Thursday, March 28, 2024


My First Mass 1970

My 50 +1 Anniversary Mass in 2021
delayed a year because of COVID

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life. The one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
John 6: 51-58

The Eucharist! The Lord’s Supper! The Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion! The Breaking of Bread! The Mass! Throughout our 2,000 year history, we have used several words to describe what we do here today. One of my favorites words for the Eucharist is that old fashioned word “viaticum.” “Viaticum” was what we called the Eucharistic Bread when we gave it to those who were moments away from death. It was their last Holy Communion. The word “viaticum” means “nourishment you take with you when you set out on a trip.” 

The fact of the matter is, we are invited to receive “viaticum” every Sunday, the first day of every week, as “bread for the journey and strength for the trip” to help us during the week ahead. This is not just any bread: when we eat this bread Jesus invites us to “feed on” his very flesh and blood. We go forward each week, then, with God’s power under our belts! 

Two other words closely associated with this meal make it even more life-giving and soul-strengthening. The word “parish” means a way station for pilgrims. Like one of those stagecoach stops in the old western movies, a “parish” is where spiritual pilgrims stop to refresh themselves before continuing on their trip. The word “companions” comes from the Latin words for “bread” and “with.” So “companions” are “people you eat bread with.” So, what are we here for? We are here as spiritual pilgrims on a journey to the Lord. Our “parishes,” are fueling stations where we receive “viaticum,” bread for the journey - places to be encouraged by our “companions,” other spiritual pilgrims with whom we share this Bread of Life.

Did you know that the first record of the Eucharist was not the story of the Last Supper in the various gospel accounts. That came later. The very first record was the one we read today in our second reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians written in about 54 AD.
Brothers and sisters:
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over,
took bread, and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,
"This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
I Corinthians 11:23-26

The first Last Supper account from the Gospel of Mark was probably 66-70 AD, about 12 to 16 years later than the account we read from First Corinthians.

At the time of Paul, it was customary for Christians to hold an Agape meal (Love Feast) before the Eucharist. It was some sort of pot-luck dinner that the rich and the poor shared. However, in Corinth things had gotten a little out of control and the art of sharing was being lost. The rich would not share their food, but ate it in little exclusive groups by themselves, hurrying through it so they did not have to share, while the poor went with almost nothing. Some of them even got drunk at these meals. Did you know that Paul basically reams them out for this in this same letter we read from today?

Did you know that St. Clement of Alexandra had to write a letter to his people in the year 200 about the problem of lengthy mouth-to-mouth kissing during the sign of peace?

Did you know that in the year 350, the Council of Nicea outlawed the practice of kneeling during Mass as “novel,” preferring the older custom of standing as the proper way of praying at the Eucharist?

Did you know that the Mass changed from Greek to Latin in 384 "so that people could understand and participate." Even in the old Latin Mass, we had some hang-over Greek words - Kyrie Eleison is Greek, not Latin! That wasn’t changed again till 1963, when we went to English, for the same reason - "so people could understand and participate." 

Did you know that lay people had their parts of the Mass taken away around the year 1000 and they were not restored to them till Vatican Council II? Growing up the priest and the altar boys, and maybe the choir, interacted while people said the rosary or read along with their missals in silence. The Mass today is more like it was in the church’s early years than it was when most of us older members were growing up.

Did you know that tabernacles in churches did not really start till the 12th century and did not become standard until the 17th? Did you know that Protestants invented pews? Catholics had been using chairs, as we do in our Cathedral, just as they do in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome today and in most European Cathedrals? There weren’t even chairs in the early churches. People stood, even during long homilies. They did provide a bench along the wall for the sick and elderly.

Did you know that so few people were going to communion in the 13th century, because they considered it too sacred to receive, that the Pope had to make a law saying people must receive communion at least once a year? It came to be called our “Easter duty.” Did you know that veneration of the Blessed Sacrament at Benediction and the custom of Corpus Christi processions became a substitute for receiving communion during this period?

There is a lot of talk and effort going into a "Eucharistic Revival" and most of it seems to focus on "adoration of the Blessed Sacrament." For many people that seems to be a "real need" in the Church. On the other hand, after "doing this in memory of me" for the last 54 years, I think the emphasis seems a little misplaced. I think we can still promote the truth of "the real presence" while emphasizing the idea of "viaticum," bread for the journey and strength for the trip, rather than adoration. I like to place the emphasis on the Eucharist, "broken, shared and received" at Mass where we are participants, not Holy Hours, Benedictions and Eucharistic Processions where we are "spectators" rather than "communicants."  Those devotional practices came out of a period when people had moved from "eating and drinking his flesh and blood" as a way of letting it "change them" to "looking at his flesh and blood" without letting it get "inside them."  As Jesus said in John's Gospel (6:51-58), "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. The one who feeds on me will have life because of me."


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