Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Third Sunday of Easter: Word and Sacrament
Recently I was on a little trip and ended up seated next to a fine gentleman. He asked me my profession, and I told him that I was a Catholic priest. After a while, he told me that he was feeling guilty over something that he had done during a Catholic Mass he was invited to attend about five years ago. He, obviously, was not Catholic himself. Anyway, he said that he just did what everyone else was doing and when everyone started moving to the front he joined in and, he said, “I got one of those wafers.” Well, I explained to him that for us Catholics, these are not just wafers but a real presence of Jesus Christ, and that the reason why we do not allow non Catholics to receive is that receiving communion demands a belief in the Eucharist as we Catholics believe. I certainly could have said a lot more, such as the reverence we give to the Eucharist, but he got the point and really felt bad about doing something that he knows now was wrong. So I told him that he certainly didn’t mean to do anything wrong and that we Catholics need to do a better job explaining our services when we invite non-Catholics to join us at Mass.
I was thinking about this as I considered that Gospel for this Sunday on the meeting of our Lord with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. How much the Eucharist meant to those disciples! First, Jesus spoke to them, and then he broke the bread as he did during at the Last Supper. They said that their hearts were on fire when he explained Scripture to them, but they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. Jesus gave two gifts to these disciples, the gift of understanding the new significance of the Word of God, and the gift of the Eucharist.
I want to consider briefly each of these gifts.
I am sure that all of your homes have bibles. But do check to be certain that you own a Catholic Bible. This is important because the Catholic Bible includes books such as Wisdom, Sirach and Tobit which are not found in the non-Catholic bibles. Every home with little children should also have a children’s bible, or at least a book with bible stories for children. We should read our bibles, study our bibles, but the most important thing we should do is pray with our bibles. Instead of being all bogged down with footnotes and various interpretations, we should read a passage and just ask ourselves, “What is this saying to me?” Scripture is living, effective, a two-edged sword, cutting deeply into each of us. We need to talk to the Lord about what we read in the Bible. We should pray. And, perhaps, when we realize that God is speaking to us through the Word, our hearts will also be on fire like the hearts of the disciples on road to Emmaus.
It is important that we have bibles, and pray with our bibles, but we have been given a gift that is greater than even our bibles. We have been given the gift of the Eucharist. We have been given the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. When we receive communion, we are united to Jesus offering Himself as the Eternal Sacrifice on the Cross and filling us with the Eternal Life of the Resurrection.
I find it very sad that in the history of the Church, attacks on Roman Catholicism have always included attacks on the Eucharist. The Church of the Sixteenth century certainly needed to be reformed, and was reformed at the Council of Trent. But the initial reformers very quickly took it on themselves to eliminate the Mass, eliminate Holy Orders, and eliminate the Eucharist. The Gift that Jesus spoke of in John 6, the gift that was the focus of the Last Supper, the gift that had been fundamental to the practice of the faith from the very beginning of the Church was mocked. In some places, such as in England, any priest caught saying a Mass was killed in a most brutal way. The persecution of the Catholic Church by attacking the Eucharist continues in our own times. It was not that many years ago that the Catholic belief in the Eucharist was attacked right here in Pinellas County by members of one of the leading secular charities.
It is also sad that so many of our Catholic families have not placed a great value on their own reception of the Eucharist. I know that I am preaching to the choir here. You are in Church because you want to receive Communion this morning. You value taking Jesus within yourself. But this is not the case in many Catholics who say that they pray, which is good, but who deprive themselves and, worse, their children, the greatest gift of prayer there is, union with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
Why is it that people withdraw from a regular reception of the Eucharist? That is a hard question to answer. Part of it might be a matter of priorities: Mass is not as important to some people as their children’s sports or other activities, even though there are plenty of opportunities to attend Mass other than Sunday mornings. Or maybe some families just fall out of the habit of attending Mass every week. This is particularly evident when the school ends and the family’s schedule changes.
But I fear that there is another reason that is the same both for those who attack the Eucharist and for those who believe in the Real Presence but do not receive regularly. And that reason is that to understand the significance of the Eucharist, a person needs to be open to the mystical.
Our modern world has a difficult time dealing with the concept of mystery. It thinks that everything either has an explanation, or it doesn’t exist. As a result the world deprives itself of that which is beyond the imagination of man. It deprives itself of the ability to be one with God in the Eucharist. It deprives itself of the joy of recognizing Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread.
Some of our families consider the reception of the Eucharist just as something that they do, equating it with every action they perform in Church. They don’t realize that receiving the Eucharist is entering an encounter with the Lord. It is something that Jesus does. Reception of the Eucharist is an encounter with mystery, a mystical encounter with Jesus Christ.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were open to mystery. They had heard that something had happened after the crucifixion. They talked about their hope in this Jesus of Nazareth. They were open to the mysterious stranger’s explanation of scripture. And then they were open to recognizing the Lord in the Breaking of the Bread.
Last week our readings called us to faith. This week we are called into mystery. We are called to come to a deeper appreciation and reverence for the wonders our Savior has provided for us in the Breaking of the Bread.