The Eucharist was given to us by Christ at the last Supper when he took bread and prayed over it with the words, “This is my Body. Do this in memory of Me.” To recall this event – in other words to do this in memory of Christ – is the reason Catholics come to church on Holy Thursday night during Holy Week. But the Last Supper ended with Jesus and the apostles going to the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested. Our focus is more on the events leading up to the death of Jesus rather than on what happened at the Last Supper. Therefore, we have this special Sunday in June set aside to draw out the deeper meaning of the Eucharist. Hence this is also the day chosen for those receiving Holy Communion for the first time.
Let us look at the Scripture reading leading up to the Last Supper (Mark 14:12-16). “Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”
We keep hearing the word “prepare”. Jesus sends his apostles off with clear instructions to make the necessary preparations and they find a large room … furnished and ready.
Something similar occurs after the resurrection when Jesus appears to the disciples a third time. (John 21:1-14). While they are fishing, he waits for them on the shore, where he has already prepared bread and fish for them. Jesus had already made the preparations and he asks the disciples to cooperate.
Jesus then prepares for us and asks us in turn to be prepared. What does he prepare for us? A place and a meal. This “place” is much more worthy than the large furnished room of the Gospel. It is our spacious and vast home here below which is the Church. This is a place where there is room for everyone. In addition to a place, Jesus prepares a meal, the Bread, They are our ultimate “room and board”.
In our church today, some followers say, “I can pray by myself to God in my home.” I agree you can pray to God anywhere. But you have cut yourself from the Church. When it comes to judgement day, what God will look for is how we have looked after our brothers and sisters in the world. (Matthew 25: 31-46.)
Our religion is both about God and about our neighbour. The Eucharist is the beating heart of the Church.
THE CONSECRATED HOST
In the consecrated host, together with place, Jesus prepares us food for our spiritual nourishment. In life we need to be fed: nourished not only with food but also with affection, hopes and desires. We hunger to be loved. The most pleasing compliments, the finest gifts, and the most advanced technologies are not enough; they never completely satisfy us.
The Eucharist is simple food, like bread, yet it is the only food that satisfies, for there is no greater love than the gift of Christ Himself.
There you can realise that Jesus’ death and resurrection are for you. And when you worship Jesus in the Eucharist, you receive from him the Holy Spirit and you find peace and joy. Each time we eat of the Eucharist we are choosing the food of life. “Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)
The 24 candidates for First Communion have prepared well. Weekly they spent an hour with their catechist teachers in order to know the significance of what they are entering into. The challenge to the catechists is to get the candidates to realise that they are not doing this for their parents or grandparents. It is not another occasion to perform in front of the family. It is not an occasion for dressing up in fancy clothes or seeing how many eis one receives.
The candidate has to come to realise that Jesus is calling him or her to have a meal with him. To be called to sit around the table with Jesus is to be called into a relationship. Jesus wants to call us by name. And Jesus wants to feed those who come to this table.
As well as being ready in our minds and hearts we have to be ready in our actions. Judas was at this table, but was already plotting to hand Jesus over to the Jewish authorities. Many can come to the table – eat – and then leave the table and enter into actions that would betray Christ. Perhaps our betrayal of Jesus is not as serious as Judas’ betrayal; but they are betrayals all the same.
We could say the prayer of St John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) in the same spirit:
“O Son of God, bring me into communion today with your mystical supper. I shall not tell your enemies the secret, nor kiss you with the Judas kiss. But like the good thief I cry, ‘Jesus, remember me when your come into your kingdom’.”
DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME
When Jesus said “Do this in memory of me,” he was referring to the gift of himself, to pouring out his life’s blood for the sake of others.
To take, bless and break bread in Jesus’ name implies the commitment to be in communion with his self-giving. Thus, Paul said, “As often as you eat this bread … you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
Paul was so adamant about the implications of participating in the Lord’s Supper that he went on to say, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27).
There are no observers’ seats at the table of the Eucharist. Whether we participate daily or only after long, serious preparation, Paul tells us that as often as we eat this bread and drink the cup, we recommit ourselves to proclaim the death of the Lord.
The Eucharist is such a great gift. That is why going to Mass is so important. It is not just to pray, but to receive Communion, the Body of Christ. The Eucharist saves us, forgives us and it makes us one with the Father. How beautiful!
The greatest gift of all, is the Last Supper, where God’s love and mercy come together.