The Holy Eucharist: Source and Summit of Christian Life
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
Gone are those days when the Sunday congregation 'heard' Mass 'said' in a language not understood by them, and that too often rattled off inaudibly, except to the altar servers who replied in Latin mechanically, the celebrant with his back to the people, the pious ones busy 'saying' the Rosary and the less pious ones staring into outer space, the former making sure they came in time for the offertory and the latter not making the mistake of receiving communion. Thanks to the Conciliar document on Sacred Liturgy the faithful now realize that the Mass is both the Proclamation of the Word, the Bread of Life, and the Breaking of the Bread, the Word made Flesh. The Mass is therefore meant to be a Celebration of the Paschal Mystery, calling for an active and joyful participation of the whole assembly, and is in the process both a teaching on and a demonstration of authentic and effective discipleship and evangelism.
The Eucharistic Assembly of the Parish Community
The Mass really begins with our leaving our individual homes (the domestic church), then proceeding singing for joy, and finally meeting in the parish church, - gathering, as the familiar hymn declares, together, unto Him, - One with Christ and his Church. The welcome greeting of the celebrant indicates that we have come here to experience the love of the Father as his Family, the grace of Jesus as his Body, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit as his Temple. For the Gospel reminds us even today, "He is calling you" (Mk 10:49), and "The Master is here and wants to see you" (Jn 11:28), and Jesus himself has promised, "Where two are three meet in my name I shall be there with them, and when they pray in agreement my Father will grant their prayer" (Mt 18:19,20).
A Call to Repentance and Reconciliation
In line with the call to repentance by the prophets, like John the Baptist, by Jesus himself and by the Apostles, like Peter, the Church then invites us to recall and acknowledge our sins, not only in deed but even of thought, not only of commission but even of omission, to repent of them and ask forgiveness both of God and of our brothers and sisters in the parish community, in order to prepare ourselves for a worthy and joyful celebration of the Sacred Mysteries in the House of God, even as Moses was told to take off his shoes because he was on holy ground (Ex 3:5). We then ask one another to pray for a sincere experience and a joyful assurance of God's unmerited and unconditional forgiving love. Later on before asking the Lamb of God to take away our sins, we will be offering one another the sign of Peace aware that, though we are members of one body, we may have hurt one another and we need to be reconciled with one another even before we offer our gifts to God and much more before we share them with one another.
Our Song of Praise of and Thanks to God - It is only then that with cleansed hearts and cleansed lips we dare to first sing our praises to God for his Holiness, i.e., for what he is in himself, our God, King and Father, and to then express our thanks to him ('Eucharist' means Thanksgiving), for his Love, i.e., for what he has done for us, in giving us his only Son, as our only Lord, and his sacrificial Lamb, as our only Saviour, who alone takes away our sins and hears our prayers. That is why even if liturgically one may not say the 'Gloria', the whole Mass is meant to be a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, bringing all that is within me, in the words of the Psalmist, with the whole of creation, and in tune with the angelic choir of the first Christmas, to give Glory to God alone in the heavens and to thank him for his Peace to men on earth, - and Jesus alone is our Peace, and the Glory of God is Peace in and among men.
Proclamation and Acceptance of the Good News
Inspired by the example of Jesus himself and following the practice of the Apostles proclaiming and teaching the Word of God at all times, the Church proclaims (and not just reads) the readings from the Scriptures, so well broken in the beautiful Lectionary of the Mass. For God's Word is alive and active, cutting to the heart, as it did through Peter at Pentecost, changing our lives and healing our hurts, as God himself said should happen and the Centurion knew would happen. The homily that follows is meant to help us to understand and to reflect on that Word, as Mary did, thus making it relevant to us today. It should lead us both to renew our faith reciting the 'Credo', (for without faith man cannot please God, and faith gives us life), and to start acting upon it in the general intercessions, called the prayer of the faithful, for the actual needs of the community, the church and world at large.
