Taste and See: this saving Bread…

Augustine of Hippo (1)

The Communion Antiphon on Sunday was concise and startling:

The bread that I will give, says the Lord,
is my flesh for the life of the world.
Cf. Jn 6: 51

Like the sacrament of the Eucharist itself, to the eyes a little bread, a little wine, but in very truth something astonishing.

St Augustine spoke of the sacrament in famous words the newly baptised in his Church of Hippo – towards the end of the Great Vigil of Easter….

‘What you see on God’s altar, you’ve already observed during the night that has now ended.

But you’ve heard nothing about just what it might be, or what it might mean, or what great thing it might be said to symbolize. For what you see is simply bread and a cup – this is the information your eyes report.

But your faith demands far subtler insight: the bread is Christ’s body, the cup is Christ’s blood.

Faith can grasp the fundamentals quickly, succinctly, yet it hungers for a fuller account of the matter.

As the prophet says, “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” [Is. 7.9; Septuagint] So you can say to me, “You urged us to believe; now explain, so we can understand.”

Inside each of you, thoughts like these are rising: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, we know the source of his flesh; he took it from the Virgin Mary. Like any infant, he was nursed and nourished; he grew; became a youngster; suffered persecution from his own people. To the wood he was nailed; on the wood he died; from the wood, his body was taken down and buried. On the third day (as he willed) he rose; he ascended bodily into heaven whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. There he dwells even now, seated at God’s right.

So how can bread be his body? And what about the cup? How can it (or what it contains) be his blood?”

My friends, these realities are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped. What is seen is a mere physical likeness; what is grasped bears spiritual fruit.

So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: “You are the body of Christ, member for member.” [1 Cor. 12.27]

If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true!

But what role does the bread play? We have no theory of our own to propose here; listen, instead, to what Paul says about this sacrament: “The bread is one, and we, though many, are one body.” [1 Cor. 10.17]

Understand and rejoice: unity, truth, faithfulness, love. “One bread,” he says. What is this one bread? Is it not the “one body,” formed from many? Remember: bread doesn’t come from a single grain, but from many. When you received exorcism, you were “ground.” When you were baptized, you were “leavened.” When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were “baked.”

Be what you see; receive what you are. This is what Paul is saying about the bread.

So too, what we are to understand about the cup is similar and requires little explanation. In the visible object of bread, many grains are gathered into one just as the faithful (so Scripture says) form “a single heart and mind in God” [Acts 4.32]. And thus it is with the wine. Remember, friends, how wine is made. Individual grapes hang together in a bunch, but the juice from them all is mingled to become a single brew. This is the image chosen by Christ our Lord to show how, at his own table, the mystery of our unity and peace is solemnly consecrated.

All who fail to keep the bond of peace after entering this mystery receive not a sacrament that benefits them, but an indictment that condemns them.

So let us give God our sincere and deepest gratitude, and, as far as human weakness will permit, let us turn to the Lord with pure hearts. With all our strength, let us seek God’s singular mercy, for then the Divine Goodness will surely hear our prayers. God’s power will drive the Evil One from our acts and thoughts; it will deepen our faith, govern our minds, grant us holy thoughts, and lead us, finally, to share the divine happiness through God’s own son Jesus Christ. Amen!

The Bread and Wine are truly Christ, and by his grace we are truly members of Christ. As Augustine says elsewhere, not only Christians but other Christs.

  • What is it about the Eucharist that is most important for you, at present
  • What aspect of Eucharist is most often highlighted in you parish celebrations?
  • What element is most neglected?

Image of St Augustine (and St Monica) from here – visit the site to read reflections on St Augustine from Pope Benedict XVI.

Speak Lord: else we are silent

Courbet - The Wave

The second reading at Sunday’s Mass, the Mass of the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, acknowledges our limitations, our weakness, and how God responds to that.

The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God.

Romans 8:26-27

How remarkable that what God does is create communion between us and him, even in our faltering to find the words. The love that is the Spirit is like a wave that lifts us up and carries us towards God the Father.

