Eucharist : Doing What Jesus Did - 14th June 2015

I recently talked to a group of children preparing for First Holy Communion and their parents. Many commented afterwards that they had not before realised that what happens during the Liturgy of the Eucharist at Mass is based on what Jesus did at the Last Supper and they found this explanation helpful.

The Gospel accounts tell us that on the night before he died Christ took the bread and the cup of wine and gave thanks to God for them; he broke the bread and shared the bread and wine with his disciples.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the Preparation of the Gifts. The gifts of bread and wine are taken forward, placed on the altar and prayed over.  Along with the gifts of bread and wine we offer ourselves to God, our successes and our failures, our hopes and dreams, the people we care about. And just as the bread and wine are blessed and shared, we too are blessed by God and sent out to give of ourselves to others.

In the Eucharistic Prayer, which is the centre and high point of the celebration of the Mass, we give thanks to God for the gifts of bread and wine and for the whole work of salvation. At the Last Supper, Jesus gave the traditional thanksgiving prayer (berakah) of the Jewish Passover a new dimension by adding the words “This is my body”, “This is my blood”.

After the sign of peace, the celebrant breaks the bread and pours out the wine. Early Christians considered this part of the ritual so important that they called their Sunday gathering “the breaking of the bread”.  The breaking of the one loaf into many pieces signifies that the many faithful are made one body (1 Cor 10:17) by receiving Communion from the one Bread of Life which is Christ. The Lamb of God litany accompanies the breaking of the bread.

In the communion procession we walk and sing together as we go to the Table of the Lord’s where we share a communal meal, a paschal meal, with Christ and with one another. By taking and eating the Body of Christ together, the faithful become the Body of Christ, united in service to the world and in working for the Kingdom of justice, love, and peace.

The Mass is not a re-enactment of Christ's sacrifice; we are not repeating or multiplying it. We are recalling this central event of our salvation, remembering it so we can be part of it.  It’s a “re-presentation”. We are saying to God “we are imperfect, but Christ offered his life on our behalf and we are offering that sacrifice to you again”.  It is almost like reminding God, but we are the ones that need reminding, not God!

The Vatican Council described the Mass as the “summit and source” of the Christian life. Of all the things we do as Christians - mission, service, teaching, evangelising, etc - it is the high point, the peak experience. And the Mass is where we receive the nourishment and inspiration, the hope and strength, to live as Christians in everyday life.


Elizabeth Harrington