Jesus ate with sinners. That’s always been amazing to me. In some ways it’s the heart of the Gospel:
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7–8, ESV).
I was struck by St. Augustine’s imitation of Jesus in the last days of his life:
As the then Cardinal Ratzinger tells the story,
“When Augustine felt his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and took upon himself ecclesiastical penitence. In his last days, he set himself alongside, in solidarity, with the public sinners who seek forgiveness and grace through the pain of not receiving Communion.”
What a gesture! I wonder if that message would come across today. Think about it: your bishop comes to Mass this Sunday and sits in the pews, toward the back. When it’s time for receiving Holy Communion, he stays in his pew and doesn’t receive! When asked, he says he’s trying to show solidarity with those who are divorced and remarried who come to Mass, but can’t receive Holy Communion.
In the introductory chapter to his, The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom, the late Orthodox priest, Fr. Alexander Schmemann (+1983) lays out the rudiments of a Eucharistic ecclesiology very similar to that articulated by Joseph Ratzinger. Schmemann’s key assertion as he sketches this vision is that there is in the liturgy an
“undoubted triunity of the assembly, the eucharist, and the Church, to which the whole early tradition of the Church…unanimously testifies” (11).
That said, this unity has been broken apart, not fundamentally, but in the everyday understanding of clergy and laity alike. For Schmemann, such a reunification is the task of liturgical theology as it uncovers “the meaning and essence of this unity” between “the assembly, the eucharist and the Church” (12). The “assembly” or σύναξις is the first move in the liturgy, as it were. This assembling is the action of Christ gathering His people together for communion/κοινονια. So often, Schmemann notes, we look at the Eucharist through individualistic eyes, not seeing that the entire form/ordo of the Eucharist is a dialogical movement between priest and people. In particular, the anaphora or Eucharistic Prayer takes the form of a dialogical synergy or a working together of priest and people whereby they form “one organic whole.” Christ calls out the people from the world and forms them into an assembly to be united to Himself, to be the Church. When gathered together the assembly does not act on its own, but is united with Christ in the person of the priest. This unified working together (synergy) makes new what the Church is by renewing Christ’s unbloody sacrifice in the Eucharist and offering that synergistically to the Father. In the exchange of the offering the Holy Spirit operates in such a way that He both transforms the offerings into Christ’s body and blood and then works a similar transformative action (again, synergistically) on the assembly as they receive the Divine Gifts of Christ’s Body and Blood.
As has been mentioned before, Lent is a great time to make a good confession. Especially as we rapidly approach Easter, there’s no better time than now to think about receiving the grace of that special sacrament. I was recently made aware of Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s Lenten letter on confession which he sent on St. Patrick’s Day, and I thought I would post the link to it here, and encourage everyone to read it, since it’s such a beautiful and timely piece on this great sacrament.
If you haven’t read Scott Hahn’s, Lord, Have Mercy: The Healing Power of Confession you might want to pick that up and read it. Most importantly, go to that great sacrament of mercy. As Christians, we need to begin-again all the time, telling Jesus we’re sorry. The confessional is a privileged site for such mercy, and those who avail themselves of the sacrament frequently, know its rich benefits. Every act of contrition is a new beginning, and every confession is a welcome home.
The Most Rev. Robert Carlson, now Archbishop of St. Louis, answered this question at a talk he gave at Central Michigan University in January of 2009. His answer: “because of the Eucharist.”
Jesus is made present to us in the liturgy in many ways: through His word proclaimed; through His priests in His Sacraments; through two or three fellow believers gathered together; and most profoundly through the Sacrifice of His Body and Blood made present in the Holy Eucharist. Yet, the Eucharistic presence surpasses the others. Pope Paul VI said it this way: “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.” (CCC 1374; Mysterium Fidei 39)
Rediscovering the Eucharist
Midway through my freshman year of college I experienced a profound conversion where I came to know Jesus as so personally present to me as to be next to me or ‘in me.’ I never knew such closeness to God before. I came to know Christ so deeply while pursuing God in the Scriptures and asking Him to help me to believe in His Son (as I later discovered, He was pursuing me).
In the history of religious thought, from the primitive times until now, a consistent theme has breeched the thought of every sort of believer: death. Is this all life is? Is death really the end? Does my existence take me, in the final stage, to nothing? Without a doubt, death has been a subject of intense inquiry from the earliest times of religious and philosophical, indeed human, thought.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily given on Easter Vigil, confronts this question, and does so positively. The Bishop opens his homily with a brief summary of an ancient Jewish legend from the apocryphal book The Life of Adam and Eve, in which Adam, “in his final illness…sent his son Seth together with Eve into the region of Paradise to fetch the oil of mercy, so that he could be…healed”. Eventually, after some time searching and prayer, the Archangel Michael appears to them and explains that they will be unable to obtain “the oil of the tree of mercy and that Adam would have to die”. Such a myth “lays bare the whole of humanity’s anguish at the destiny of illness, pain and death that has been imposed upon us. Man’s resistance to death becomes evident: somewhere—people have constantly thought—there must be some cure for death”.