Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Holy Eucharist

Jesus is Made Present

by Our Remembering

Fifth Article of a Series

Stay with us, Lord! (Luke 24:29) With these words, the disciples on the road to Emmaus invited the mysterious Wayfarer to stay with them, as the sun was setting on that first day of the week when the incredible had occurred. According to his promise, Christ had risen; but they did not yet know this. Nevertheless, the words spoken by the Wayfarer along the road made their hearts burn within them. So they said to him, “Stay with us”. Seated around the supper table, they recognized him in the “breaking of bread” – and suddenly he vanished. There remained in front of them the broken bread. There echoed in their hearts the gentle sound of his words.
                        From the Urbi et Orbi Message of John Paul II, 2005

The previous article of this series marking the inauguration of the New Roman Missal offered an account of the Emmaus story. Here the words of Pope John Paul give a reprise of that vignette. With the travelers John Paul says, “Stay with us, Lord”, because Jesus has been recognized “in the breaking of the bread”.

We come to Mass with a burning, a yearning right on the surface or buried deep within, a yearning to meet God, to experience God in an Emmaus-like moment. This is the place, the event, that which is deeper than the words.

During the Mass we remember the life, the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Paschal Mystery. We remember in such a way that what we remember is made present in the gathered community. This kind of remembering is as old as the Hebrews. It is the kind of remembering engaged in at every Passover Seder when the saving acts of God in the Exodus of the Jewish slaves from Egypt is so remembered as to become a felt presence at the Passover table. And notice that this is done at a shared meal. This productive sort of remembering is called ANAMNESIS – your new word for today. In the days before the Nicene Creed to be Christians meant to be faithful to Jesus’ command to celebrate memorial. “Do this in Memory of me.” Luke 33:24-25. For their memorial they joined scripture and readings to the blessing of God for creation and redemption. “However named it has always been part of the church’s grasp of memorial that the mystery remembered becomes a living reality in the lives of those who celebrated it liturgically. For the early writers this was implied in the very idea of symbolic or sacramental representation.” (David N. Power, The Eucharistic Mystery: Revitalizing the Tradition, NY: Crossroad:1994, 488-49).

Celebrations of the Eucharist in which we share today are the occasions in which we call to mind the person and events of our salvation – Jesus Christ and his Paschal Mystery – in such a way that “we” render them living and active in our own time. The “we”, plural pronoun, is operative here. The priest, although in persona Christi, is not acting alone. The gathered community is not merely present or participating by observation. The community gathered for the memorial meal is integral to anamnesis, to recalling and thereby making actively present the person and saving action of the Redeemer. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) of the Second Vatican Council declared that God’s people gathered for Eucharist “offer the immaculate victim through the hands of the priest but also together with him”. (48)

The Eucharistic prayer emphasizes this integral function by repeated use of the pronoun “we”. We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you (EPII). We offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice (EPIII). We, your people and your ministers, recall his passion, his resurrection from the dead and his ascension into glory (EPI). Indeed, the level of participation penetrates more deeply if the community offers itself along with the gifts of bread and wine and unites itself with the words of Eucharistic Prayer III, “Father we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and the blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. By this collective effort and offering and in light of the concept of Eucharistic anamnesis Jesus becomes uniquely present in the consecrated bread and wine but also actively present in our time and within and among those gathered. And this answers the question; in what way is Jesus Christ made actively present at each Eucharistic celebration? At least in part, Jesus the Redeeming Christ, is made present within those who are united with Him in this memorial.  Each of the four principal Eucharistic prayers includes a prayer of epiclesis invoking the power of the Holy Spirit as the agent of consecration; “let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy”. (EP II) Whether we speak of “gifts” in the translation we will no longer us, or “offerings” as the new Roman Missal translation renders it, we acknowledge that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the gifts/offerings are transformed. To the extent that we present ourselves, all that we are – good, bad and indifferent – as gifts/offerings available for transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are asking to be made holy and transformed into the mystery that we celebrate, the mystery of the sacrament of remembrance which is making Jesus present in us and among us.

Incredible, isn’t it. But St. Athanasius said in the 4th century, “God became man that man might become God.” This is the incredible mystery of the Incarnation which qualifies us to stand in the presence of God and serve God. This is what the lofty words, the unusual vocabulary, the smells and bells, the vestments, gestures, posture, art and stained glass windows, speaking and singing are intended to communicate. Jesus asked us to break the bread as he did in memory of his life, death and resurrection and assured us that he would be there in the bread and the wine, in and among us in the pews and within us working our transformation into other Christs.

The last piece in this series will speak about the implication of the final words of dismissal at Mass. In the new Roman Missal there are three options for this line: “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” And what could all of that mean?

(For a fuller treatment concerning Eucharistic Anamnesis just type the word 'anamnesis' in the search box to the right.)

No comments: