Recently I was a little alarmed to hear someone, whom I thought would know better, display a huge ignorance with what happens at Mass. Of course there are many things that happen at this beautiful and most extraordinary of experiences that we call The Mass or The Eucharist, including sorrow for sin, the communal expression of what we believe in the Creed and a missioning back into the world to spread, and indeed live, the Gospel. However at the core of this celebration, which is the greatest prayer this side of the tomb, is the fact that we are fed. When we attend Mass we come to the place where we get the best possible food for our souls. At Mass we are nourished at the deepest level of our being. We are nourished by Word and Sacrament. We are fed by the Word of God and by the Body and Blood of Jesus. My key point in this ‘rumbling’ is that we are rapidly losing our appreciation of the Mass. Again, only the other day, I overheard a conversation between a few people who attended both primary and secondary Catholic schools and their comments included: ‘the white thing the priest holds up at Mass’, ‘ the Holy Bread’, ‘the magic wafer’, ‘it’s not really Jesus’, ‘it’s a symbol’, and ‘it represents him!’ This gives us an idea of how far we have slid from the truth, an idea of how close we are to losing that which is most sacred.
What we stand to lose is the summit and source of our liturgical life. We stand to lose the very heart of the Church. We stand to lose an appreciation of Christ present amongst us in his Body and Blood. We are losing respect for the greatest of all prayers. There is a tsunami of ignorance engulfing the Irish Church at the moment and nowhere is that more evident than with regard to the Eucharist. It is quite extraordinary that we often see people in our churches having a full scale conversation, chewing gum, drinking, water, Coke and recently Red Bull. Indeed I recently encountered a new low, that was a lady doing her makeup in church. All the while a few feet away is the pinnacle of God’s love for us. Just a few feet away from the smacking of our gum and our idle chatter, is Jesus. Jesus the only Son of the Father. The Father of all. The Creator of all and everything. The Father who would not give up on us. The Father who loved us so much that he gave his only Son. He did this so that sin and darkness and greed and selfishness would not win. Just a few feet away from our disrespect is the body of Jesus, the blood of Jesus who suffered so cruelly, who suffered torture and agony for us. What we are speaking of here is of course ignorance in the purest sense of that word, as in not knowing. This is the only explanation of our behaviour, because if we actually realised what we are disrespecting, I think we would be horrified!
At least let’s try and kill off the notion of Holy Bread! Actually there is no such thing. What do I mean? Think about it, it’s almost like a Holy Riddle. The Sacred Riddle of the Eucharist. The Bread at the back of the church waiting to be brought up in the Offertory Procession, is not holy. Actually it is ordinary. To stress its ordinariness is much more important than you might think. This bread is as ordinary as the Crib and the Cross. It’s ordinariness is connected with our humanity, and the fact that God became one of us, in Jesus. Now the second part of this holy equation is that by the time this bread is given to us at Holy Communion it is no longer bread, but it sure is holy. It is holy. In fact it is the Holiest of the Holies. It is no longer Bread, neither ordinary bread nor holy bread, it is now Jesus present among us. One of the things that hampers our understanding of this, is that, we have, as a people, a great legacy of both superstition and magic. Neither of these are at work here. What is at work then? How does it happen? How does the bread and wine become Jesus present among us? It is through the holy breath of God that this happens. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that the miracle of the Mass happens.
So let’s be clear: the Bread at Mass before the Consecration is not holy. It is a wafer, but an unblessed one. A communion bread. Simply unblessed ordinary bread. After the Consecration, and by the time we go up to receive, it is: Holy Communion, the Sacred Host, the Eucharist, the Body of Christ, the Blood of Christ, the Precious Blood, Christ present amongst us. A particularly beautiful recognition of this is in the words of St. Thomas, My Lord and My God. Could we not resolve now, once and for all, never to chew gum, drink or indulge in idle chatter or in any way to disrespect Jesus present in the Eucharist ever again?