by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the Idente Missionaries
Madrid, June 06, 2021. | The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – Solemnity
Book of Exodus 24: 3-8; Letter to the Hebrews 9: 11-15; Saint Mark 14: 12-16.22-26.
As Saint John Paul II wrote in his last Encyclica, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the Eucharist is the center and summit of the Church’s life.
When we celebrate this joyful commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist, it is customary to insist that it is more than a symbol, more than a memorial. It is a special presence of Christ among us.
But that does not exclude its value as a remembrance. In fact, in the Eucharistic Liturgy we repeat: Do this in memory of me. If the Church insists that the Eucharist is the center of our faith, it is because Christ is using it in our spirit, our soul and our body. Psychological research shows that our memory is not just a video camera that films our life events and stores the movies in a library for later screening. Memories, when treated with attention and affection, change our present and our future.
We have all read and heard the recommendation to “live in the present”: Do not dwell on the past as it is well and gone. Do not worry about the future because you may only have this day. But what if wonderful memories of your past bring you deep joy and make you feel who you really are?
The Mass is also called a memorial for when we celebrate the Mass, we recall and experience once again the saving effects of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross for our salvation. So memories are important because they affect the way we respond to future events and give us a sense of confidence, joy, hope and courage in facing the future.
All human beings need to make an effort to properly digest and preserve our memories, the most traumatic and the most beautiful ones. The Eucharist – literally, “thanksgiving” – reminds us that Jesus’ promise is being fulfilled every day. Painful events and our own passions tend to overshadow the most beautiful and most certain reality of our existence: the countless forms of the divine presence.
Through the Eucharist Jesus wanted to leave the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit (CCC 1366).
Making a concrete association between a vivid memory and an object or a location, and recalling the love or joy we felt in that moment, helps us to relive that positive emotion again each time we see that object or place. In fact, the initiative to celebrate the Passover does not come from Jesus, but from the disciples. They are the ones who want to remember the deliverance from Egypt, liberation which began their history. They cannot imagine what will happen that very night during dinner.
When we celebrate the Eucharist we do not just give thanks remembering this as an event of the past, but the event is made new before us and we participate in this healing event. In the words of Pope Francis: The Eucharist brings us the Father’s faithful love, which heals our sense of being orphans. It gives us Jesus’ love, which transformed a tomb from an end to a beginning, and in the same way can transform our lives. It fills our hearts with the consoling love of the Holy Spirit, who never leaves us alone and always heals our wounds (June 14, 2020).
Not so good memories also have their place in our mind. Remembering getting through past adversities can really bring confidence to rise above a new hurdle. Let the bad memories remind you of what you can endure without being broken thanks to divine grace.
On many occasions, our mystical Recollection and Quietude are made up of memories. They are events or impressions, more or less recent, towards which the Holy Spirit inclines our mind and heart to give us light and strength on our path. One of these memories refers to the future, to the fact that our life in this world is brief and cannot be a permanent state.
This is a valuable perspective, neither pessimistic nor a wet blanket, the value of which was already perceived by pagan peoples.
For example, at a Roman triumph, the majority of the public would have their eyes glued to the victorious general at the front. Only a few would notice the aide in the back, right behind the commander, whispering into his ear, Remember, you are mortal. What a reminder to hear at the peak of glory and victory! Such reminders and exercises take part of Memento Mori (Latin for “remember that you have to die”), the ancient practice of reflection on mortality that goes back to Socrates, who said that the proper practice of philosophy is “about nothing else but dying and being dead.”
Meditating on your mortality is only depressing if you miss the point. It is in fact a tool to create priority and meaning. It is a tool that generations have used to create real perspective and urgency. To treat our time as a godsend and not waste it on the trivial and vain. Death does not make life pointless but rather purposeful.
Memory is essential to know who we are and to restore who we are. When we remember the way our father or mother or grandfather or grandmother looked at us with love. When we remember important accomplishments or lessons we have learned. These memories root us in the reality of who we are.
However, memory is not just individual; it is in fact communal. Jewish parents share the memory of being saved from slavery in Egypt at Passover because it helps the children know they are God’s chosen people. These memories are part of who we are as a people.
The message of today’s First Reading is to remind us how God faithfully fulfills his covenant, his covenant with us. The blood of goats and calves was used in the Old Testament. This blood, which has always been ineffective, is no longer needed. The blood of Christ is offered today to those who participate in the celebration of the Eucharist. Who approaches to receive it obtain the forgiveness of sins, and in him the bond of life with God is re-established. This is the event that makes us God’s chosen people, the people of the new covenant.
This is how Fernando Rielo puts it in A dialogue in three voices:
The Eucharist represents two facts for me: first, our poor flesh and our poor blood, being the flesh and blood of Christ, makes us legitimate and consanguineous brothers through his sacrifice on the cross; second, the Eucharist sows in our body and in our blood the seed of his resurrection. My own experience dictates to me that the Eucharist is the best viaticum that preserves us from sin and increases in the human being divine love to such a degree that heavenly glory becomes, during the passage through this life, a supreme vocation. I make this sacrament my favorite motto: Eucharist is the law of contemplation.
An essential observation is that the truly important memories always refer to people. As a poet said, Our memory is always the memory of a face. Jesus undoubtedly takes this human sensitivity to the extreme by saying: Take it; this is my body. This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.
To expiate one’s sin commonly means to atone the fault by undergoing punishment. In pagan religions atonement was done through sacrifices and offerings that were intended to appease the offended deity. In the Bible, atonement has another meaning. It is not intended to calm an angry God, nor punish the man for the harm he has done, but to act on what have ended their relationship.
Evening comes and the Twelve meet with Jesus to eat the paschal lamb. They think of celebrating their liberation from Egypt and the Sinai covenant. They become, instead, witnesses of the new covenant foretold by the prophets and they receive the true Lamb as food.
The disciples are able to understand the meaning of the gesture and words. The Master’s whole life is a gift. He has become bread broken for people, now he wants his disciples to share his choice. They enter into communion, they become one person with him, so they will share in his own life.
Now it is clear, to the disciples and to us, what it means to approach the Eucharist: this is not a devotional meeting with Jesus, but the decision to be like him at all times, broken bread at the disposal of the brethren.
The blood of the new covenant is poured out for many, that means for all. The Eucharist is not instituted for the individuals, so that everyone can personally meet Christ, to encourage individual fervor or some form of spiritual isolationism. The Eucharist is the food of the community, is bread broken and shared among brothers and sisters (at least two), because the community is a sign of the new humanity, born of the resurrection of Christ.
The bread is Christ and the cup of his blood create a community with Christ and with one another, so as to form the new people whose only law is the service to the brothers and sisters to the point of giving one’s life as “nourishment” to satisfy all forms of human hunger.
When our Father and Founder asks us to keep a photograph of our First Communion, it is not intended that we simply recall our childhood image or the feast we celebrated, but the first encounter with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. May our gaze be directed to this authentic relic of our life every day, when we wake up and when we go to bed.