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Features: EUCHARIST – BEGINNING AND CENTRE OF OUR WORSHIP
Jun 19, 2017








ABUJA, NIGERIA -

Eucharist celebrates the death and resurrection of Christ which is grounded in these realities, that Jesus is the lord of the universe and as such we can be raised up with him (Col.3:1); and subsequently we have been raised up with him, so that we can have his power to overcome every huddle that sets itself in the way of our holiness (Eph.1:18-22). The cross reminds us not only of his love and redemptive suffering, but also the greatest sign we will ever have of a perfect loving obedience to the will of God. He is always with us to give us comfort and strength (1Cor.10:13). By his death he defeated the power of Satan and destroyed death for ever (Heb.2:14). He triumphed over the ways of the world that are opposed to God (Phil.2:6-11). He also opened heaven and poured out unlimited grace and mercy (Eph.1:3). On the cross Jesus emptied himself that we could receive his divine life. By remaining bound to the cross, he made it possible for all of us to be unbounded; for he has broken the chains of sin and death and set all of us free (Mth.9:1-8).

When we fix our attention on what Jesus has done for us on the cross, we open up ourselves to his grace (Heb. 12:1-2). Through his cross and resurrection Jesus has made the treasures of heavenly life available to us; now he commands us to fix our eyes on the cross for it transforms those who do so. Whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again (1 Cor. 11:26).

It is at the cross that God’s love and wrath meet perfectly in Christ whose death gave us a way out of sin and brought us into his Kingdom (Heb. 3:1-14).  As such St Paul tells us that when Jesus died, he died once to sin, so that his life now is life with God, and in that way we too must consider ourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus (Rm. 6:7-11).

Thomas Aquinas once wrote of the Eucharist when he said that no other sacrament has greater healing power; through it, sins are purged away, virtues are increased and the soul is enriched with abundance of every spiritual gift. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the Papal house takes a deeper look into the quality of life that the Eucharist offers us – I am the bread of life – How is Christ the bread of life and what kind of life does he give? Christ calls himself the bread of life precisely to make us understand that he doesn’t nourish us as ordinary food does, but as he possesses life, he gives it to us. He further explains to us that it is a stronger form of life that assimilates the weaker. For example vegetable assimilate minerals, animals assimilates vegetable.  The Spiritual assimilates the material.

Jesus says to those of us who receive him, we shall not change him into our own substance, instead we shall be changed into him; so while food which nourishes the body is assimilated by the body, the opposite is the case with the bread of life. This bread gives life to those who receive it, assimilates them and transforms them to himself. The celebration of the Eucharist means a lot to us than we may visualize, for we do not merely receive something in the Eucharist, but rather it is the encounter and unification of persons (Pope Benedict XVI). He further tells us that the person who comes to meet us and desire to unite himself to us is the son of God. Such unification he continued can only be brought about by means of adoration. Receiving the Eucharist means adoring the one whom we receive and precisely in this way only, do we become one with him. Only in adoration can profound and true acceptance develop.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that the son of God wanting to make us sharers of his divinity, assumed our nature so that he, made man, might make men Gods (13th Century Saint).  Even today the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that, the word became flesh to make us partakers of the divine nature (CCC 460).  From start to finish, the Mass is a celebration of God’s love. The Holy Mass which is the celebration of the Eucharist does help us in many ways in our worship of God. As the Fathers of the second Vatican puts it, that the reason for the last supper is to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the centuries until Christ should come again.  The entire liturgy is meant to focus our hearts on the Father who loves us so much that he sent his Son into the world. It also focuses our hearts on the Holy Spirit who speaks to us in every scripture reading and who consecrates us as we receive communion. The entire Mass procedure affords us at least six opportunities to tell God that we are sorry for our sins. It grants us every opportunity to open us to receive his mercy and healing power and also every opportunity to put us in touch with a father who loves to throw a banquet for us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also tells us that it offers us the chance to be forgiven of all our venial sins (CCC 1393-1395).  Every time we receive communion, we receive divine strength, grace and help for every troubling situation we face.  We also receive Jesus himself with all his holiness, purity and power. In the words of St Ambrose, the daily bread is taken as a remedy for daily infirmity, Eucharist is not only our source of holiness, it is also our source of wisdom. At communion we receive Jesus’ own divine risen life into our bodies and into our hearts. When Jesus comes to us in communion, we experience inner healing, new found courage, deeper revelation and more abiding wisdom.

