MAY 29TH, 2016: THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
In those days, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine,
and being a priest of God Most High,
he blessed Abram with these words:
"Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
the creator of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your foes into your hand."
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
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.
Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God,
and he healed those who needed to be cured.
As the day was drawing to a close,
the Twelve approached him and said,
"Dismiss the crowd
so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms
and find lodging and provisions;
for we are in a deserted place here."
He said to them, "Give them some food yourselves."
They replied, "Five loaves and two fish are all we have,
unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people."
Now the men there numbered about five thousand.
Then he said to his disciples,
"Have them sit down in groups of about fifty."
They did so and made them all sit down.
Then taking the five loaves and the two fish,
and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing over them, broke them,
and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.
They all ate and were satisfied.
And when the leftover fragments were picked up,
they filled twelve wicker baskets.
There was once a time in my uncritical life when I thought the Mass I regularly experienced in the 1950s was the exact Mass Jesus had “instituted” during his Last Supper and the church had faithfully passed on for almost 20 centuries – including the vestments and Latin. But then I read Joseph Jungmann’s double volume work The Mass of the Roman Rite. I presume many Vatican II bishops also read this Austrian Jesuit’s classic work, otherwise they wouldn’t have reformed the Eucharist.
The pre-Vatican II Mass was far removed from the Eucharist Jesus’ earliest followers celebrated. To quote Martin Luther’s famous 16th century insight, “The church had turned an action into a thing.” Catholics simply were expected to “attend” or “hear” Mass. The only way they participated in it was to be somehow present when it took place. As Jungmann wrote, during the Renaissance, it was widely regarded as a “performance,” on the same level as a play or opera. Especially during “High Mass” people expected to be entertained.
We find none of this nonsense in today’s readings.
For biblical Christians, the Eucharist was an action, an action in which they not only participated, but an action in which they died and rose, constantly surfacing the risen Jesus in the process.
Paul zeroes in on the dying dimension in our I Corinthians pericope. The late Raymond Brown always insisted that what triggered this earliest account of what Jesus said and did on the night before he died was, “Some drunkards in the Corinthian community.”
The Eucharist during Paul’s day and age was akin to a pot luck meal. Everyone was expected to bring something and share it with all the participants. The problem in Corinth revolved around certain members – slaves and the poor – who couldn’t bring anything to share. Some of the well-to-do not only resented this, they actually told the poor the Lord’s Supper started at 7:30; while they told others it began at 7:00. By the time the former arrived, almost all the food was gone, and, as the Apostle noted, some people were sitting in the corner, tanked up with wine.
Paul was amazed that certain individuals didn’t recognize the Body of Christ in the poor, something he claimed made them unworthy to receive the Eucharist. If the Eucharist is where “you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes,” then the Eucharist is also where you die by surfacing the risen Jesus in everyone, including the poor.
Notice in today’s Eucharistic gospel that Jesus doesn’t actually feed the crowd; his disciples take care of that. His role is just to get them to share what little they have with everyone else. He only blesses their meager fare, then gives it back to them to distribute to the crowd. Luke, along with Mark and Matthew, was convinced the Lord’s Supper was the unique place to share ourselves with others. No one is excused simply because “I don’t bring anything.” Our evangelists were convinced everyone had something to give. And since that something was blessed by Jesus, it could more than take care of the needs of the people around them.
Since, as Jungmann showed, the Lord’s Supper eventually devolved into just a one man show, it’s hard to find areas in which we can give ourselves. There’s no more pot luck meal, no more shared homilies. Perhaps the only way we can do so today is to be totally open to everyone who celebrates with us. If we don’t die enough to ourselves to recognize the risen Jesus in each of them, neither – according to Paul - will we be able to recognize him/her as present in the bread and wine.