JESUS, our Eucharist
This is the second week of our message series we are calling “Jesus Saves”. Today, I will focus on the letter “E” in the name of Jesus. Today is Corpus Christi Sunday. We’ve all heard of the town Corpus Christi, Texas; you may even know that Corpus Christi means the Body of Christ, but why do we celebrate one day specifically called Corpus Christi? It’s basically a celebration of the fact that the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is fully present in the bread and wine during the Eucharist – a re-enactment of the Last Supper, the final meal that Jesus Christ shared with his disciples. So I want focus in on the Eucharist.
The Mass is our celebration of the Eucharist and is the most essential thing that you can do each week. In order to understand this, we need to understand worship. Worship is adoration and honor that we give to God. Anytime we give reverence through prayer to God, we worship him.
We were made to worship God, because God created us. He designed our hearts to seek Him out and be in a relationship with Him. It is only in God that we can really find happiness and truth. St. Augustine said “our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in You.”
Worship is our way of expressing our love and gratitude for God. In fact, the term Eucharist comes from the Greek word that simply means “thanksgiving.” When we worship, we become fully alive and find our purpose. However, we cannot create worship – on our own we cannot reach God. We see this throughout history when humanity attempted to reach God, like the tower of Babel we talked about on Pentecost. But it is God who reaches us and shows us how to worship. Left to our own devices, we will all worship something. Idolatry isn’t necessarily worshipping a golden calf – it could be worshipping money, prestige, a career, a sports team, sex, or anything else that isn’t God. Idolatry happens when we allow something to take God’s place.
At the time that Moses lived, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. God liberates the Israelites from their captivity, but not only because they were enslaved. God liberates them so they can have the freedom to worship God. We can learn two important things from this: First, the freedom to worship God is the most fundamental freedom – without it, no one can truly be free, despite what other rights they may have. Second, God must lead the Israelites into the desert so that God can show them how to worship.
God leads the Israelites out of slavery and to Mount Sinai. It is here that they gather in an assembly – in Greek the word used is “ekklesia,” which is where we get the word, “church.” It means, “an assembly gathered by God.” Moses goes up the mountain, not only to receive the Law (the 10 Commandments) but, also for instruction from God about worship. There he receives a community rule of life.
In these instructions, God sets aside one day per week, called the Sabbath, or day of rest, for this specific purpose. It does not mean we don’t or can’t worship God on the other days; in fact, we should. However, that Sabbath day is set aside specifically for community worship.
When Jesus comes, He brings a new covenant and understanding of the Sabbath and of worship. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the full revelation of God. It is Jesus, who teaches us truly how to worship.
To worship God we must sacrifice. When was the last time you made a sacrifice of something or for someone? Maybe a sacrifice of your time, of your money or of something that you owned. What did you sacrifice, and more importantly, why?
The desire and need to make sacrifices is ingrained inside of us. There is a reason why we admire men and women who sacrifice their lives to save another person, and that we revere people that give up the material comforts of life to serve and be with the poor. We see these things and inside a voice says, “That is what I am made for.” That voice is correct; we were made for sacrifice, because sacrifice is a vital part of worship and relationship with God. When Jesus Christ instituted the Mass, he instituted it as a sacrifice.
Sacrifice in worship was important in the Old Testament. Animals were the main source of sacrifice, as the “first fruits” of their harvest, placed upon a constructed altar. Now, one of the most important sacrifices takes place prior to the Exodus. Moses is about to lead people out of Egypt, but the Pharaoh would not let them go. God commands they celebrate a special meal. Part of this meal involves the sacrifice of a lamb – but remember, it wasn’t just any lamb – it had to be a perfect, unblemished lamb – the best. Each household had to sacrifice a lamb, and eat the body of the lamb they just sacrificed. This action saves the people and their firstborn from God’s judgment on Egypt, and allows them to flee into the wilderness so they can worship God freely. This event is so important, that God commanded it celebrated and remembered every year by the people. They were never to forget that God had saved them. This was more than simply a meal. When the Israelites celebrated the Passover meal, they relived the Exodus; it was not an event that had happened, but an event that was happening, every time they celebrated Passover.
