I think for most Catholics the Mass or as we call it now, the Eucharist, or the
Liturgy of Celebration of the Eucharist is the high point of our faith
experience. Throughout the centuries Christians have gathered to do what
Jesus ‘told them to do,’ ‘Do This in Memory of Me.’ It has always been a source
of inspiration and self identity for Christians. When we do this we are
doing what Jesus told us to do to remain in Him and with one another.
We may not have understood the theology or ‘why’ gathering for Eucharist does
feed and encourage us, but we feel it. Sometimes it is as simple as
saying, ‘You know, I had a headache when I got to Church, but after the Mass I
felt so much better.’ That is the experience of the Eucharist sustaining
and healing us. It has a power to change us and make us more who we are
meant to be, whole persons in Christ.
I think there are two realities at work in every Eucharist. The first
reality is the very Person of Christ whom we meet in every Eucharist. We
meet Christ in the very act of giving himself to us. We meet him in his
sacrifice of himself to the Father on our behalf. It is His person we
encounter at this level. It is the essence of why he came, the
moment in his life when he gave all and emptied himself completely in love.
It is the sacrifice that redeems the world. That is why we say we are not
‘repeating’ the sacrifice when we gather to celebrate, but we are continuing the
one eternal sacrifice initiated in the Upper Room, enacted on Calvary and
ratified and endorsed in His Resurrection in the Garden.
The second reality we encounter is that of the Body of Christ itself, we the
members of Christ, who celebrate this mystery with him, who are caught up in the
same offering, so that we say the Eucharist is the ‘Whole Christ offering the
Whole Christ to the Father.’ We the members of Christ with him are the
whole Christ and together with him we offer ourselves to the Father. We
who are baptized into him offer the sacrifice with the priest and with Christ to
the Father. So, our part is significant. We become like Christ in
the Eucharist, we are placed in a stance of giving of ourselves to one another
in sacrifice in union with Christ.
This second reality, our part, is very important in understanding the full
impact of why and how the Eucharist sustains us. If we do not realize or
emphasize our part then a major part of the Eucharistic experience is diminished
for us. Before the renewal of our liturgy we didn’t stress our part.
The emphasis was on ‘receiving Jesus in Holy Communion.’ There was little
awareness of emphasis on how our presence there or what we did together affected
anyone else. We had little sense of Eucharist as worship of the whole Body
of Christ and we as members of it.
The renewal of our understanding of what Eucharistic Liturgy and indeed, all
celebration of Liturgy and Sacraments, enables us to see that we together offer
this sacrifice and that each of us contributes to the full impact of the
celebration. If we are not aware of this and do not see ourselves as
affecting the impact of the celebration then we diminish that impact. For
example, if we come in a passive way, thinking that we are just there to
receive, then we do not understand that we are all meant to see ourselves as
active participants and celebrants of the Eucharist. How we participate,
actively, enthusiastically, contributes to the impact of the celebration and
affects those there with us.
Father Michael Burke, OP