Blog # 300 Further thoughts on the Eucharist
In His unique historical experience of unconditional trust and total love for the Father, Jesus freely laid down His human life on the Cross in obedience to the Father's plan for Him. Limited in time and space by the reality of its genuine physical nature, His death occurred in a specific place at a specific time. In the reality of its nature as death, it occurred once and for all. His blood shed, His body given, would live again in the glory of His Resurrection , but never die again in the physical limits of Calvary almost two thousand years ago..
What then of the event of the Last Supper the evening before the event of Calvary? And what of what happens when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered day after day on our altars in Catholic churches throughout the world? "This my body, given". "This is my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenent, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins." These words could literally be applied to the body and blood of Jesus as He hung on the Cross and died in the experience that fulfilled the promise made to Adam and brought salvation to the whole world. But what of their meaning and power when applied to the bread and wine of the Last Supper and of the Mass?
Is our Catholic faith and theology correct in proclaiming these words can and should also be applied literally to what happened at the Last Supper and to the daily offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass? The majority of our fellow non-Catholic Christians throughout the world have come to answer that question "No, the Catholic Church is wrong in this regard. The words in question produce a symbolic reminder of what actually happened once and for all two thousand years ago."
I am thoroughly convinced of the truth of our Eucharistic faith. Yet I recognize a problem someone might have in reconciling it with what we see and touch in our sense knowledge of the the Mass. It helps to realize that by its nature faith is not to be proven but to be believed. There will always be an elemant of mystery whenever we deal with truths that are beyond our competence to understand fully, from the notion of creation itself down through the divinity of Jesus, the authenticity of the Bible, to what happened at the Last Supper and what happens each time the Mass is validly offered.
In admiration and appreciation of the teaching method of Jesus in His use of parables to clarify and proclaim His message, I tried to come up with something that would help me understand the truths we believe and proclaim with regard to the relationship of Calvary, the Last Supper and the Mass. I will share it with you here.
Before Mass started a couple of weeks ago, with just a few people there early, I handed out five dollars. Then in the homily of the Mass I told the people what I had done and asked them to imagine, that is, to create an image in their minds of what I did. Several 'saw' me give a five dollar bill to a single person. Others who voluntered to reveal what they had imagined 'saw' me give five single dollar bills to five different individuals. What I actually did was give a one dollar bill to a single person and in four cellophane sandwich bags I gave out four additional dollars in four different modes. One had a roll of fifty pennies and ten dimes. Another had four quarters. Another had twenty nickles and a fouth had one quarter five pennies two dimes and ten nickles. Each had something in common with them all. All of them were money!
Applying this to the problem someone might have in reconciling the Biblical narratives of the Crucifixion and the Last Supper with with one another and with the Church's tradition and faith regarding the identity of what goes on in the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass, we are dealing with a reality and truth that is beyond our human competence to understand completely. We seek to understand what we believe rather than to prove it. This was similar to the experience of the people at Mass a couple of weeks ago who did not and could not in the limited experience available to them know for sure what and why I had done what I did unless they believed me or an other reliable witness who testified to it. And this was true for them in a question of what was not in itself beyond their capacity to comprehend, the simple all-human gift of five dollars. How absolutely certain it would be in regard to the questiion of the mystery of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist !
We can see a parallel to this in the case of the witness of St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians in his significant and familiar testimony to the Eucharistic action and words of Jesus at the Last Supper ( 1 Cor 11:23 - 27). "I received from the Lord what I handed on to you, namely, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed took bread, and after He had given thanks, broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you, Do this in remembrance of me". In the same way, after the supper , He took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me."
It is very significant that Paul did not say remember me by doing this but do this to remember me. The action is prior to the memory of it in time power importance and meaning.
In the parable of the money, applied to various coins and paper, we see all of it as money existing in different modes. Applied to Calvary the Last Supper and the Mass , we see all three events as real in themselves and all three identified and impowered by the same redeeming infinite love of Calvary expressed in three different modes. We gain some understanding of this in the light of our faith in the identity of Jesus and the Eternal Word as one single person with the astonishing effect of granting the suffering and death of Jesus supernatural unlimited divine power with regard to the bread and wine similar as to what was given in the other miracles of Jesus such as raising the dead and curing the deaf and the blind by the simple act of declaring it when this would be the Father's will.
One more application of the parable. There is such a thing as counterfeit money. Genuine authentic money is backed up by the authority of the government that has the right and power to authenticate or guarantee its value. The authenticity of our faith in the meaning and value of Calvary the Last Supper and the Mass and their common identification in the total love of Jesus in obedience to the Father is primarily found in the Bible and the official teaching of the Church, but it is supported as well in history and tradition, in the lives of holy people who have lived by it and loved God in its light, in the parts and effects of it we can experience ourselves that give us joy,peace, comfort in our sorrows, support in temptation and in our weaknesses, in our personal praise and thanks to Jesus that inspires us ever more prefectly to love and appreciate His goodness and power, and in all the other natural and supernatural gifts we receive each day that tell us we are loved by God uniquely one by one and as a community of belivers in the same love the Father has for Jesus. ( Jn 17: 23,26).