THE MISSIONARY DIMENSION OF THE EUCHARIST
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ GEN 14:18-20; PS 110:1-4; 1 COR 11:23-26; LK 9:11-17 ]
Twice in the second reading, St Paul recounted what the Lord said to His disciples after offering the bread and wine, “Do this as a memorial of me.” “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, and he 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.'”
What does it mean to “do this as a memorial of me”? For some Christians, they take these words of Jesus literally, understanding it in today’s terms. In modern understanding, the word “memorial” simply means calling to mind something that happened in the past. It is just like celebrating our anniversaries. When we celebrate an anniversary, we recall what happened in the past. So, for some Christians, celebrating the Eucharist is simply a symbolic reenactment of what Jesus did two thousand years ago. If we celebrate the Eucharist that way, the most we get out of it is just a reminder of what the Lord has done for us and we are called to do likewise.
But the celebration of the Eucharist is more than simply an imitation of our Lord, like we imitate the lives of great men and women, holy saints of God. When the Lord used the word, “memorial”, He was using it in the context of the Israelites and the Jews. They too were told by God to celebrate the Passover annually as a “memorial.” (cf Ex 12:14) In celebrating the Passover, the Israelites, and then the Jews of each generation, enter into the same salvific experience of their forefathers when they were delivered from the slavery of the Egyptians. In other words, they relive the experience of their ancestors as participants. By so doing, they also share in their blessings as well.
The Eucharist is a Christian version of the Memorial of the Passover. It has the same significance in that the Last Supper we celebrate is not simply a historical recollection of that event but rather, making present that saving event of our Lord who died on the cross and rose again present in the Eucharistic sacrifice. It is the memorial of the redeeming sacrifice of Christ. Hence, we say that the mass is a memorial because the same sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is made present today in an unbloody manner so that we too could appropriate the blessings that were then given at the death of our Lord. For this reason, too, the mass celebrates the real presence of our Lord. That is why the Eucharist is not just a symbol of the Body and Blood of Christ. We believe literally in faith that the bread is the Body of Christ and the wine is His blood after the consecration at mass. This is what St Paul meant when he said, “Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.”
This missionary dimension of the Eucharist is brought out in the fact that the word St Paul used is “proclaiming His death.” Proclamation has the connotation of an announcement to be made, hence an evangelistic and missionary endeavor. Proclamation has to do with mission. Indeed, that is what we say after the consecration of the bread and wine in the “proclamation of the mystery of faith.” Indeed, it is significant that today’s gospel on the multiplication of loaves had to be seen in the context of the disciples just returning from their mission trip and they were tired and hungry. Jesus invited them to a lonely place to rest and reflect on the wonders of God but the people sought them out.
How, then, do we proclaim the mystery of our faith, the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord? We do this by becoming like Jesus in giving ourselves to others. “When the Twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the people away, and they can go to the villages and farms round about to find lodging and food; for we are in a lonely place here.’ He replied, ‘Give them something to eat yourselves.'” Most of the time our love is superficial love. It does not cost us much sacrifices. It is easy to give things that are not of ourselves. We can even offer mass, attend daily mass, give donations, but yet we do not give ourselves wholly to the Lord or to the poor. What the Lord is asking from us is more than things extraneous to us but to give of ourselves. For that is what the Eucharist is, the giving of Jesus’ body and blood. Unlike the Old Covenant priests, they sacrificed an animal as a holocaust. Jesus in the New Covenant is both the priest and the victim. He offers nothing less than Himself for the salvation of the world.
Hence, to do this in memory of our Lord means more than just celebrating the Eucharist as a ritual but that we also interiorize and make our own the sacrifice that Christ offered of Himself. When St Paul says that we proclaim His death whenever we eat His Body and drink His Blood, he was reminding the Christians that the Eucharist is not just a social gathering, a fellowship among Christians but that we who celebrate the Eucharist and consume the bread and wine are called to proclaim His death and resurrection in our lives. Whoever takes part in the Eucharist, therefore, unites himself to the mystery of our Lord’s death and becomes His messenger of love and missionary of the good news of salvation. So to do this in memory of Him is to render present our Lord in our daily life.
Jesus shows us the way after the Last Supper by washing the feet of His disciples. He humbled Himself as a servant, washing the feet of His disciples, anticipating the offering of His life at His passion that would bring about the forgiveness of sins. He said to the disciples, “You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (Jn 13:13-15) This requires us to die to ourselves. We too must give our body and blood for others in humble service. Ultimately, it is a call to self-emptying and forgiveness.
How can we find the strength to do it? By an attitude of thanksgiving. This is why the mass is called Eucharist, which means ‘thanksgiving’. Unless we are grateful for the blessings we have received, especially the gift of Jesus Himself in His passion, death and resurrection, renewed each time when we celebrate the Eucharist, we will not find the joy of announcing the Good News. That is why the Church chooses the first reading from Genesis which recounts the story of Melchizedek and Abram. After winning the battle against the four kings, Abram was met by Melchizedek king of Salem.
Abram recognized that his victory over the four kings was due to God’s divine assistance. Melchizedek praised and blessed God for Abram in thanksgiving for their deliverance by an offering of bread and wine. Through Melchizedek, Abram received His blessings and gave him a tithe of everything, which was a tenth of all his possessions. This is the basis for the biblical concept of tithing. Tithing is recommended so that we will always remember that God is the source of all that we have, we return a portion of we have back to Him.
Only by recognizing that God is the one who supplies us the strength, can we be generous in our response. Of course, for the Christians, we see Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Melchizedek because Christ is also king and priest who offered Himself for our salvation by giving us His body and blood through the Eucharist when bread and wine are offered. Like Abram, we cannot depend on our strength alone. Jesus asked the disciples to feed the crowd but they felt constrained and limited by their resources. But such constraints were overcome when the Lord gave thanks to God using what God had provided for them.
Today, like the apostles, the Lord needs our hands to distribute the bread of life to many who are not just materially hungry but living in spiritual poverty. Jesus is that living bread which came down from heaven, sent by the Father to satisfy our hunger. We must give them Jesus, the Bread of Life ultimately for only He can satisfy everyone. Just as Jesus was sent by the Father so the Lord Jesus commissions us as He did the apostles to break the bread of life, the Word of God for the world. Indeed, we read that after the distribution of the food, they gathered back five baskets full of fragments when all had their fill. They went out with nothing and came back with so much. They had so little to offer to the crowd but God multiplied and gave them much more than they gave to Him. Indeed, if we empty ourselves like the Lord, the Lord can do much with the little that we have. By emptying ourselves in love and service, we can receive much more than what the world can offer. We are filled with the joy, love and peace of our Lord.
So as we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Church invites us to carry the Eucharist in solemn procession, so that we can proclaim publicly that Christ is our savior, the bread of life and that His sacrifice on the cross brings salvation to all. But the Corpus Christi procession does not end this evening because every day, as members of Christ’s body, we must carry Him through the streets that we walk, to our offices, homes and community. We should not just adore the Eucharist in the Church but see Jesus in our brothers and sisters. In this way, the Eucharist becomes the basis, source and strength for us to become missionaries of Christ.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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