According to the teaching of the church the Mass or Eucharist is the most important prayer of the church. Right here, right now we are giving God the greatest glory. Other prayers and devotions pale in significance to what we are about this morning.
Every Sunday the first announcement from the pulpit in the Cathedral in Saint John, where I grew up was; “it is a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday. One also sins who misses any part of the Mass through their own fault.” If a person arrived at Mass after the sermon they were expected to stay for the next Mass and be present for what we call today, the liturgy of the word. People made sure they were on time for Mass. In those days the word ‘dialog’ was not in the dictionary. Young people were not given a choice as to whether we went to Mass. We did what we were told.
Have we lost that sense of importance, even the magnitude and awesomeness of the Mass? Here, within this short hour we are touched with the truth; the cup of blessing which we bless is a sharing in the blood of Christ – the bread we break is a sharing in the body of Christ.
In this short hour we are touched with the truth, “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day, for my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me and I live in them.” Ideally, at this Mass and at every Mass when we hear the words of Jesus ‘this is my body, this is my blood’ we respond ‘this is my body, this is my blood, as You give yourself to me, I give my self to You.”
At this Mass, at every Mass we re-present – make present here and now – the sacrifice, the gift, Jesus made of His life on the altar of the cross on Calvary. We offer this sacrifice, this gift to the Father in thanksgiving for that first sacrifice and in thanksgiving for all the blessings of our lives. The Mass is all about ‘thanksgiving’. To every Mass we bring our needs, our frights and fears but most importantly we bring our attitude of gratitude. Ideally we are here because we know ‘it is good to give God thanks and praise.’ Ideally we are here not because we have to be here but because we want to be here to say ‘thank you’. Together we make this Mass all that it could and should be by our full and active participation in the prayers and hymns of the Mass.
Back in 1994 a German theologian named Karl Rahner wrote these words about the Mass – the Eucharist we are now celebrating: “We commonplace people make this mystery of eternal life so ordinary. Look how the priest performs his sublime office morosely, impelled by objective duty as though he were carrying out some chore and not the liturgy in which the light and blessedness of heaven are contained – and we in the pews – we receive the sacrament as if nothing were happening. Weary and lazy we take the same heart back home from the table of God into the narrow rooms of our lives where we are more at home than in God’s upper room. We offer the Son in sacrifice but we refuse to offer our own hearts. We play the divine game of the liturgy but we are not in earnest about it. Nevertheless Jesus welcomes us all, even if he does not find in our eyes radiant joy and eager longing. Jesus welcomes us as partners in love and companions at the table he provides.
These are disturbing and consoling words. Disturbing when we hear words such as the priest being morose and treating the Mass as if it were chore – or the congregation being weary and lazy and not really be in the spirit of it all.
Yet these are consoling words as well, consoling in the thought that for all our pre-occupations and distractions, for all our lack of radiant joy and eager longings, Jesus welcomes us all, priest and people, as His partners in love and companions at the table he provides for us Sunday after Sunday. One time the Pharisees complained that Jesus ate and drank with sinners. He still does and He enjoys our company as companions at His table of life.
As we continue to celebrate this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ we can pray for ourselves and for each other that as we receive the bread of life in communion we will be blessed with a deeper appreciation of why we are here together – and as Jesus gives Himself to us as our food we will be willing to give ourselves to Him in thanksgiving for His great love Has shown for each one of us by His Passion, Death and Resurrection.