this parish's life in the 'Year of Faith' (Oct 2012 - Nov 2013) called for by Pope Benedict XVI to renew the Church's understanding of the faith.
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