Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
In the last couple of weeks, we have concluded the annual Festival observance of the Paschal mystery, when we celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection for 50 days on the calendar of the Church, which we conclude with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Holy Mother Church uses the liturgical calendar to remind us of the need to live the Resurrection of Jesus in our ordinary lives every day. As we again enter Ordinary Time, we are reminded of the central Sacrament of our faith, and of the very act which proclaims the death of the Lord until he comes again in glory, and renews our New Covenant with Him. Pope St. John Paul II called the Eucharist “the Source and Summit of the Christian Life.”
The Church reminds us today that without the Eucharist, there is no reason for us to be here. Without the Flesh and Blood of the Son of Man, we cannot have life within us. (cf. John 6:53-58) Without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, without the ability to renew our covenant with God by proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes, there would be no need to invite people into that Covenant, no need to evangelize, no need to come to Mass, because covenants are made in Blood. (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-26) For his part, Jesus made his Covenant with all of humanity when he died on the Cross, and he invites us to renew that Covenant in his Blood when we receive the Eucharist.
The Gospels are full of allusions to the Eucharist, from the feeding of the 5000 (cf. Matt. 14:13-21), to the very words of the Our Father itself. The words “give us this day our daily bread,” were seen by many of the Church Fathers to represent not only temporal bread, but the Bread from Heaven that is the Eucharist. The Douay-Rheims translation even renders that line “give us this day our supersubstantial bread.” (cf. Matt. 6:9-13 D-R) On the road to Emmaus we are given a rough outline of what the Mass ought to look like. Jesus opened the Scriptures to share himself with the two disciples on the road, and after he had done this he revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread.
In the Gospel today we are taken back to the last supper and the very words of Jesus, and the Church holds that Jesus meant exactly what he said when he said “this is my body,” and “this is my blood of the Covenant.” In the 6th Chapter of John, Jesus explains this reality in great detail. The reaction of virtually the entire assembled crowd when Jesus said that you must eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of the Son of Man to have life in you was to say “this saying is hard, and who can hear it,” and the scriptures go on to tell us that they walked no more with him. (cf. John 6:60-66) In the 16th century the Protestant reformers abandoned the doctrine of the Eucharist as it was understood wholesale, in no small part because they understood that if they accepted the idea that bread and wine was transformed into the body and Blood of Christ on the altar leaving behind only the outward appearance of bread and wine, that they would need the priesthood and the Apostolic Succession of the Church that they were abandoning. “Lord, this saying is hard and who can hear it.”
Over the years several surveys of Catholics have been done in which it is sometimes said that only about a third of self-identified Catholics believe that the Bread and Wine of the Eucharistic Sacrifice become the Body and Blood of Christ on the altar. A couple of weeks ago a German comedian blasphemed God at a supposedly Catholic gathering with a high-ranking Cardinal present when he brought up the continuing debate in that country over whether Protestant spouses of Catholics should be able to receive Holy Communion. He said “I don’t see the point in a public debate about wafers.”
I would like to believe that the polling in the past that has told us that most Catholics don’t believe Jesus when he said “this is my body,” is not accurate, because we know sometimes that polling is skewed, but there should not be any Catholics who don’t believe the teaching of Jesus about the Eucharist,so perhaps the clergy are to blame for not explaining this teaching thoroughly enough. For my own part, let me be perfectly clear. When the epiclesis occurs and the words of consecration are spoken over the Eucharistic Bread and Wine, they literally become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, who is the Lord God Almighty, known also as Adonai, Elohim, or by a name we will not pronounce here out of respect. The Eucharist is really God. This is what Jesus Christ told us and this is what the Church believes and has believed from the beginning.
If we are conscious of grave or mortal sin and we have not been to Sacramental Confession, we should not receive the Eucharist until we have made a good confession. Don’t take my word for it, ask the Apostle Paul. (cf. 1 Cor. 11:27-30) I am consciously aware that in many places it is extremely difficult for some people to access the Sacrament of Reconciliation in a timely way to fulfill this precept of the Church. We do not have this problem at Holy Trinity. Confession is available before most Masses on Sunday, which is more than many parishes can say, and I know that Father Patrick will make an appointment to hear confession anytime he can.
How much does Jesus love you and me? He died to save us and bring us the forgiveness of our sins, he wants to enter into relationship with us so badly that he comes to us in the most humble way, under the appearance of a little piece of bread, or a little sip of wine. He loves us so much that at every Mass gives us Himself. If anyone finds that they do not presently believe that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, they also should not receive Holy Communion. This is not because we wish to exclude anyone, but because everyone should be true to themselves when they approach the altar of God. The Lord appreciates our honesty, and receiving Holy Communion also means that we are in Communion, in Communion with our Holy Mother the Church, as well as in Communion with our brothers and sisters around us, so that the Body of Christ comes forth to receive the Body of Christ, in order that we might become what we receive. If your faith isn’t there yet, we will pray with you that it will get there soon.
I was recently having a discussion about why many priests and deacons wear fine vestments for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. For many people, it doesn’t seem very Christ-like to wear such finery. But we have come to the altar of God, who is Holy Holy Holy! He comes to us in the most humble of ways. The very least we can do in return is to bring out the best we have inside and out.