Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord: The Center of Our Celebration
With the graduation season concluded, some of our young people are preparing to go off to college or grad school. A number of our eighteen year olds will actually be leaving in just a few weeks to begin the summer semester. I’d like to begin today by telling you the story I read a number of years ago about Alice, a young lady determined to continue to celebrate her faith away from home.
Alice had been active in her high school youth program and was a fixture at the Teen Mass and on the various retreats for the young people. She attended community college for her first two years, and was quite busy with both a job and with school, but these didn’t prevent her from becoming a chaperone for the high school Teens. But at the end of those two years, she had to leave her parish. She was accepted in one of the universities in Boston, one that had specialized courses in a field that intrigued her.
Alice was determined that she would not let her leaving home change her faith life. She prayed, asking God to help her find the parish that would be right for her. She was determined to search out for a parish that would provide her with an experience similar to what she had cherished at home. So from the very first Sunday in the city, Alice began shopping for the right parish. In the first six weeks she went to six different parishes, many recommended by her Catholic classmates. Each parish had a certain strength about it. None, though, could match the experiences she grew up loving. The music was not that good in this parish, but the homilies were inspiring. The homilies were not that good in that parish, but the people seemed so welcoming. Each parish provided a good experience for Alice, but she didn’t quite find her place yet.
On the seventh Sunday, Alice had agreed to join her new friends on a trip to the Berkshires to see the fall foliage. They were leaving at 10. Alice still had time to go to the 7:30 Mass at the old church a few blocks from the campus. Her friends told her that it would be a quick but boring Mass. Still, she went, even though she was not expecting an uplifting experience. When she entered, the church was large, cold and pretty empty. She went to the front of the church. The priest came out with the ringing of a bell. There was no music. The celebrant was elderly. He seemed to get lost a bit in his homily, but he radiated warmth and determination. Alice thought, “He’s a nice old man.” There was little appealing in any of the aspects of the celebration unique to that parish. Certainly, nothing that would lend itself to any comparison with the other churches Alice had checked out. So, Alice decided not to critique the parish, but just celebrate the Mass. After all, she went there to be united to Jesus and receive His Body and Blood. Her focus was more on what the Mass was all about rather than the wonderful experiences she was seeking to enhance the Mass.
By the conclusion of the Mass, Alice realized that she had found her parish. She was less concerned with experiences and more concerned with union with God. She would join that parish. After a while she became a lector. The old pastor asked her if she would spend some time with the high school kids. She soon realized he wanted her to start a youth program. Well, this was now her parish and she wanted the kids in that area to cherish their faith. But most important, she prayed. It was not that she didn’t love going to the Teen Mass when she returned home from college, but she had
now found her place where she could celebrate and grow in her love of the Eucharist. Alice’s prayer had been answered in a way that was completely opposite her expectations.
Quite often, like Alice, we focus on the enhancements to our celebration of Mass and forget why we attend Mass in the first place. We attend Mass to be united with Jesus Christ in the Upper Room at the Last Supper, and on the Hill of Calvary at the Crucifixion of the Lord. We attend Mass to be united with Jesus Christ in the Eucharistic Gift of His Body and Blood.
Today’s celebration, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord, is an opportunity for us to focus on the Mass and the Eucharist.
Historically, there was only one sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Sacramentally, Jesus is sacrificed on the cross as often as the Eucharist is celebrated. Through the sacrament of the Eucharist that we celebrate every day on our altars, we are mysteriously present at the death of the Lord. The ancient Jews would say on Passover night, “In every generation let each of us see himself as one that came out of Egypt that night.” We Christians say, “We are present at the New Passover. We are present as the Lord gives his Body and Blood during the Mass. We are present under the cross with Mary and John.” “Were you there when they crucified the Lord?” the spiritual asks. “Yes, we reply. “ We are there whenever we celebrate the mystery of the Eucharist.”
Many years ago, a lady came to see me to tell me that she was leaving St. Ignatius and the Catholic Church. She had made that decision two years earlier, but had put off changing her faith. I asked her, “Why?” She returned with the question, “Why am I leaving the faith or why did I wait two years to do so?” I responded, “Both.” She said that she was leaving the faith because she found a religion where, to use the jargon of the day, she felt she was being fed. Then she said, “During the last two years, I couldn’t convince myself to leave the Eucharist.” And then she started crying. She said that the new faith did have communion celebrations, but they were meals of fellowship, not the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ. I told her that I respected her decision, and I knew that various experiences appeal to various people, but nothing could ever replace the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the Lord’s dying gift to us. The Eucharist is Jesus Christ within us. We receive His Body, His humanity and divinity, we receive His Blood, His saving us on the Cross, and we celebrate the Living Memory of Jesus Christ. We speak to Him within ourselves. And He speaks to us, calling us to unite our pains to His Cross, strengthening us with the eternal Food for the Journey of our Lives.
Many of you will be attending Mass at many different places this summer as your family goes on vacation. Many of you will be attending Mass at many different places the next few years as you go off to college, grad school, begin your careers or simply relocate. No two of these Masses will be identical. None of them will be exactly like any of our Masses here at St. Ignatius. But the heart of every Mass will be the same: Jesus Christ will be present at the Last Supper, on the Cross, and within each person who receives His Body and Blood.
All the liturgical enhancements to our celebrations are wonderful, but none of them surpass the wonder of Jesus Christ, present in every Eucharist.