As of today the Church Bells seem farther away. The exclusion of public Masses has been extended again until the end of May. Fortunately this may permit the resumption of parish Mass together on the Feast of Pentecost (which is part of Easter). The latest from our bishops.
Easter in our tradition is Easter Season, not just Easter Sunday. Jesus the Christ speaks to us over a period of time, enriching us more and more from great treasury of sacred scripture. As we saw right away at the beginning of our Easter days the risen Lord insisted that we go back to the word of God over the centuries to understand the Paschal Mystery and to put it into practice. At the center of our Easter is the Eucharist — the first Christians held the action of the Eucharist close to their hearts and were gathered on the first day of the week and broke bread together. The Mass is central to our celebration, as well, of the death and resurrection of Christ. This year, through the mysterious providence of God, he has called us to “step back” and contemplate the Eucharist from a distance due to the pandemic. This way our longing for the action of the Mass and our presence there has deepened our desire to encounter the Lord in person — both his presence and ours.
As these days go on we use these meditations on the Mystery of the Eucharist to open for us a greater share in the life of Christ within us — that is Christ’s purpose in commanding us Do this in memory of me.
Today let us take a hint from the scripture account of the disciples from Emmaus which the Church gave us recently. We approach the sacred incident from end to beginning, even though we first listen to it from beginning to end. The last sentence if their telling the disciples back in Jerusalem that First Easter evening we have seen the Lord in the breaking of bread (Luke 24). When hear this conclusion our mind goes back to what preceded recognizing Jesus at table. They had a conversation about the happenings of recent days and how uneasy Jesus had made them by chiding them for not recognizing from the scriptures how the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection were all part of the history of salvation revealed by God over the centuries and his bringing to fulfilment that plan by sending us his Messiah.
For us applying this as God wants to our Eucharistic practice we shall recall that for many years we had thought of the Mass of consisting solely of the going to Communion part. Yes, there were some other sacred actions, such as listening to the Gospel and the sermon, but when it got down to “the essentials” Communion was all that really mattered. To this day the habit of coming to Mass late and/or leaving early is a remnant of this. God in his goodness and love for us has made us aware that all the parts of the Mass are integral to a celebration and participation that is pleasing to him. He expects our taking part and giving him a response regarding all the elements of the Mass, e.g. listening to his word, joining in singing with our brothers and sisters who have Christ dwelling in them as well, etc.
So for our own education and pursuit of our resolve to love God more let us start at the end and ask ourselves whether going to Communion alone would give us the whole story. There must be something more why the Church celebrates the Mass in its entirety. Why are all the actions of the Mass combined the worship which God wants from us? In a way John the Gospel writer did this for us by not giving us in his Last Supper account what we call the words of institution (take, eat…take, drink). Instead much earlier in his Gospel he gave us this same thing in Chapter Six with the multiplication of the loaves and the discourse on himself as the Bread of Life. Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will not have life in you… At this very time the Church is in the process of bringing us God’s word on the matter as a series of Gospel readings assigned for Mass. Since we are not able to hear this in person right now, gathered with fellow believers in the action of the Mass, let us spend some time absorbing Christ’s teaching. You may hear these Gospel passages by TV or Internet. I hope that if your do so it will lead you to be more ready to put your respond into action when we finally are able to go to church for participation in Mass according to God’s plan and command.
So let us set up more specifically how we are going to approach this.
For a moment we are going to narrow our focus on the Mass just to the Words of institution and to the ritual words as we receive Communion and nothing else at this time.
Take this, all of you, and eat of it,
for this is my Body,
which will be given up for you.
Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
for this is the chalice of my blood,
the Blood of the new and eternal covenant,
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
do this in memory of me.
The Body of Christ.
The Blood of Christ.
Now if this is all we have (and all we are thinking of) we do not know too much. A lot of questions remain and our Amen does not mean much. We actually know and believe a lot more. Where do we find out the rest? The more we know, the more our Amen means in our response to Christ.
Our principal sources are going to be:
the sacred scriptures (whole Bible, Old and New Testament)
the tradition of the Church (especially as found in the Altar Missal [Euch. Prayers, etc.])
the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in us and in all those participating at Mass
Here are some sample questions:
Who is this Christ, about whose Body and Blood we hear and speak?
Why does he command us to take and eat…take and drink?
Why is his Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine?
Why does he say “all of you”? Who are the others?
Why did Jesus choose the words “body and blood”?
What is the Covenant and Blood of the Covenant?
What is Jesus commanding by “Do this in memory of me”?
If we isolate these words by considering them and nothing else, it would be a puzzle and will not draw us to love him. So there must be something more we have to have in mind when we go to Communion. The other elements of the Mass go a long way in making Communion worthwhile. We need Christ’s presence in these other places as well, not just when going to Communion.
So let’s get started and get the whole picture of what the Eucharist is. Remember Eucharist means Thanksgiving. So to give God the thanksgiving and praise he wants, we must explore our faith and the rich ritual of the Mass.
See you next time
Commentary Easter Sunday