This weekend we come to the end of a series of special liturgical celebrations extending back to Palm Sunday.
The various feasts and commemorations have brought us in touch with awareness’s that are core to Christian Faith. Today the feast of Corpus Christi, links the past and the present. We are invited each Sabbath to come to the table for the Breaking of Bread. This particular bread does not fall within the category of the grand variety of breads available in food-stores, ranging from the ordinary loaf of Brennan’s bread to more exotic brands impregnated with all sorts of flavoursome and nourishing grains.
We are reminded in the scriptures this weekend that the bread we receive is ‘Living Bread’.
I am the living bread
which has come down from heaven.
When we ‘break and share this bread we ‘Commune with Christ’. But that’s not all, in fact in sharing the bread ‘we form a single body’, the ‘Body of Christ’.
‘The Bread that we break
is a Communion with the Body of Christ.’
These statements are not ordinary statements, they are heavily couched in Spiritual language, so we have to stand back, and allow the soul rather than the heart to digest them.
Over the centuries, in all sorts of circumstances, people have come and availed of this bread. Christians did so under the threat of persecution as far back as the 1st century. Army chaplains ministering on both sides of barbed trenches during the 1st World War, attracted a group of soldiers who participated in this ritual of breaking of bead. Irish missionaries travelled from their native shore to preside at Eucharist with people in the most deprived lands across the globe. I had the pleasure of presiding at this same meal in heavenly locations such as Maméin, the top of Leitir Móir, & uninhabited islands such as Inis Trabhair, Inis Bearacháin, along with the established designated areas where I ministered.
Two communities in particular come to mind when I think back. When I was living with a community of ‘adults with special needs’ over a period of 10 years, I had the privilege of presiding at their Eucharistic gathering each weekend. I remember one Holy Thursday Eucharist in Kilcornan. While distributing Communion, Bernard a member of our community, who usually wore a hurling helmet to protect himself in case of a fall, remained standing during the distribution of Communion. I wasn’t sure why, so after the communicants had received, I went down and asked him if he had received Communion. He replied that he had, so I returned to the Eucharistic table, still curious. At the end of Mass, I was going to have a simple, unrehearsed, ceremony of bringing the two ciboria to the altar of repose at the end of the chapel as is the customary on the day. As I passed Bernard, he came out of the pew and took one of the vessels from me, then very reverently led me in procession to the back of the church. The simple profound act, ‘blew my mind’. This particular procession happens liturgically once a year, and yet, Bernard felt the urge / reverence for the sacred bread to provide a helping hand.
There was always a lovely sense of the freedom whenever this particular community entered into the Eucharist setting. The feeling of participation and joy was always palpable. The community entered into the liturgy with no sense of complication or inhibition; singing was wholehearted and gutsy, with an occasional clash of cords bouncing of the ceiling.
As an aside, I remember Bishop Casey coming one Christmas to preside at Eucharist with the younger students from the school, and as he was wont to do, inviting a bit of banter, he pointed to the Eucharistic table, and asked the assembly from his theological mind set, ‘who is coming here today? A voice from the back of the assembly enthusiastically shouted up: ‘Santa, bishop’. I think it wasn’t exactly the answer Bishop Eamonn was expecting.
My other outstanding memory of Eucharist was in Leitir Móir, when I was there initially. There was many a morning during the week when, because of the weather, no one turned up for Mass. On such occasions, with no one to share in the Breaking of Bread, I wouldn’t have Mass. But quite frequently I celebrated Eucharist with a neighbour, an elderly gentleman, who faithfully attended. Breaking bread with Tom was as nourishing for me as doing so with a crowded congregation. A meeting of two at ‘an Bord Geal’ at the time, was certainly a great preparation for the Eucharists we’ve had here in Barna over the past few months.
We have been gifted by the Lord with a precious form of spiritual nourishment; our Eucharistic Celebration. For senior members of the community, we have lived our lives honouring the Sabbath though participation in this act. There is a sense in which the liturgy becomes precious, nourishing, lifegiving, to the degree to which we can enter into the celebration as a community. I like a statement I came across many years ago by a writer, Tad Guzie,
Sacraments are not things we receive
Sacraments are actions we engage in.
Since the shutdown, before our morning Mass in Barna, when the rosary is over and we have a wait of 10 minutes for Eucharist, I sometimes make a comment over the internet / radio: with people listening in from their respective abodes
‘Let us prepare for Eucharist,
let us reflect on what we are bringing to the table today.’
There has been some debate about having or not having Mass via the internet since the close down. My own thinking and my own experience is that under the present circumstances, and indeed when we are housebound for health or age reasons, it is possible to participate in a wholesome way even if we’re not physically present.
Again as I often say, we are essentially talking about being in Communion with the Lord and with the community, locally and globally; nourishing ourselves through sharing in the breaking of the Word proclaimed and the Bread Broken; the Body of Christ.
As I end this reflection, I just remember a quote that I placed a few hours ago in the Duilleog for this weekend. I had actually read the quote earlier in the morning in a book entitled ‘From the underground Church to Freedom’. In light of this reflection it seems most appropriate that I quote it again, as we prepare to enter into a new phase of this uncertain and mysterious time in our lives.
Tomas Halik, who ministered for many years ‘underground’ as a priest because of the suppressive regime governing his country at the time said, ‘ I would celebrate Mass on my own with the door locked. I experienced there what I had read about in Teilhard de Chardin’s Mass on the World, in which he speaks about how he places all human yearning and suffering in the chalice and becomes aware of the cosmic dimension of worship.