PRESENCE, a REFLECTION for HOLY THURSDAY
A reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians:
For 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. - 1 Cor 11: 23-26
Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it . . . Men have found no better thing than this to do . . .
(Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy)
To have Christ in bodily presence is such an incomparable blessing as to swallow up all other privileges. (St. John Henry Newman)
How many times in our lives have we seen two people separated who love each other? During the ugly and bitter war, in my youth, I saw young people leave without hope of return, parents torn from their homes, not knowing if they would one day find their loved ones. Upon leaving, a gesture, a picture, or an object passes from hand to hand in a certain way in order to prolong presence in absence. And nothing more. Human love is capable of only these symbols.
Motivated by an even greater love, when the hour had come for Christ to part with his disciples, he had the power to leave his Church with more than a gesture. In his absence, he left his presence. Thus, to say farewell, the Lord Jesus Christ, perfect God and perfect man, did not leave his friends a symbol, but the reality of himself….. Under the species of bread and wine, he is really present, with his body and blood, his soul and divinity.
Were we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency?
(St. John Paul II, from a homily)
Several years ago I noticed that the Church uses the same readings each year for the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday. St. Paul's institution narrative, in particular, places me at this table. I know in my heart and soul that "for you" is me.
In this time of quarantines, social distancing, and streaming liturgies, it can be spiritually challenging to manage well without access to Communion, for which my own need is consistent and deep. Eucharist is central to our Catholic faith, source and summit, embodiment of love, and gift of self – His total, and mine often entirely inadequate.
Consider how we might deepen our spiritual lives by exploring our experiences of Jesus in the Eucharist. I have relived some of my own encounters through journaling.
I am six years old in first grade. One evening during parent conferences at school my mom leaves me sitting alone in the church. The lights are low, I know too little of prayer to be occupied for long, and I walk back down the center aisle counting pews. Part way up the other side I am at once still, silent, and overwhelmingly aware of the presence of God in me and in that place and that I am home.
It is a Saturday in May of my twenty-first year, and as always, the frantic pace of my weekly shift serving booths at Howard Johnson’s far outstrips my limited talent for this job. As another tour bus rolls in, I oddly recall that May ninth is the anniversary of my First Communion thirteen years before. Now calm, I whisper a prayer. Oh Jesus, why am I not more holy? Please show me how?
I am twenty something, during and after college. As part of a Brooklyn-based team I work two joy-filled weekends a year in a retreat program for young adults. Each time, for three days and nights I am conscious of living and breathing under the same roof as Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I go often to my Lord in the small darkened chapel with flickering candle and pillows on the floor. I know a little more of Presence now, and no longer count pews.
In my forties and beyond I am an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. I see Jesus go willingly to all who approach, feeding each with His own Life. I am deeply humbled and gentled by our community’s sharing of this most special of sacraments. I have done nothing to deserve him or this ministry, nothing. It is all pure gift and I am in awe that it is for me.
Though I am most grateful these weeks to often participate in Mass, my hands poised to receive the Eucharist still look and feel empty. Tears come. Yet the longing is appropriate, reassuring. He is here. We learn, grow, and fast for the feast to come.
My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
(Act of Spiritual Communion, St. Alphonsus Liguori)
A while ago I heard the end of a radio interview with a megachurch pastor who spoke of the large number of former Catholics who populate his congregation. I missed most of the interview so don't know what was said, if anything, about why these families had joined his particular community. I was riveted though by his candor in closing: "If these people believed what the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist, my doors would not hold them."
If this most holy Sacrament were celebrated in only one place and consecrated by only one priest in the whole world, with what great desire, do you think, would men be attracted to that place, to that priest of God, in order to witness the celebration of the divine Mysteries!
(Thomas `a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ)
The spiritual wisdom of St. Teresa of Calcutta speaks here to all of us: "Priest of Jesus Christ, celebrate this Holy Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass."