In the Gospel passage today, St Thomas expresses the only possible reaction to his experience of the sight of Jesus risen: “My Lord, and My God.” As Catholics, many of us use this expression at the consecration in the Mass: I encourage you to do this, as the Sacred Host, and then the Chalice of the Precious Blood, are elevated for you to adore Jesus. My Lord and my God!
It is lovely that our celebrations of Holy Week and Easter Week — from Palm Sunday, through Jesus’s Last Supper, Passion and Death, and on to His Resurrection — have co-incided with our reflections on the section of the Catechism that consider the Eucharist … for the Eucharist — the Mass — contains within the Mystery of this Sacrament itself all the graces of Jesus’s Sacrifice and Rising. All that He won for us in Cross and Resurrection are here for us in the Mass. This we must believe, as Catholics. This is central! Jesus indicated this when He said at the Last Supper: “Do this in Remembrance of Me” / “Do this as a memorial of Me” — hence our need to celebrate the Mass weekly (or if possible, daily). We cannot have the Church without the Eucharist … “The Eucharist makes the Church.” The Eucharist is the beating heart of the Church, the divine Heart of Jesus, beating so that His life (His grace) can be pumped out into the members of the Church. We can think of the Mass under three titles: Thanksgiving, Memorial, and Presence:
- Thanksgiving — in the Mass we offer God this great sacrifice of praise, thanking Him for his gifts of the world, of life, and of salvation. We can only do this in Christ, for Christ sums up in His offering to the Father all that is good in creation, with none of what is sinful or wrong. We are joined on to Jesus as we do this; we unite our praise with Jesus. The Mass is the most perfect prayer there is, and we are able to offer this perfect prayer, as Jesus has made it available to us.
- Memorial — the Mass is also the ‘memorial’ of Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross, and His victory in the Resurrection. The Mass is not just a hymn of praise, then. It is a true and real sacrifice, a perfect offering that was made once and for all by Jesus. Not like the OT sacrifices of animals, that were made by the Jews as an expression of the old covenant: these were repeated over and over again in the Temple, year-in, year-out. Jesus’s one sacrifice is made present for us here on the altar; in this sacrament He takes away our sins, He restores us to life, if we are ready to receive Him. We are not just ‘remembering’ what He did: we are present at the ‘memorial’ (the making-present) of all that He did. We often apply a Mass intention to the offering of the Eucharist, don’t we? This is because Jesus’s sacrifice is infinite and perfect; in at are taken up all the intentions of Christ’s faithful, in unity with the Pope and the local bishop, and this can include the salvation of individual souls of the dead, or the needs of the living.
- Presence — We often speak of the Eucharist as the ‘Real Presence’ of Jesus. And this is literally true. The Blessed Sacrament, after the consecration on the altar, is no longer bread and wine and we must never refer to it as such: it is the Body and Blood of Jesus: His real abiding presence. This is why we treat the Eucharist with utmost reverence: we genuflect to Him; we fast for at least an hour before we receive Holy Communion; we are recollected as we come to Holy Communion; we desist from receiving Holy Communion if we are in a state of grave sin until we have been able to receive absolution in Confession; the priest cleanses the vessels at the end of Mass with care, making sure to have consumed all that was consecrated, or else reserving the sacred Hosts securely in the Tabernacle at the heart of the church.
The Eucharist, then, is truly Jesus: this is the only possible reading of Jesus’s intention as He left us the Eucharist, and it is why we fall to our knees like St Thomas and say with our hearts, “My Lord and my God!” And yet we can have an even closer union with Jesus than did those apostles when they saw Him risen: He gives us Himself in a form that is ‘Holy Communion’ — our chance to receive the divine Lord into our souls by consuming Him with devotion and faith. The Eucharist is also the promise of life to come; in the Mass we are in the presence of the Risen Jesus; if we receive Him in Holy Communion, we have the beginnings of eternal life in us. In the Mass we can truly begin to live the life of heaven even on earth.