|2005 Knock Pilgrimage Fr. Sean|
Msgr. Sean Heaney, P.P. Tullamore
âWhen we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.â
One of the last acts of Pope John Paul 2 was to proclaim the Year of the Eucharist, which runs from October 2004 to October 2005. This special time of reflection on the Eucharist affords the Church an opportunity to review our attitude to the Eucharist, and to correct, where necessary, misunderstandings and abuses that can creep in over a period of time. Pope John Paul in his writings and addresses repeatedly spoke of the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church. By this word, âcentralityâ he seemed to bring us back to the time of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, when those who found the promise of Jesus to give his flesh to eat, and his blood to drink âa hard sayingâ and were allowed to leave âand walk no more with himâ. If they could not accept his word âhe who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in himâ, then they could not be his disciples. Hence the use of the word centrality by John Paul 2 to remind us that faith in the gift of his Body and Blood is central to true discipleship of Jesus Christ.
The Year of the Eucharist is, therefore, a time for us to make the Eucharist the centre of our Christian lives. We make it central both at the individual level, and at the communal level. The first requirement for each of us is to have faith in the Eucharist. We need to pray always for the gift of strong faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion in the form of bread and wine. Having faith in the Real Presence does not mean having an academic grasp of the meaning of the concepts of Transubstantiation or Transignification or any other theory of how the Real Presence is possible. After all, none of these theories can explain to us what is a mystery, and therefore beyond our understanding. I believe we should focus rather on the fact of change, and see the miracle of the Mass as the changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. How the change happens we cannot understand, but on the word of Jesus, we believe it.
The second requirement to make the Eucharist central to our lives is that we have devotion to the Eucharist. Taking on board the words of Jesus: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him” we must understand that the truest devotion to the Eucharist is receiving it in Holy Communion. We remember the tradition of the Church, first enunciated by St. Paul, that we must make ourselves worthy to receive Communion. Being worthy does not mean that we are free from all sin, but that we are free from grave sin. I would always assume that the great majority of any congregation are indeed worthy to receive Communion. Eucharistic Adoration and other devotions which are widespread are intended to deepen our understanding of the centrality of the Eucharist in our lives. They are not encouraged instead of reception of Holy Communion, but as a help us to receiving Holy Communion in a more worthy manner. It is in the area of devotion to the Blessed Eucharist that the community aspect is most important. St Paul frequently exhorts the fledgling communities he set up to confirm one another in the faith, principally by sharing in the celebration of the Eucharist. Our attendance at Mass is not just a personal matter; it is also a community matter. By coming together to offer the Mass we encourage and help each other in the faith. As early as the 3rd. century Bishops in Syria were concerned that many Christians were not attending Mass. They wrote a letter pleading with them to come to Mass, as their absence was hurting the Body of Christ, and stating that the Church of Syria felt diminished by their absence. Perhaps at this time we in Ireland could address similar remarks to many of our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. So, true devotion to the Blessed Eucharist consists of making ourselves worthy to share Holy Communion regularly and following up that sharing by other devotions which help us to recognise how central the Eucharist is to our faith.
We believe that we belong to the Body of Christ, through our Baptism. We all share the one faith with many millions of people throughout the world and in Holy Communion we feel one with all of them, as they also share in Holy Communion. This concept of the Body of Christ (the Church) sharing in the Body of Christ has led one author to describe the Eucharist as the Body of Christ feeding the Body of Christ (the Church). It also helps us to understand why the Church has always referred to the Eucharist as the Sacrament of Unity. St. Paul strongly reprimanded the Corinthians because they had allowed the practice of distinction between rich and poor to creep into their celebration of Mass.: “When you meet together it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat; for when eating begins, each one of you has his own supper first, and there is one going hungry while another is getting drunk. Surely you have homes for eating and drinking in? Or have you such disregard for God’s assembly that you can put to shame those who have nothing?” In St. Paul’s view the greatest abuse was the fact that some of the community were made to feel inferior, and this clearly contradicts the unity of all who share the Body of Christ. The Eucharist is the great Sacrament which builds the unity of the Church and binds us together as one.
The hope is that as we come towards the end of the Year of the Eucharist, we will have a greater sense of the centrality of the Eucharist in our lives. Strengthened with this renewed faith, we can go forward as a more confident and humble Church. We will have a greater urgency to reach out to others, and bring them closer to a true understanding of Eucharist. We might for instance dedicate ourselves to helping parents of First Communion children to have a greater sense of balance in how they introduce their children to this great Sacrament. We also need to acknowledge another oft repeated statement of Pope John Paul 2 that every generation needs to be converted to Christ. In the area of Eucharistic Faith there is a great need for that conversion, and we should all hope that this special Year of the Eucharist will help us all to such a conversion.
Finally, I will read for you a quotation from “The Shape of the Eucharist” by Gregory Dix which does highlight the centrality of the Eucharist in the lives of so many people:
“Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold;
for armies in triumph, or for a bride and a groom in a little country church;
for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat;
for the wisdom of the parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die;
for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America;
for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover;
in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia;
for the village headman tempted to return to fetish because the yams had failed; …………….
for Captain so-and-so, wounded and a prisoner of war;
while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the Church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows;
furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk;
gorgeously for the canonisation of St. Joan of Arc
– one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them.
And best of all, week by week, and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei – the holy common people of God”.