Understanding the Passover in this context, I hope it is clear why Jesus chose the night of the Passover meal as the night to institute the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The Passover meal was a sign of the Old Covenant, the one that the people entered into with God through Moses at the mountain. Every time they celebrated this meal, they remembered and reaffirmed this covenant. Jesus did something new with the Passover. Jesus takes bread and wine, and offers it to his disciples and says, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it. For this is my body, which will be given up for you.” He does the same thing again with the wine, saying, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it. For this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.” Jesus is giving the apostles the Eucharist, and it is more than a symbol. The Eucharist is the literal Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus can make this offering because of what will happen the next day. Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb, and He gives us the Eucharist as a perpetual memorial of His sacrifice. The Eucharist is linked forever to the cross. This is the actual institution of the Eucharist and of the Mass. Jesus shows the disciples that this is the new way of worshipping God – it is true communion with Christ through the Eucharist.
The next day, Jesus dies on the cross. Three days later, Jesus rises from the dead. The Christian community quickly realized the correlation between Christ’s resurrection and the Sabbath. They began celebrating Christ’s resurrection on the day it happened – a Sunday – and celebrated it as the Sabbath. Sunday now stood as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Sabbath – a time when humanity is truly free to rest and worship God. Worship is at the heart of the life of the Church, but most especially the Sunday celebration of Mass. We celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection on this day, just as the first Apostles did.
We participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus, every time we celebrate Mass. We don’t just remember it the way we remember what we ate for breakfast this morning or remember good times in the past – we remember it the way the Israelites remembered the Exodus. At Mass, Christ makes his sacrifice present again. The altar during Mass becomes the cross, and the bread and wine become Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. We stand at the foot of the cross every time we come to Mass. This is why we call Mass a sacrifice. Now, to be clear, Jesus is not being “crucified again.” It is the one-time sacrifice of Christ, made present for all eternity. The moment you walk through the doors at Mass, time means something different, and that simple hour each week can radically change your life. Truly understanding the sacrifice at Mass allows us to offer true worship – it also allows us to unite our own spiritual sacrifices at Mass.
By virtue of our baptism, we participate in something called the “common priesthood.” This is different from the sacramental priesthood, which is what we think of when we hear the word, “priest.” One responsibility of the sacramental priesthood is to preside over the sacrifice of the Mass and administer the sacraments.
Our work as a common priesthood however is to offer a sacrifice of prayer. This is why one of the first prayers of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is, “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”
So this morning, as the priest offers up the bread and the wine, also offer up your own prayers, petitions and sacrifices. Offer up the bad week you’ve had, the end of a relationship, or the places you are hurt. God tells us that he accepts our brokenness as sacrifice. Offer up the good things, as well, giving glory to God for the successes of the week, and the blessings in your life. Your thanksgiving. Give it back to God as your sacrifice and unite it with the cross. We are not passive observers in this sacrifice. We are called to participate actively in it.
We were made to worship. As Catholics, our highest form of worship happens on Sunday – is that your high point of the week? When we make Mass the lowest priority, or skip it altogether, we lose a little bit of who we were created to be. Even if you are unable to physically come to mass, as we’ve been experiencing through these hard times, you can watch from home and pray an act of spiritual communion. Our lives have been designed and custom built for the Mass; if we don’t give the Mass the place that it belongs in our life it will be filled by something else. The consequences of putting something else in the place of Mass is disastrous.
So let me challenge you today and this week.
1) Read the Gospel of John, chapter 6 which recall for us the moment when Christ first gave the Eucharist to his closest friends, the apostles;
2) pray a litany prayer of the Blessed Sacrament;
3) as soon as you can, spend time with our Lord in front of the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration, because if we truly believe the bread we offer becomes His Body, then Christ is present to us in Adoration;
4) and lastly, when you receive the Body and Blood of Christ, meditate on the truth, that you are a tabernacle of the Lord and that He is truly present within you.