Revere the Gift of the Eucharist
Guest editorial: Michael Shackleton – The earliest disciples of the risen Christ met for prayers and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42), which we know was a Eucharistic celebration in obedience to Christ’s instruction at the Last Supper.
Catholics believe that the breaking of bread in the Eucharist among the first Christians was in fact a sacramental celebration of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, identical with what we do every day in the Mass. It signifies and strengthens not only our unity with one another but also our sharing in the sacrifice which brought about this unity.
This belief, because it is a belief grounded firmly in the plain words of Christ, has had to withstand many objections and expressions of disbelief.
Catholics share with fellow Christians that Jesus Christ is really present in his Church and that the Eucharist symbolises our communion with him. Jesus is active in our preaching, sanctifying, healing and forgiving.
For Catholics, the Eucharist is the embodiment of that presence. It is Jesus himself. When we eat and drink the sacramental elements we perform together a true act of total and intimate communion with divinity.
The feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ, is a solemn occasion in the calendar. It commemorates that night when Jesus took bread and wine and gave it to his disciples as his body given up for them and his blood poured out for them. It is traditionally celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Now, so that more of the faithful can celebrate it on a non-working day, it has been transferred to the following Sunday, June 18.
The wonderful gift of the very presence of the Son of God in the Eucharistic liturgy as well as in the Real Presence is such a breath-taking mystery that too many of us take it for granted or, worse, find it too much to comprehend.
Processions of the Blessed Sacrament, Adoration and Benediction, commonly experienced on this day, can refocus our attention on the mystery which has been preserved by the Church with unshakable faith and devotion.
The Reformers rejected the Mass as a sacrifice because to do so would imply that Christ’s death on the cross was insufficient for our redemption. Some denied the Real Presence altogether or believed that after the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper was finished, the bread and wine, while symbolising Christ among them, had no sacramental meaning.
The Catholic faith remains steadfast in its defence of the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ sacrificed for us and still in our midst.
In his column in the May 31 edition, Fr Christ Townsend noted that so many communities in areas known as outstations receive the Eucharist only occasionally. Priests have to travel to them over vast distances, often for no more than a handful of people. And that handful, he emphasised, is diminishing.It is unfortunate that so many of our people who want those sacraments do not get them often enough, and those who have them at hand do not frequent them often enough.
There is a canonised phrase in traditional theology: Sacramenta sunt propter hominess (The sacraments are for the people). It implies that the faithful must not be denied access to the spiritual support they need in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist and Reconciliation.
It is unfortunate that so many of our people who want those sacraments do not get them often enough, and those who have them at hand do not frequent them often enough.
Fr Townsend points out that many priests suffer burnout, exhaustion and lack of vision because of the demands on their time. Some, because of the development of our South African Church, spend more time not available for the core work of pastoring. He encouraged the Church to hurry up and consider ordaining viri probati, proven married local men who as community priests would administer the sacraments in areas where these are difficult to obtain.
The feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord is a big one that must not be allowed to blend into mundane piety. It celebrates the greatest of the sacraments, the true presence of Christ among us. It should be given a boost and the Blessed Sacrament should be adored and reverenced in a fitting manner wherever the feast is held.
Eucharist means thanksgiving. We must thank God for this gift with deep faith. We must also pray, since there is no Eucharist without a priest, that Church authorities will seriously mull over the adage that the sacraments are for the people.
The people need the priest as much as they need the Eucharist.