Communion: Jesus Gives Himself to Us and We Receive Him
There are great volumes of books and articles published on the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist, and still, with this treasure within our grasp, with all our weekly and even daily Masses, many of us still struggle to believe, accept and live the mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Being a Catholic Eucharistic people is to desire and accept and witness to the transforming power within us.
Jesus himself confirms: “I am the living Bread come down from heaven; If anyone eats of this bread, then he will live forever…for the Bread I give is my own flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).
The promise made is very clear: He will live in me and I will live in him, and that means eternal life, nothing less.
We are in debt to a merciful, all-loving Father — a debt that is unpayable. Peter commends all those who believe: “You did not see him, yet you love him…and are filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described”(1 Pet 1:8). Indeed, it is beyond description!
Before departing from this earth, Jesus sighed: “With much desire have I longed to eat this Passover with you” to remain with you, to be ever with you, to feed you and heal you (Lk 22:15).
In his merciful love, he left the Apostles with three treasures: the priesthood, the Holy Eucharist and his very self.
“Do this in memory of me.” That was nothing less than a command. However, remembrance alone cannot satisfy human love. He will feed his people with Living Bread, the food of angels, and it will be the sacrament (the outward sign) of bonding all believers into his mystical Body here on earth.
This awesome night witnessed a drama of unfathomable depths, one we are still seeking to comprehend. It’s a unique drama, never to be repeated, only to “be remembered” and, in fact, relived in that powerful liturgical celebration of the Word and the Eucharist, that sacred ritual known as the Holy Mass, for here we are using powerful symbolic gestures because we are dealing with mystery.
Jesus does not demand that we understand, but asks only, “Do you believe that I can do this for you?” (Mt 20:32). Do we believe?
It’s the same Jesus!
Faced with this question we feel ashamed to reply that most of our Catholic brethren who have turned their backs on the “boring” Sunday Mass — “the same thing week after week”—never knew what was happening at the altar.
If they had known and had come to believe they were meeting Jesus personally — physically, body, soul, blood and divinity — they would not have dared to turn from him; it would be inconceivable.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!”
It should truly overwhelm us to realise that the Lord before whom we genuflect is the same Jesus of the Last Supper, the same Lord and king on the Cross, the same Saviour who died for me — and now we may receive him reverently on our tongues.
And while I seek, in faith, this deeper relationship with my Eucharistic Lord and God, I know, and I feel, I am in union with every Holy Mass being offered at every second of time in some part of this very wide world.
“I am with you always, even to the end of time,” said Jesus before leaving the earth.
There is an obvious ignorance of the Holy Mass among many Catholics who, in their early years, were never adequately schooled in the two main catechetical themes: the person of Jesus Christ, and the Eucharist.
For too long, it was just a matter of “going to church” — like a passenger taking a bus over the same route, week after week. Obligation fulfilled!
It is unfortunate that, in most cases, the young were never taught to prepare for that great event — to join God’s believing people in worship, praise and thanksgiving, and even to meet him personally in the Eucharist, receive him and bring him home.
A good catechist could teach the Mass quite simply by explaining:
- Jesus comes among us, and we proclaim him.
- Jesus speaks to us, and we listen.
- Jesus offers himself to the Father, and we join him.
- Jesus gives himself to us, and we receive him.
Millions of angels
We go out into the world joyfully to make the Mass our life and our lives a living Mass.
We have lived through a miracle, and millions of angels were present around the altar of sacrifice, unseen, not heard, but where God is, there are his angelic ministers.
St Pascal Baylon, a Spanish Franciscan friar who lived from 1540-92, reported having seen a multitude of angels adoring the Eucharist at the consecration of the Mass.
Consider how Jesus chooses the simple elements to perform his miracle of love: bread, the wheat that falls to the ground and dies (Jn 12:24), and the juice of the grape to become his blood. If there is no shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. We use unleavened bread since leaven is seen as a sign of corruption.
It is the full congregation present, united to the priesthood of Christ, who celebrate this awesome act of worship. And just as the bread and wine are totally changed and become the living flesh and blood of our Divine Lord, so are the participants, who with heart and soul desire to share in this Eucharist, transformed more and more into the likeness of him who so desires to share this Passover with us.
Meeting Jesus on this exalted level must bring about a transformation in our Christian lives, speech, and judgments. If not, then we have just not met the real Jesus, for there is no longer bread, no longer wine — just a man who was named Jesus.
Not only does this Bread of Life bring nourishment but also a deep spiritual hunger.
Are we worthy?
A text we so often conveniently bypass in Matthew’s gospel hits us with terrific force: “If you are bringing your offerings to the altar and there you remember that your brother/sister has something against you (or you against her), leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled to your brother/sister first, and then come back to offer your gift” (5: 23-25)
Reconciliation and peace of heart is so essential before daring to share with Christ in his sublime banquet. Otherwise, says Paul so clearly, “anyone who eats this Bread and drinks this Cup unworthily…not recognising the Body of the Lord…eats and drinks to his own condemnation” (1 Cor 11:27-30).
So, we must introspect: Do I truly believe? Do I go to Mass hoping, desiring to experience his presence in the Word and the Eucharist? To thrill the moment the Word becomes flesh on our altar?
Whether we feel it or not, the Holy Spirit is active and present, and he is available to every member of the congregation.
We all participate in the action. It would be ridiculous to merely watch the priest doing his thing! It is an unimaginable loss when we are not fully aware of the eternal significance of what is taking place before our eyes on the altar.
We do well to remember that the Eucharistic assembly—the Holy Mass gathering—is constituted by virtue of the Eucharist present, not vice versa! And it is this divine institution which creates the People of God.
Treasure in darkness
“In the breaking of the bread…did not our hearts burn within?” (Lk 24: 30-32).
After receiving Holy Communion we sit in silent prayer; hear his heart beat inside your heart.
There are incredible stories from the war prisons of Russia and Siberia that speak of amazing sacrifices and hardships suffered by Catholic priests and prisoners in preserving every piece of bread, every drop of wine, in order to celebrate, in secret, the beauty and consolation and strength of the Holy Eucharist.
In those years of ugly darkness the Eucharist was their treasure. It still is!
Psalm 42 speaks for all of us: “As the deer yearns for running water, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.”
And St Thomas Aquinas writes so beautifully: “Behold I come to you as one sick to the physician of life; as one unclean to the fountain of mercy; as one blind to the light of eternal brightness; as one poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.” We may add: as one hungry and starving for the Food of Life
If only we could truly appreciate the transforming power of this great treasure.