Every Eucharist is Christmas!
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
Christ-Mass: As I was preparing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of my Ordination (which took place in Rome on 22nd December 1956, with the celebration of the Eucharist on 22nd December 2006 at St. Andrew's Church, Bandra, Mumbai - the parish of my Baptism, my Catholic education and early priestly ministry), and as I was contemplating to commemorate the 50th anniversary of my 'First Mass' (which was on 23rd December 1956, in Rome, with the celebration of the Eucharist at St. Pius X Church, Mulund, Mumbai, the parish of my present priestly ministry), we felt that the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of my First Mass, actually on the 23rd, should be combined with the celebration of the Parish Christmas Midnight or Vigil Mass on the 24th in the spacious grounds of the Parish Church.
This Spirit-inspired decision brought home to me very strikingly that Christmas is not just an once a year commemoration and celebration, much less an event of the past, but that each 'Eucharist is Christmas', an experience of the present, as the living memorial of the triple mystery of the Incarnation (God being 'conceived' as Man), the Nativity (the God-Man being born), and the Epiphany (the Infant-God-Man being manifested to the World). For as the priest pronounces at Mass the very same words of the Last Supper, firstly, 'This is my Body', Christ becomes flesh, and is 'born', here in his hands, secondly, 'Given up for you', Christ is then lifted up by his hands to be seen by all in his crucified-risen glory, and thirdly, 'Take and eat', Christ is finally presented with his hands and handed over to his believers and followers as their food and drink, their spiritual nourishment. The Christmas Mystery has now become a 'Charismatic' Ministry!
Consecration: As I therefore pronounced the words of Consecration, 'This is my Body', it seemed to me as if the awe inspiring mystery of the Incarnation and Nativity, which we commemorate in the First and Third Joyful mysteries, was being re-enacted. I felt as if I was looking down at the Infant Jesus in the manger of my hands, with the congregation, the shepherds of today, in adoration. And as I lifted him up at the First Elevation and gazed at him in wondrous contemplation, I realized that this was the fruit of God's infinite love for humanity, for God is not primarily absolute power, but absolute love, a love revealed in the complete gift of himself, for Christ did descend from heaven 'for our salvation' only out of love.
By accepting and receiving the gift that God gives us at Christmas, the gift of his love, the gift of his Son, on whose face shines the splendor of God's glory (2 Cor 4:6), we are called in turn to give "glory to God" as our response of grateful praise, even as he gives us a share in 'God's glory', which is man fully alive, for the life of man consists in the vision and likeness of God, thus building 'peace on earth', as the crowning of his messianic gifts. Thus a nun from Tanzania and a woman from Mumbai, experienced instant deliverance from a long standing and severe diabolic oppression, by just looking at the Blessed Sacrament with faith, hope and love.
But remember when Jesus says through the priest, 'This is my Body', he is not just looking at the bread, but at the whole assembly, at you and me, and saying, "You are my Body', you are mine, a part of me, and just as one bread is made up of many particles, so, even though you are many, you are one Body with me as your head". At Christmas, when the Child Jesus was born, God the Father had someone to love in an infinite way, because Jesus is at once man and God. But we too are included in this love, since he has given us the power to become sons of God and the privilege of becoming together members of the body of Christ his Son. For it is not only obedience to God but unity with one another that make us look like him.
Elevation: But the priest does not just say, 'This is my Body', but goes a step further and says, 'This is my Body - broken and given up for you'. God became man for our salvation and Jesus gave up himself even to the Cross as our suffering servant, going through the agony of being forsaken by friends and abandoned apparently even by his own Father. Christ however became man and died for us not only because we had sinned and needed to be saved. True, God decreed the incarnation of his Son because he loved us, and the most important thing is not that God be loved, but that God 'loves' and loved first (cf. 1 John 4:10, 19). But God also sent his Son into the world in order to have someone outside the Trinity who would love him in the highest way without measure, in a way worthy of God and as an example to us.
As the priest lifts up the host at the second or great elevation, reminding us of the third sorrowful mystery, we respond with the great Amen of praise and thanksgiving. For Christ did not just come to give us salvation and peace, even his peace, but he himself is our salvation and is our peace" (Ephesians 2:14). It is as if Jesus is telling us, "Look at me and become like me. Live like me and imitate me in giving my life for others". Jesus first gives his life for our salvation, but he also dies for our imitation so that we then can deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him. We are called to be like him the seed grounded to bear fruit. Jesus first washes our feet and serves us so that we then can wash the feet of one another and serve one another in the family and the community. It is in this way too that God's glory is manifested. For it was by just looking at the lifelike Crucified Lord in a chapel that a woman and a young man were set free dramatically after years of demonic captivity.
Communion: Thirdly, the priest continues and ends the prayer of consecration by saying, 'This is my Body, given up for you, to receive and consume'. He then lifts up the host in the Third Elevation at Communion, Epiphany once again, proclaiming the Body of Christ raised aloft to be the Lamb of God, and the Body of Christ present in the church as blessed to be called to his supper. And the people answer aloud, 'Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed', echoing the prayer said softly by the priest, 'Let this Communion not bring me condemnation but health in mind and body, and eternal life'. Thus a nun in Mumbai had a cancerous lump on her lip instantly dissolved as she received Holy Communion and a woman in Mulund was delivered from a violent demonic oppression as the sacred host was placed on her tongue.
Even more important is our prayer in the Canon that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, reminding us of the third glorious mystery, the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church, so that we can say with Paul, "Now I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me". The Church then becomes truly the 'Body of Christ', an extension of the risen Lord's presence in the world, enlivened and built up by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, enabling us to live in conformity with Christ, nay even transforming us into other Christs. Last but not least, as if in answer to our prayer in the Canon that, as we receive his body and blood, we may become one Body and one Spirit in Christ, in giving us his Body as Food he makes us his Body in Spirit (Gal 3:28). As St. Ephrem would say to each communicant, 'Eat what you are - and become what you eat'. For in eating his 'physical' Body, we become what we eat, his mystical Body, and because we all partake of the one bread, we who are many are now become one Body in and of Christ our head (1 Cor 10:17).
Covenant: One week later, during the celebration of the Solemnity of 'Mary, the Mother of God,' at the Midnight Mass on 31st December 2006 - 1st January 2007, it came home to me that Mary was present in her 'silent' but total way at all the three great events and mysteries of the divine covenant: kneeling and bowing at the Crib in adoration and love, standing at the foot of the Cross in communion and peace, and sitting in the Covenant (Upper) Room in intercession and with joy - as if to insinuate that, if Christ was once born in fact to Mary in Bethlehem, he should be born again by faith in my soul, thus making us 'mothers of Christ'.
As Jesus himself boldly declared in answer to his own question, "Who is my mother?": "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice" (Luke 8:21), and as he would later proclaim to John, "This is your mother", in truth and as exemplar. Mary is thus our model par excellence being the first of those to become 'Mother of Christ' through listening to his word, treasuring it in her heart and meditating on it in her mind, before she became one in the flesh. Already earlier Mary was hailed by Elizabeth as blessed precisely more because she had conceived Jesus in her spirit by faith before she conceived him in her body in fact.
However, there are those who conceive Jesus without giving birth to him, namely, welcoming his word without acting on it, formulating his plan without executing it. They are just hearers of the word but not doers, for they may have 'faith' but have no works to show it. On the other hand, there are those who give birth to Christ without really conceiving him, having 'good works' without real faith, works which do not come from the heart, out of love of God and neighbour, but rather out of habit or worse from hypocrisy, and even for their own glory or interests. For, as St. Francis Assisi said, we conceive Christ when we love him with a sincere heart and with a right conscience, and we give birth to him when we accomplish holy works that show him shining to the world.
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