This is an extract from the book, “Why go to Church?” by Father Timothy Radcliffe written with an uncanny foresight in 2008. “So, why cannot I belong to a virtual Christian community and remain attending masses online? No more can it be a substitute of our bodily gathering together than can emails and phone calls be the basis of a marriage”. Add to that video calls, Zoom, Instagram, Facebook, and other virtual apps. Why must we bother going for mass?
Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Our focus is on the Holy Eucharist. Not a sign or symbol, as we believe in the Real Presence. This is a bodily Presence, a physical gift of the love of God. And to receive this, we must be physically there at mass.
My parents’ generation lived in times when the world was materially less comfortable. They even survived a world war. There were more hardship, grief, and suffering. Humility came hand in hand with poverty. In those hardy conditions, they had more of a sense for God. In Him, they placed hope. They would faithfully go for mass. Before Vatican II, it is unlikely they understood Latin, but they all understood the mass. In the mix of challenges and gratitude, they came to receive the Eucharist, for “This is my Body given for you”.
Fr Timothy situated the Eucharist in an everlasting context. For on the night before Jesus died, at the Last Supper, the Institution of the Eucharist, when Judas was about to betray, and Peter deny him, the rest about to run into hiding, the community scattered and as he himself faced with impending pain and death on a cross, what did Jesus do?
“And as they were eating, he took some bread, and when he had said the blessing, he broke it and gave it to them. ‘Take it,’ he said, ‘this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, and all drank from it, and he said to them, ‘This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many”. (Today’s Gospel)
That generation came to mass for this hope offered. They understood life to be one long journey towards their eternal home in heaven where hardship will be no more. This hope was clear, it rested on their resurrection of life. Receiving the Eucharist was receiving Jesus risen, love triumphant over death, victory over hardships, confirmation of the Resurrection. This is life’s ultimate destination. This is where hope is placed, where it is made true.
Today, somewhat spoilt by material progress, we have somewhat lost some of this sense for God. We divert our hope into wealth and power, marked with self-indulgence and immediate gratification. We lost that far sightedness of seeing our life as one long journey. Instead, we see life as a series of short stories, inspired by these misplaced hopes, each demanding a happy ending. But these hopes do not always deliver.
Challenges, grief, betrayal, pain, ill health, disappointments, broken relationships, failure and other different hardships are realities in life, existing through generations. Few escape them. They are natural, consequence of other people’s actions or self-inflicted. We learn as we live.
All these we bring to mass and place them on the altar. In the face of suffering, he broke bread, blessed, and gave to eat. In the face of all our challenges, we take, eat and rest in the everlasting true hope that will deliver. The Bread of Life.
Corpus Christi, 2021