The Offering of Bread and Wine
As we progress from hearing the Word of God, we now proceed to doing it, (Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only- James 1:22), bringing to the Altar of God our symbolical gifts of bread and wine, equally the fruit of the earth (God's gift) and the work of our hands (human labour), together with the people's offerings for the poor and needy. We are then invited to pray that our sacrificial offerings may be so acceptable to God, to his praise and for our good, that they may become our bread of life and our cup of joy, - the very body and blood of Jesus, so that, as we offer ourselves and partake of this source of divine life, we too may be transformed unto Jesus, and truly say with St. Paul, "I live - not really I, but Christ lives in me". For in the very words of the Mass we pray that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity, because as St. Augustine put it, the Divine became a human so that we humans could become divine.
The Consecration of these Gifts
The Eucharistic Prayer, the highlight of the Mass, begins with thanking God for creating the world through the Word, now made flesh in Mary through the Holy Spirit to be our Saviour, by dying on the Cross and revealing the resurrection, 'thus fulfilling your will and winning for you a holy people'. We recall to mind that before his death he took bread and wine and said, This is my body broken for you Eat it, and, This is blood shed for you Drink it - and, Do this in memory of me. Since all life and holiness comes from God through Jesus his Son by the working of the Spirit, we bring these our gifts asking God to transform them by the power of the same Spirit so that they may become the body and blood of his Son at whose command we celebrate this Eucharist. The people then proclaims this Mystery of our Faith with thanks, Christ has died thus destroying our death; with joy, He is risen thus restoring our life; and with hope, He will come again in triumphant glory.
The Memorial of the Lord's Death and Resurrection
Soon after proclaiming the historical fact of the Lord's Paschal Mystery, we pray for the fruits of his redemption to be manifest through the intercession of the Church triumphant, in the homecoming into his kingdom of the Church suffering, our dear departed, and in the struggles of the Church militant. We ask the Lord to strengthen the pilgrim Church in faith and to unite it in love all over the world, and thus advance the salvation and peace of the whole world. For the best memorial of the Lord's Death and Resurrection is our own dying to sin and rising to a new life with him. We pray that his death having now reconciled us to himself, we may by receiving his body and blood be filled by his Holy Spirit and become one body, one spirit in Christ. The Lord in turn will thus make of us his everlasting gift to the Father and sharers in the inheritance of Mary, the apostles, the martyrs and the saints, seeing Him as He is and becoming like Him.
As commanded by Jesus, we now receive his body and blood as our spiritual food. All the Communion prayers, from the invitation to pray the 'Our Father' to the 'Amen' in response to 'The Body of Christ', are the most compact and effective prayer for total healing. Beginning to pray in the Lord's, and now the Church's prayer, for this 'daily food' and for forgiveness as its condition, we continue to pray for freedom from all our sins, for deliverance from every evil, for protection from all anxiety, for inner peace and joyful hope, for faithfulness to the Lord's teaching, and for the grace of never being parted from Him. Finally while the celebrant prays quietly that the receiving of the body and blood of Jesus may not be for our condemnation but for our total healing, in spirit, mind and body, we end with an outburst of faith, 'Lord I am not worthy to receive you. Say but the word and I shall be healed' - but the Lord looks not at our unworthiness but on the faith of the church and deigns to come into our hearts.
The Blessing and Sending Forth on Mission
Like the Gospels, the Mass began with an invitation to come up to the mountain of the Lord, (Mt. Sion or Mt. Tabor), to the House of God - with the upward or vertical movement of 'Com-Union with the Trinity', 'In the name of …'. It now ends, like the Gospels, with a command to go down into the plains of the earth, of mankind, - with the downward or horizontal movement of 'Unity in the Community', ' 'Go in peace to love and to serve …'. The Mass (Sent or Mission) in this sense really begins after the Mass, as we are blessed and sent back into the world to live the Mass and every part of it in our personal and family life, in our community and in society. We then go forth blessing and thanking the Lord, for the privilege of continuing his ministry of proclaiming Good News and of doing Good Works to everyone, everywhere and every time.
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Led by the Spirit reproduced with permission from Charisindia. Copyright © Fr. Rufus Pereira. All rights reserved.