The Eucharist is the beginning and centre of our worship. It has to be the beginning of our worship as St Paul wrote, that if Jesus had not been raised, our faith has been in vain (1 Cor. 15:14). He further wrote that if he had not been raised our faith is futile and we are still in sin (1 Cor. 15:17).  As such the Eucharist still remains the beginning of our worship.  It is the centre also for it was at the cross that he won for us our redemption and called us to celebrate it, as we proclaim his death and re-enact his sacrificial love for us it helps us to remain focused in our worship. Eucharist is the beginning and end of our faith; for the basis of our faith and hope is that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. Our redemption has to come through Christ because no more human effort could undo the power of sin that has been unleashed on us by the fall of man. No mortal could ratify an eternal covenant with God. Only God himself, complete mercy and love could bring about such a great salvation. Jesus by his death on the cross bore every sin past, present and future; and took away every evil inclination of our hearts and nailed it on the cross (Phil. 2:6-11).

Though Prophet Isaiah, and other prophets of God prophesied about the coming of the Messiah as a male child,  God promised us that he will give us a sign; it is this, the young woman is with a child and will give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel (Isa 7:14). Again he prophesied that unto us a son is born, unto us a child is given and dominion has been laid on his shoulder, and this is the name that he has been given, wonder – counselor, mighty God, eternal Father, prince of peace (Isa 9:6). For God to implement this long standing promise of his, the first physical contact between heaven and earth was done through Mary; for God had to seek her consent for her to be the mother of the Messiah.  The Church extols such a vital role she played in salvation history as the Fathers of Second Vatican Council wrote; after a long time of waiting, the times were fulfilled in Mary, the exalted daughter of Zion and the new plan for salvation is established (On the Church in the modern world). St Paul tells us in Galatians 4:4 popularly called in Church circles paradise lost, paradise regained; that at the appointed time God sent his son, born of a woman, born subject of the law, to redeem the subjects of the law, so that we could receive adoption as sons (Gal 4:4-5).  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, for in and through him to reconcile for himself all things whether in heaven or on earth, making peace by the blood of the cross (Col 1:19-20).

At the fall of man when our fore parents Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God, he sent them out of his presence and ceased to have fellowship with them; though his love for them never ceased as the scriptures tell us in Jeremiah 31:3, that he has loved us with an everlasting love and He is constant in his affection for us. For this reason he did not abandon us to the power of death for ever. Instead he commenced his redemption plan to restore us to his presence. This redemption plan of his, consists of sending his only begotten son Jesus Christ into the world to die for our sins. Through his death he will confront Satan in the grave who has power over death, set him aside and destroy death for ever in our lives (He.2:14); and subsequently resurrect to restore our life as the scriptures tell us; now raised to the heights by God’s right hand, he has received from the Father the Holy Spirit who was promised (Acts.2:33). Hence the summary of our faith – Dying he destroyed our death, rising he restored our life. His death and resurrection which is the Eucharist is essentially what he came to offer us. His incarnation, passion, death and resurrection point and result in the gift of the Holy Spirit which happens to be the grace of the resurrection. When Jesus talks about the gift of his body and blood, he is simply telling us that it is only through our deep meditation and contemplation of it always that the gift of the Holy spirit can come alive in us-The new and eternal life that he came to give us  -  (Rev.21:5). As such the Holy Spirit which is the spirit of life, the promise of the Father is the real food and the real drink which comes down from heaven. Hence St. Peter tells us that the Holy Spirit is all that we need for life and devotion (2Pet.3:1). As such throughout the ages, time and again God continued to promise to give it to us. In the Old Testament, we come across that foreshadowing of new life in us (Gen 3:15, Isa 53:1-12); a life free from serpentine vile, a life that rises above corruption and violence, a life without guilt or shame. On this mountain the Lord shall destroy death forever. He has always longed for the day he shall feed us with real food. Right from Moses down to the prophets he kept assuring us of this desire of his. Moses tells us that from among us, from among our own brother, Yahweh our God will raise up a prophet like himself to whom we shall listen in order to prevent us from worshipping false gods and listening to soothsayers and medium (Deut.18:13-15). In the book of Joel he promised that he will pour out his spirit on all humanity, our sons and daughters shall prophesy, our old people shall dream dreams and our young people shall see visions (Joel 3:1).  In Jeremiah 31:31-33, he promised that he will plant his laws, writing it on our hearts, then he shall be our God and we shall be his people. Furthermore in the book of Ezekiel he promised to pour clean water over us and we will be cleansed from all our filth and all our idols. He shall give us a new heart and put a new spirit in us.  He also promised to remove the heart of stone in our bodies and give us a heart of flesh instead (Ezekiel 32:25). All this prophesies point towards the gift of the Holy Spirit which the Messiah, the lord Jesus Christ will bestow on us through his death and resurrection. King David foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ when he spoke thus; and so, my heart rejoices, my soul is glad; even my flesh shall rest in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to hell, nor let your holy one see corruption (Psalm 16:8-9). Prophet Jeremiah foresaw and called the coming of Christ the new era.  We who happen to be in this era are blessed as Jesus spoke when he sad that blessed are our eyes because tbey see, our ears because they hear. In truth he tells us that many Prophets and upright people longed to see what we see and never saw it; hear what we hear and never heard it. (Mth.13:16-17). This is because they did not receive the fullness of the promise -the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who makes us to see and hear. St Paul confirms this issue when he tells us that now raised to the heights by God’s right hand, Jesus has received from the Father the Holy Spirit, who was promised, and what we see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit (Acts.2:33). It is the Holy Spirit that makes us to see and hear without which we remain spiritually blind and deaf. For the same reason, Jesus tells us, that of all the children born of women there is no one greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he; (Luke 6:28, Mth.11:12). This is so for he did not receive the indwelling of the Spirit in the way and manner we have.

