For many reasons, some that I’m not even consciously aware of, I have always responded more readily to the word than the Eucharist. Perhaps the same hardwiring in my brain that made me love books, major in English and make a living writing and editing. Possibly as a lifelong Catholic, I’ve taken the Eucharist for granted in the way that you take family for granted. It’s always been there. It’s never been a question of not believing. I’ve had some special experiences of deep communion centered on the Eucharist. But today’s Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ always reminds me to take time to think about what it is that I believe. And so I look to the Scriptures to explore once again this central tenet of the faith.
The readings are deceptively simple, but the questions they raise are endlessly complex. The reading from Genesis, the mysterious figure of Melchizedek, a priest and king of Salem long before the Hebrew temple rituals, before the Law, brings bread and wine to Abraham. This imagery fascinated the early Church fathers and is part of our liturgy today in the first Eucharistic Prayer, the Roman canon. As with many things in Scripture, I’m content to understand this figure on an intuitive, enigmatic level. I don’t need to find some sort of prefiguring of the Messiah, Christ or the ordained priesthood. That kind of one-to-one correspondence has always seemed limiting. It reminds me of an American literature professor I had in college who insisted on finding an analogy of Christ and the Eucharist in every book we read. It seemed forced. The tradition of bread and wine as symbolic offerings moves through the scriptures and our tradition back into the mists of time.
As we come forward through the Scriptures, into Paul’s letter and the Gospels, the imagery becomes more concrete, more “real” if you will. Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fish feeds both the physical and the spiritual hunger of the people. And it reminds us that even today, both hungers need to be fed. Paul’s recounting of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper never fails to move me, beginning with that first line, “I hand on to you what I also received.” Tradition matters. The handing on of the faith can never be taken lightly. In the family, in school, in church, among friends, this sharing of the core of our belief is as essential as it is difficult. Fortunately it often happens without our realizing that it’s taking place. And like the feeding of the multitude in the Gospel, they were written to address a very real concern in the Corinthian community: a failure on the part of some in the community to share their food with the hungry. Commnunion with Christ necessarily involves communion with the Body of Christ in the world today.
Rambling thoughts on a Sunday afternoon, and the true irony in all of this is that at Mass this morning, I was struck by the fact that the homily missed several key opportunities to address the feast (and the readings) in ways that seemed painfully obvious to me. Perhaps I was looking for something to move me forward on this journey. I’m not one to engage in homily-bashing in public, even though I write and edit homilies for a living, but let me close with this. The trajectory went from a Melchizedek golf tournament to the role of priests in minstering the word and an upcoming priests’ convocation. And the main thing that lodged itself in my brain was that given the feast, if you’re going to talk about the priesthood and even the shortage of priests, (certainly a valid direction), isn’t it more important to make the connection to the Eucharist and not the word? The word will still be proclaimed and witnessed to and made real in the lives of believers, but in our Catholic tradition, if the Eucharist is indeed central, then doesn’t that need to be the focus of the ordained priesthood? Perhaps the struggle I’m having with this is that having taken Eucharist for granted for lo, these many years, I could lose it before I realize what I’d be missing….
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