Fr Lar O'Connor
Today’s Gospel follows immediately from Jesus' discourse on the Bread of Life where he identifies himself as the Bread of Life with the Eucharist, with his flesh and blood. The reaction is very negative. Even his followers and disciples could not accept what he had to say. Jesus wonders if he were to ascend into heaven like great figures of the past and return with genuine revelation would it make a difference. Of course, the old and certain tradition based on the Old Testament made it hard for them to hear the teaching of Jesus. It has to go beyond that. To understand on a superficial and human level leads nowhere. It is the Spirit, who engenders faith and will lead to a good and true understanding.
Anyway, not able to accept the words of Jesus, “many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.” This is not a strange or unusual happening. It is to our regret that many of Jesus’ disciples have walked away from the Eucharist in recent times. To understand why is not easy. It may have to do with either lack of or deficient understanding. It may have to do with the sweep of secular and non-religious or anti-religious culture prevalent in the country. It may have to do with laziness or recurring bad habit.
I am convinced that if people had a good and genuine understanding of the Eucharist and what happens during its celebration they would never or, at least seldom, miss Mass. Jesus left us the Eucharist at the Last Supper. It was his greatest gift to the church. As the Eucharist developed, it nourished people at two levels. First of all the word of God in the first part of the mass nourishes us by contact with Jesus, his message and his values. The second part of the mass nourishes us by our contact with the role of Jesus in the mystery of our salvation.
In the offertory we bring gifts of bread and wine to the altar. In the early days of the church people brought their own gifts to the church for the celebration. Some of them were consecrated. What was left over was distributed to the poor. The gifts of bread and wine, offered on our behalf by the priest represent the gift of ourselves to God as was true of the sacrifices of the Old Testament. This is clear from the prayer after the Offertory. “With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.”
When we talk about the Eucharist we talk about Sacrament. In Sacrament we use words and actions to bring about an extraordinary happening. It is good to recall the prayer before the consecration in the third Eucharistic Prayer. “Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you: by the same Spirit, graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration, that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ.” In virtue of the words of consecration this is exactly what happens for those present at the celebration. It goes even beyond that. “This is my body, which will be given up for you.” The same is true for the words over the wine. “This is the chalice of my blood ….. which will be poured out for you and for many”. These are the critical words that reveal a tremendous truth. They put us in touch with the death of Christ, with the death of the Son of God who gave up his life out of his utter goodness to manifest his love for us. Every time we attend mass and we pay attention to these words, His great act of love for us takes place in our church. Calvary takes place for us in our church. For that reason the Eucharist is described as a Memorial. What took place in the past takes place for us now. Jesus’ great act of love for us touches us now in this celebration.
There is another gift in the Eucharist that we cannot forget. It is the gift of the Lord himself in Holy Communion. He comes to nourish us, but not in the way that natural food does. He nourishes us by his contact with us which renews our relationship and friendship with him. It is a time of prayer, of conversation and a great sense of union.
I believe that, as Christians, we need to go beyond coming to mass and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. If Eucharist is to make and impact on our personal lives and community, we need to live it day by day. To do so we return to the words of consecration. “This is my body which will be given up for you” and “this is the chalice of my blood which will be poured out for you”. Jesus gave of his humanity, of himself and of his life substance for our benefit. If we adopt the attitude of giving the best of ourselves for the advantage of other people then we live the Eucharist and can make a great contribution in transforming ourselves and society.