In his desire to feed us with this real food, God asks us, children of men how long will you be heavy of heart? Why love what is vain and chase after illusion? (Psm.4:2). O come to the water all you who are thirsty, though you have no money, come buy and eat. Come buy wine, and milk free without money (Isa 55:1). Why spend money on what cannot nourish and your wages on what fails to satisfy? Listen carefully to me and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy; which is the promise of the Holy Spirit.  When Jesus came he continued to preach in likewise manner when he said; do not work for the food that goes bad, but work for the food that endures for eternal life which the son of man will give you; for on that the father, God has set his seal (Jn.6:27). He further tells us that it is his Father who gives us the bread from heaven, the true bread, for the bread of God is the bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reveals this bread of life to us when it states thus, ”Jesus is the living bread who came down from heaven to feed us, strengthen us, forgive and protect us” (CCC 1416). Jesus himself confirmed this fact when he answered the Jews that he is the bread of life.  No one who comes to him will ever hunger; no one who believes in him will ever thirst. In like manner he told the woman at the Jacob’s well that he can offer her the living water, and that whoever drinks that water will never be thirsty again; the water he shall give her will become in her a spring of water, welling up for eternal life (Jn. 4:10-14).  Jesus told the crowd at Capernaum that it is the Father who gives us bread from heaven - the true bread; for the bread of God is the bread which comes down from heaven to give life to the world. They responded by asking Jesus to give them that bread always; Jesus answered them categorically that he is the bread of life; no one who comes to him will ever hunger, no one who believes in him will ever thirst (Jn. 6:22-35).  He went further to re-emphasize that he is the bread of life when he said, in all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you will have no life in you, and that he who eats his flesh and drinks his blood abides in him and he in the person (Jn 6:55-56). The miracle of multiplication of bread and fish pointed to the greatest of all miracles; that God will share his divine life with sinful humanity (Jn.6:1-15). John used the multiplication of bread in a way to prefigure the miraculous meal of the Eucharist – Food from heaven.

CONCLUSION

St. John Paul II tells us that it is only in the death and resurrection of Christ that we find salvation and strength.  It is only when we fix our eyes on the cross and contemplate the sacrifice that he made for us that we can find salvation and strength. St. Paul tells us that even though he was of the same divine nature with the Father, he did not count equality with him, something to be grasped.  But he empted himself taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.  Leaving the glory of heaven to come and undergo this incredible mission for our sake should stir up our hearts to a deep appreciation of his love for us that we may find the strength to celebrate it often as he had wished us to.  St. Paul in like manner tells us that the cross is worthy of all honour because it is the instrument of salvation, nothing less than the very power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). Jesus Christ himself takes a sweep at us for being ignorant about the knowledge and the meaning of his coming in spite of the prophesies and its implementation throughout the scriptures when he spoke thus; O foolish men, slow at heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets he interpreted to us all the scripture passages that were about himself (Lu. 24:25-27).  He also chides us for being able to interpret fickle things as weather and yet unable to read the signs of time. It is only as we comprehend the full meaning of his mission on earth that we can deeply appreciate the Eucharist and desire to receive it as often as possible.


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