Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
In an ancient homily for the Easter Vigil Mass, those newly received into the Church, the Body of Christ, are encouraged to “come forward, and receive what you are.”
This greatest gift that God has given to his Church, his abiding Presence, finds its full meaning in our Communion with that Presence. Communion requires that we be present, too, so the Presence of God to us can make real that “marvelous exchange”—that we might be one with God in his divinity as the Son of God humbled himself to be one with us in our humanity. It is an intimacy that only God could make real, yes, but it is a reality that only we can open our hearts to receive.
The gift comes with obligation.
We read in the Gospels (the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke) as well as St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, an overwhelmingly identical account of the event of Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper: While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:26-28; cf. Mk 14:22-24, Lk 22:17-20, 1 Cor 11:23-25).
That the Eucharist was explicitly instituted by Jesus himself is clear, and has been celebrated unceasingly ever since. Do this in memory of me.
But the Gospel of Saint John gives a further nuance to the “do this” of Jesus. John doesn’t give the account of the institution at all in his Gospel. His was the last written Gospel and probably, it is thought, he presumed the the story was so well known and found in the other Gospels that he could provide an account of how Jesus intended for us “do this.”
So Jesus paused during the supper, removed his outer garment, tied a towel around his waist, and proceeded to wash the feet of his Apostles. Upon finishing, he said, “As I have done, so you must also do.”
The Lord of heaven and earth took the posture of the lowest slave of the house whose job was to wash the filth off of the bare feet of house guests. It is an interesting insight into the sort of priesthood that Jesus had in mind for his Apostles, as we also realize that it was also at this moment that he instituted the sacrament of Holy Orders.
In other words, in this Communion of being present to one another, we become his presence, and we must also become the outward sign of Christ to the world. By serving we literally carry his Presence to the world in our bodies, transformed by his Presence in us. When one serves another, the one served recognizes Christ in the one who serves him, and the one who serves recognizes Christ in the one whom he is serving. It echoes the love of God: The Father begets the Son and sees his perfect likeness in him, and the Son is filled with holy delight and gratitude for his Being Begotten. The Love that results which, by its nature cannot be contained, is the Holy Spirit that pours forth over all of God’s creation, calling everyone to the unity, purity and clarity with which we were created in God’s image and likeness. To be less is not to live fully the humanity that Christ has transformed in us. It is by the same power of the Holy Spirit that the man-made gifts of bread and wine (the fruit of our work, transforming God’s natural gifts of wheat and grapes) are transformed into real Presence of God, and Communion is possible, and all this is possible.
It is a gift not intended to stop with us, something that we might claim for ourselves, because it is love, and a lover always must have a beloved to be truly fulfilled. Christ is ever present, and he takes to the world, through our “yes” to his will, through our loving service of God and others.
It was Mary’s “yes” that allowed all this to begin in the quiet of Nazareth, a simple “yes” to God’s will.
This is the complete exchange where Eucharist truly becomes perfect Communion: it is the whole Christ who offers, it is the whole Christ who receives and takes that love to those who do not yet know him, to begin the cycle of Eucharistic love and light again throughout all time and in all places.
You and I are formed anew in the light of this truth. Today let us thank God for the gift of Holy Communion, and for the opportunity to make that love present to others.
God bless you.