Courbet the Wave - detail

Image: The Wave, Gustav Courbet

Taste and See: The mystery of the Eucharist

41

One of the defining qualities of human beings is that we are rational. It is not always evident – but reason is a constitutive feature of human life.

And one of the principal ways we exercise our reason is by questioning.

Asking what, who , when , why – all these actions help us to think and to know, and to live. That, finally, is their point and purpose, their final end: to help us to live.

Many questions can be asked of the Eucharist.

What is it? (A question maybe best answered when we appreciate that the answer is more about who it is and not merely what it is). It is sacrament of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ: but most importantly, being sacrament, it is Jesus Christ present for us.

Contemplation of the answer what/who can fill hours of prayer time – as we acknowledge the wonder of Eucharist and the humility and love of the Lord.

But a lot of time in the Church has been put into considering the ‘how’ question. How is this Bread and Wine Jesus present for us? How does the bread change to become the living Bread, and so on. In the gospel we heard yesterday, those asking ‘how’ questions did not get too far!

‘How’ questions have their place but tend to lead to rather specialised and rarefied conversations and, too often, to disputes in which God’s gift of Eucharist loses place to human pride and faithful living corrupted by disunity.

All questions have their place, but knowing the place and priority of the variety of questions requires a sense of balance and wisdom.

The scriptures have their questions too – and to the fore in the scriptures is not ‘how?’ but ‘why?’ The ‘how’ is addressed, and usually briefly answered: ‘By God’.

Of much greater interest in the scriptures is the question ‘why? Why does God do this?’

Each of the passages in yester day’s Liturgy of the Word seeks to provide a why for the mysteries of God in his heavenly feeding of his people.

Look again at the Gospel.

  • Jesus tells us the ‘what’ straight-off.
  • The ‘how’ questions seem to be a distraction.
  • The answers to ‘why’ questions are full of good news and hope.

Jesus said to the Jews:
‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’

Then the Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said.

Jesus replied:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’

John 6:51-58

  • What most strikes you in the passage?
  • Does it challenge you? Give you hope?
  • How can you respond to that in your life this day?

The image of the Lamb of Sacrifice is taken from a window in a former religious house, now a conference centre in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Speak Lord: Living bread for eternal life

Image

The Gospel for Corpus Christi confronts us with the enormity of what God does for us in Jesus Christ: feeding us with his body and blood, his life.

In the sacramental communion we receive at Mass, it is easy to miss the extraordinary quality of what Jesus does for us. In the Gospel, Jesus repeats the point again and again. He seems to want to provide no point of escape for those who find his words puzzling and offensive.

Jesus said to the Jews:
‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’

Then the Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said.

Jesus replied:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’

John 6:51-58

  • What is the importance of Jesus giving us his body and blood to eat and drink?
  • How do you draw life from Jesus?
  • What is it to live for ever? When, how, does that life begin? What are its characteristics for you now?

The image is The Blood of the Redeemer by Giovanni Bellini, part of the collection of the National Gallery, London.

Speak Lord: One bread, one body

26

The Second reading at the Mass of Corpus Christi tomorrow speaks clearly about the connection between the community and Christ, symbolised in the Eucharistic food and drink.

The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17

It is often observed that our contemporary Catholic experience is very unlike that of the early Christian communities known by Paul. We use little individual breads, not a single loaf and many (most?) shun or refuse the blessing-cup. We say we form a single body in the Lord, but we don’t necessarily live that way, and for sure we rob ourselves of a powerful symbol of the unity we are offered in Christ.

  • What symbolises your unity with those you are missioned with?
  • With whom do you share the common life? How is that expressed?

 

Taste and See: the way to life and godliness

image

The second reading at Sunday’s Mass offers simple guidance for those wishing to live faithfully.

Brothers, we wish you happiness; try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with the holy kiss. All the saints send you greetings.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

  • In what aspect of your life do you most lack perfection? What steps can you take to better imitate the love of God in that dimension of your life?
  • Who might you help today? How?
  • From who are you estranged? Can you take a step towards them in love? At least by praying for them?
  • Are you at peace? Is it a true peace, in which the God of peace and love is willing to dwell with you.

