We prepare for the Eucharist every day by our living the mission to which we are sent at the end of the previous liturgy, to love and serve the Lord. We prepare by living out our received identity as His holy Body and Blood. Preparing is our caring for and sharing ourselves with God’s family.
We are “inside-out” people. We have inside experiences of positive or negative urging. We feel things and our bodies want to do something to “outward” those emotions. Our faces automatically reflect sweet spirits with smiles, grins, twinkles of eyes. Tears water our cheeks in sadness or joy. I have noticed often that young people have to dance or tap their toes while eating something they really like. The inside just has to come out in some way. To understand the sacraments, we have to understand how psychologically sound they all are, as well as theologically and spiritually consistent.
We celebrate a wonderful and central mystery of our Catholic faith this Sunday. We have many symbols in Christianity. We have statues, water, oil, candles, flowers, vestments, and works of art. They all represent a reality which the symbols call to mind. The Eucharist, the consecrated bread and wine, Communion, these are not symbols. We believe, we celebrate that Jesus Christ is present, real, whole, and available. If you ask me to prove this my inside spirit will make my face smile. Love needs expression, not proof.
We hear in today’s First Reading the account of a wonderful liturgy. Moses, in the previous chapters of Exodus, has been relating the laws and customs appropriate to Israel’s relationship with God. So the liturgy of the word has taken place and to it all the people say, “Yes, all that the Lord has asked of us, we will do!” These laws are extremely specific and demanding.
Moses then reads from the book of the covenant to which the people again shout, “yes”. Their inside spirits are coming outside. The Spirit of the covenanting God is being spoken out loud.
The second part of the liturgy is the sacrificing of the bulls. The altar is set with markers of the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses, the high priest and mediator, pours half the blood of this peace offering on the altar and the other half he sprinkles on the people. This gesture unites the people to the altar which is the representation of the presence of God. There are words, responses, gestures, reception of their meaning, and a uniting of the people initiated all by God and executed through the human instrumentality of Moses.
The Gospel has a liturgical form to it as well. There is the preparation by the disciples for the celebration of their remembering the saving event of their history, the Passover. While they are doing the remembering, a part of which is a memorial meal, Jesus begins His changing of history which will culminate in His final handing-over on Calvary and His Resurrection and the handing-over of His Spirit. Firstly, He hands over His Body and Blood in a sacramental manner. The bread is part of the ritually remembering the unleavened bread of the Exodus. The wine is present on the table in the ritual remembering of the ten plagues as well as the unifying sharing of wine recalling the fellowship of God’s people.
Jesus transforms these symbols into His reality and asks to be remembered as the New Covenant or outwardness of God’s love. This first Eucharistic liturgy ends with a prophetic prayer that Jesus makes in which He states that this will be the last time He will celebrate the Passover until He has accomplished His salvific mission. Then they close with a hymn and leave.
We all have many little and large reminders of people who were present to us as friends and family, or reminders of some past event. My little room here has a statue from the shrine at Fatima, which two friends brought me. They thought of me there. I have a container of sand from Normandy which my brother brought, knowing that I am an American History buff. He thought of me while visiting there. I have all kinds of outwardnesses which when I pick them up, call to mind the affection which sponsored their being handed over to me. I have stones, a beaded key chain, a Green Bay Packer football-player doll, photographs, and a museum of my being loved and remembered. Today I returned from giving a retreat to the retired School Sisters of Notre Dame in Elm Brove, Wisconsin. Their convent was filled with memory-things recalling their pasts and the goodness of God in their lives. They had been spending their lives in doing things in memory of Jesus. Sister Lawrence made some chocolate chip cookies for me, not knowing I am trying not to eat sugar. Last night I took one, wrapped it in cellophane and here it sits tonight on my desk in memory of how loved I was and feel.
These little sacraments in our homes are great reminders, but those people who gave these gifts to us are not here. Their love is here, the cookie is here, I am here, but they are limited to where they are right now. Jesus, whose love is infinite, both handed over His Body and Blood to us, and continues to bless us with a memory and a Present. The divine inside keeps handing over the blessing of Love. What Jesus was, He is, the Outwardness of the Inwardness of God. Sacraments are the extension or outwardnesses of the Person and personality and mission of Jesus. We in our turn become the sacrament of the Sacraments, especially the Body and Blood of Christ, by how we let Him out in our lives. We are really present in these actions of love. Jesus is real and not a symbol as we remember the past and present event of His saving love.
Now where is that cookie!
“Alleluia. I am the living bread come down from heaven, says the Lord; whoever eats this bread will live for ever.. Alleluia.”
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