Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
Table of Contents
The Sacrifice in the Old Covenant was not only a Sacrifice it was also a Meal – the Passover Meal. So it is also in the New Covenant, the Sacrifice of the Mass is also a Meal – the Lord’s Supper.
Meals were a very important part of our Lord’s life. During his hidden life in Nazareth he shared meals with Mary and Joseph. Meals were also an important part of his public life. There was the meal at the wedding feast at Cana. There were many meals at the home of his friends, Lazarus, Mary and Martha. There was the meal at the home of Simon, the Pharisee, and at the home of Zacchaeus. There were the meals with the sinners and tax collectors for which the Pharisees rebuked him. There was the meal with the 5,000 whom he fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish. There was the meal he shared with his apostles on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius. Most of all there was the Passover Meal he celebrated each year with his disciples. For the Jews the Passover Meal was a celebration of the freedom from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. For the Christian the Eucharist is a celebration of the freedom from slavery to sin to the freedom of the children of God.
The Church Fathers saw the preparation of the bread from the many grains of wheat and the wine from many grapes as a symbol of all the faithful in the one body of Jesus effected through Communion. The Eucharist unites us to Jesus and in so doing unites us to everyone else who is united to Jesus thereby building up and strengthening the community. St. Thomas calls the Eucharist the “Sacrament of Church Unity.” We receive the Eucharist personally and individually with all the love of our heart but we receive it as a member of the community.
Community was an important characteristic of the first Christians. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42-44) The family or community meal is one of the most pleasant and rewarding of all human activities. It is a time when those who love one another come together not only to share food but also to share their experiences, their plans, their hope and their fears with one another. The love that binds them together is strengthened at the meal. Unfortunately, the family is no longer the basic community in which meals are taken and where unity and community are fostered. The daily experience of a common meal shared with the family is slowly disappearing. This has weakened the sense of the Church as the basic community and the Eucharist as the sharing in a family meal.
Some blame it on our fast-food culture. The fast-food mentality has infiltrated our celebration of the Eucharist to such an extent that some people come late for Mass and leave right after receiving Communion much like you would run in and get a “Big Mac.” But it is not only our fast-food culture that has affected our appreciation of the Eucharist as a community meal.
But there is also an historical reason which goes back to the Reformation. Martin Luther denied the sacrament of Holy Orders and therefore the sacrificial character of the Mass. That left the Reformers with the Eucharist as a Meal which they called the Lord’s Supper. Since the Church always emphasizes what is denied it emphasized the Sacrifice of the Mass. While not denying that it also was a Meal it did not emphasize the Meal as much as the Sacrifice. This resulted in an individualistic aspect in the worship of some Catholics.
The Second Vatican Council tried to balance all three aspects of the Eucharist: the Real Presence, the Sacrifice and the Meal. As we have seen they are indissolubly bound together. The Real Presence is ordained to the Meal and the Meal is prepared by the Sacrifice. Partaking of both species, the bread and the wine, is always NECESSARY for the Presider of the Mass. For the laity there is an OPTION. Receiving both species is PREFERRED because eating and drinking it is a greater sign of the Meal. Communion under both species manifests MORE FULLY the Eucharist as a Sacrifice and as a Meal.
DISCOURSE AFTER THE LORD’S SUPPER
Our Lord is undoubtedly the greatest after-dinner speaker of all times. To set the scene for his Last Discourse we have to recall that until now Jesus had enjoyed unprecedented popularity as he went around proclaiming the Good News doing good, healing the sick, expelling demons and raising the dead to life. When he entered the city of Jerusalem the people came out and carpeted his pathway with palm branches singing, “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Here in the upper room they had just celebrated the Feast of the Passover. Using the unleavened bread and wine from that feast, Jesus had given them the gift of Himself in the Eucharist, and empowered and commanded them to do this in memory of him.
The apostles were expecting that this would be the Keynote Address that will usher in the long-awaited kingdom; a kingdom which would be of this world with all the trappings of the great King David. Their new king was young, strong and charismatic, so his reign will be long and glorious. They had no idea that this would be the beginning of the end. Three times he had told them that his kingdom is not of this world and that he had to go to Jerusalem to suffer, die and rise again. But they refused to believe it.
Jesus begins his speech, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.” The apostles are shocked, and silent. They look at one another in amazement. To comfort them in their grief he promises them the help of the Holy Spirit. “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name - he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you...it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go I will send him to you.” (John 14:26)
Then, in a remarkable summary of his teaching, He pours out his heart to his apostles. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God have faith also in me…Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid…I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing…
I have told you this that my joy might be in you, and your joy might be complete…It was not you who chose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last…If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own, but because you do not belong to the world, the world hates you…I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of Truth, he will guide you to all truth…
the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the
world…I pray not only for them but also for those who will believe
in me through their word so that they may all be one, as you Father are
in me and I in you, that the world may believe that you sent me…I
have told you this so that you might have peace in me.”
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