Image is taken from here.

Speak Lord: Called to communion with God and each other

800px-Angelsatmamre-trinity-rublev-1410

The second reading at this Sunday’s Mass is the following gentle and profound passage from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.

Brothers, we wish you happiness; try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with the holy kiss. All the saints send you greetings.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

The life of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit: perfectly one, but also three, entirely united in diversity – is the model to which Christian community strives.

And quite some striving it takes, for most of us. But as we strive we are already gathered to what we strive for – by the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship, or communion, of the Holy Spirit.

  • What about the unity with God attracts or delights you?
  • What about it do you joy to share with others?
  • What about the unity and communion do you find most challenging to live up to? How might you take steps to step forward in this, by God’s grace?

Image is of the Trinity by Andrej Rublev (15th Century)

Taste and See: Sharing Peace together

 

Sign of Peace

One of the principles on which liturgy relies (and indeed on which most prayer of whatever kind relies) is that of repetition. Texts, songs, images re-presented to draw us into a new engagement with the faith of the Church and to fit us better for faithful living.

And so with mystagogy, the process of learning to know our faith anew through a process of continued reflection on our experience of the liturgy, and in this case the Mass.

Today the gospel of Sunday is once more presented to us.

In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again,
‘Peace be with you.
As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’
John 20:19-23

There may already be much that you find in this gospel passage which offers challenge and/or comfort. However today you may like to use its repeated reference to peace as an encouragement to reflect on your experience of the Sign of Peace at Mass.

Sometimes the exchange of the Peace can seem like a separate self-contained unit, all about our greeting of each other in Christ. Sometimes it is shared in an exuberant way, sometimes in a restrained, even cold, way: but its quality seems mostly to be determined by who and how we are.

Maybe that is not quite right. And perhaps we can see why when we remember that the exchange of the Sign of Peace is not a self-contained, independent unit of the Mass. It is part of the Communion Rite, and more particularly is one of a series of moments by which we prepare ourselves to receive the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, newly present for us on the altar.

In the Communion Rite all that is done relates to that particular sacramental presence under form of Bread and Wine:

  • Our praying the Lord’s Prayer, praying as Jesus taught us, but praying with him as we prepare for the reception of communion which deepens our spiritual encounter with him
  • Our praying for the peace of the Church
  • Our exchanging peace with those immediately with us, who are also with us preparing to receive Jesus in sacramental communion
  • Our song during the breaking of the Bread
  • Our hearing the call to receive Holy Communion and our acknowledgement both of our unworthiness to receive the Lord and his mercy which makes it possible even for us to receive him
  • The procession (perhaps with a processional song) and the sign of respect offered to the sacramental presence which is our final preparation before we receive
  • The reception of Holy Communion
  • Our prayer of thanksgiving (which may include song together)

It is quite some process, and if it is to hold together each element needs to remain in balance and lead us through the process.

In many places, and for a range of reasons, the process does not hold together. The failure to use song in procession and in thanksgiving leads to an individualising of the act of reception, and leaves prayer to the individual. And sometimes the giving of the sign of peace draws us from attentiveness to the Lord, and prayer, and leads to an undue and distracting focus on ourselves.

Being aware of and thankful for each other is a good thing – and maybe something we need to give more attention to as we gather for Mass, but it is not the most important thing in the Communion Rite! In the Communion Rite the Sign of Peace is more like a taking breath together, mindful of the awesomeness of what we are invited to in Communion, and that this is something we do not alone, but together as Church – but all this in a moment as we prepare, together, to come to him.

  • How do you experience the Communion Rite?
  • And its Sign of Peace?
  • On what occasions has the reception of Holy Communion been particularly prayerful? And what has helped that?
  • On what occasions has the reception of Holy Communion been less prayerful or reverent, and what was the cause?

The image comes from the blog of the parish of St Columbkille , Diocese of Omaha.