A WORTHY RECEPTION OF THE LORD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 Cor 11:17-33; Ps 40:7-10, 17; Luke 7:1-10 ]
Both readings today focus on the theme of unworthiness in receiving the Lord. In the first reading, St Paul was reprimanding the Christians at Corinth for receiving the Lord at the Eucharist unworthily. What happened was that the Christians were celebrating the Eucharist but they did not exercise love among themselves or foster unity. This happened because in the early Church, the meal fellowship among them took place before the actual celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Those who were rich and could afford were eating among themselves. The poorer members were segregated and often came late and had nothing to eat. St Paul saw this situation as a contradiction of the Eucharist that they were celebrating. Such a celebration no longer truly reflected the meaning of the Eucharist and the objective of the Eucharist. Many Catholics who are used to attending mass regularly on Sundays and even on weekdays can also fall into this same mistake of treating the mass like a ritual and missing the real intent of the Eucharistic celebration. How then can we ensure that our reception of the Lord in the Eucharist does not end up as a mockery of what we celebrate?
Firstly, the Eucharist celebrates our deliverance from sin and death through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are reminded of how Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper on the night of the Passover Meal. (Cf. Lk 22:13-20) Just as the Passover celebrated the deliverance of the Hebrews from the slavery of the Egyptians, so too, the Last Supper Meal celebrates our deliverance from sin through the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord. Although St John had it as a farewell meal so that Jesus was the Passover Lamb as He died at the time when the lambs were slaughtered for the Passover Meal, both commemorate our Lord as the Passover. For Catholics, every mass therefore is a memorial or a remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Secondly, the Last Supper is celebrated as a thanksgiving for our salvation. St Paul said, “For this is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you: that on the same night that he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it.” So when we celebrate the Eucharist, we want to thank God for all the blessings given to us in and through Christ, especially the gift of forgiveness for our sins and new life through His sacrificial death on the cross.
Thirdly, the Eucharist is celebrated as a meal. It is a fellowship among the disciples of our Lord. By partaking of the Eucharist, we are united with Jesus and with each other. By coming together to celebrate the Eucharist, we become more and more the body of Christ. The Eucharist should promote fraternal unity and love among ourselves as Christians because we are all united in Christ. Receiving the Eucharist is more than just receiving the Body of Christ but also to welcome the members of His body, the Church. Christ has died for us all. As people of the New Covenant, we become the new People of God. Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Hence, we must live together as God’s people.
St Paul felt it scandalous that the Christians were not regarding each other as brothers and sisters. There were factions among themselves. “In the first place, I hear that when you all come together as a community, there are separate factions among you, and I half believe it – since there must no doubt be separate groups among you, to distinguish those who are to be trusted.” Secondly, they were acting uncharitably towards each other, especially the poorer members of the community. For St Paul, this was a serious breach of unity and charity which went against the spirit of the celebration of the Eucharist.
And all these are not just symbols but truly a memorial, “anamnesis” which makes present the sacrifice of Christ and transforms the bread and wine into His body and blood. Jesus said, “‘This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me’. In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.'” It is Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist that we celebrate. It is His presence that makes all the difference. This is why Catholics regard the Eucharist as Christ’s presence par excellence.
Consequently, we must receive the Lord with reverence and respect. This is not just any other meal but it is the meal of the Lord where He makes Himself truly present. We must remember what we are celebrating and why we are celebrating, otherwise it becomes a ritual and a routine which does not bring any real effect in our lives. We must confess our sinfulness and unworthiness when we receive Him. This was what the Centurion did when the Lord wanted to come to His house to heal his servant. He said, “Sir, do not put yourself to trouble; because I am not worthy to have you under my roof; and for this same reason I did not presume to come to you myself; but give the word and let my servant be cured.” The centurion was mindful that as a pagan, Jesus could not enter his house, lest He became ritually unclean. So in his humility and unworthiness, he was contented to receive the Lord from afar. In reality, this is our case too. We also must examine our conscience and confess our sins before Holy Communion, asking for the Lord to forgive us our sins so that we will be more worthy to hear His Word and receive Him in the Eucharist.
Secondly, to receive Him, worthily, we must examine ourselves, whether we hold resentment against others, especially members of our community, bearing in mind what the Lord said, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:23f) Receiving the Eucharist without forgiving our brothers and sisters is an act of contradiction because the Eucharist takes away our sins, reconciles us with God and with our neighbours. To receive the Eucharist and yet hold grudges in our hearts against our fellowmen is to deny the saving effects of Christ’s death for us on the cross. Sinning against unity, and worse still, pretending to be in unity with Christ and the Church, is to drink the cup unworthily.
Most of all, after receiving the Eucharist, we must live out the Eucharist in our lives. St Paul says, “Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death. So to sum up, my dear brothers, when you meet for the Meal, wait for one another.” Fraternal charity is the manifestation of a Eucharist properly received. Pope Benedict wrote, “As the years went by and the Church spread further afield, the exercise of charity became established as one of her essential activities, along with the administration of the sacraments and the proclamation of the word: love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word.” (Deus Caritas Est, 22)
This was precisely why the Centurion was loved by the Jews. They spoke up for him because of his love for the people. The centurion sent some “Jewish elders to him to ask him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus they pleaded earnestly with him. ‘He deserves this of you’ they said ‘because he is friendly towards our people; in fact, he is the one who built the synagogue.'” Love is the ultimate truth that God lives in us. So says, St John. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (cf 1Jn 4:7f) Indeed, there are many non-Christians who love without explicitly knowing God, as in the case of the Centurion. But they certainly have known God in love.
To find the strength to love, we must celebrate the Eucharist as a memory of Him. St Paul says, “‘Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’ Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.” This means remembering what Jesus did for us and then imitating Him in dying to self so that we can give life to others in self-sacrifice and love. Indeed, this is what the psalmist says, “You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings, but an open ear. You do not ask for holocaust and victim. Instead, here am I.” We must make ourselves a living sacrifice for Christ and our fellowmen.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
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