If there is anything that identifies us as Catholics it is that we are the people of the Eucharist! Along with the ancient churches of the east, the Catholic Church has kept the Eucharist as the source and summit of who we are and what that means for us as the Church of Jesus Christ. Like the early martyrs of North Africa, we can say to the world: Without the Sunday Eucharist we cannot live!
What we do here every Sunday is exactly what Jesus did at the Last Supper. In fact what we do here today is done because of Jesus’ command: DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME! It is the same Jesus whose Holy Spirit we invoke as the invisible power that transforms the bread and wine when the visible action of the priest proclaims THIS IS MY BODY; THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD. Here is the food for our spiritual life. The Eucharist is the unifying power that makes the Church which celebrates the Eucharist.
St John Chrysostom writes: For what is this bread? It is the Body of Christ. And what do those who receive it become? The Body of Christ – not many bodies but one body…As the bread of the Eucharist is one though made of many grains of wheat…so too we are mutually joined to one another and together united with Christ.
Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome 35 years after the death and Resurrection of the Lord. There, then, they were celebrating what we celebrate today. About the Year 400, John Chrysostom’s words explained to the people of Constantinople the same reality we celebrate today. Like them, we too, through the Eucharistic Prayer, the high point of our Mass, we too proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus who is life for the world as Savior of all humankind! And then we are nourished by His Body and Blood, the greatest gift Jesus left us on the night before he died.
Why would any Catholics want to excuse themselves from participation in the Sunday Eucharist? This is so true that the Church rightly teaches us that when we absent ourselves from Sunday Eucharist without having a grave reason, we place ourselves in sin, a sin of justice toward ourselves, a sin of charity toward our neighbor.
Yet this gift, wondrous and awesome as it truly is, is also a task. And today at the Angelus, Pope Francis addressed that task so beautifully . He said, It is not enough to affirm that Jesus is present in the Eucharist; even more it is a life given us in which we take part. We become assimilated into the life of Jesus and thus we accept who we are and pledge to become a community of communion which transforms our lives into gift, a gift above all for the poor.
The Christ we encounter here in His Body and Blood is the same Christ we meet in the day to day events of our lives: in the poor to whom we extend a hand; in the suffering we seek to help; in the brother or sister who needs us to be available to them; in the baby and in the little ones who are so defenseless without us.
He concludes: The Eucharist, the fount of love for the life of the Church, is the school of charity and solidarity.
Charity and solidarity are always the marks of the followers of Christ. How can it be otherwise when, at that Last Supper, Jesus first washed the feet of his disciples. Then he broke the bread and blessed the cup and told the first apostles and all of us: TAKE IT! THIS IS MY BODY.AND THEN HE TOOK A CUP, GAVE THANKS AND GAVE IT TO THEM AND THEY ALL DRANK FROM IT.
That is what we do here today. That is what the Church does until the Lord comes in glory at the end of time. Can we who share this bread and drink from this cup do anything else but pledge to live as he showed us: washing the feet of one another as he did; giving of ourselves to others as he did; belonging more deeply to Christ, to His Church and to one another as he calls us to do?
We know the answer. And we know how to be strengthened to live out the commitment to be HIS community of communion for the life of the world. With those martyrs of North Africa who gave their lives on July 17, 180 AD, WE TOO CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT THE SUNDAY EUCHARIST. With Pope Francis we too pledge to let the Eucharist transform us into men and women of charity and solidarity. For ours is the ancient and beautiful prayer:
O SACRAMENT MOST HOLY; O SACRAMENT DIVINE; ALL PRAISE AND ALL THANKSGIVING BE EVERY MOMENT THINE!