The Eucharist, Part III – The greatest gift given

To begin this article, it is important to share one more Old Testament Bible story. Remember when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt? The way in which The Lord God shows that He is going to rescue the Israelites is through a series of plagues. The final plague is the most consequential. Moses tells the people that they are to prepare a lamb and unleavened cakes. They were to take the blood of the lamb and paint their doorposts with it. That night an angel of the Lord would come by and kill the first born of those without the blood of the lamb over their doorposts. Those having the blood on the doorpost would have their firstborn saved. That night, screams across the Egyptian land could be heard. The Israelites also were awakened by the noise and the Egyptians threw gold, silver and other precious gems at them telling them to take it all and just leave their land. Obviously, they had to leave in a hurry which the Lord God knew by telling Moses to prepare the people to leave in a hurry with the unleavened bread. As they were hurrying toward the Red Sea, the Pharaoh changed his mind, sent his soldiers to bring the Israelites back to slavery. As Pharaoh’s army was in the midst of the parted Red Sea and the Israelites had made it across the sea, the sea closed in on itself killing the soldiers and allowing the Israelites to be free. The Lord spoke to Moses and said to remember this night each year as the Passover when they were set free from slavery.
Every year from then on, the Jewish people remember this night with lamb, unleavened bread, wine and other spices and herbs. It is always a feast to be celebrated rich in rituals. Jesus knew of this important feast as he was a boy and his parents would celebrate the Passover Meal. When Jesus began his public ministry he also continued to celebrate it. Then, a few days before his last Passover, He invited his apostles to have the sacred meal with him. He told the apostles where to find a room and to prepare it. On the night of this particular Passover meal, he took the unleavened bread, broke it and then did something incredible! He changed the words to the Passover and gave us the Institution Narrative at Mass. He said to take the bread and eat it for this is his Body given up for them; for you; for us! Then, likewise, he took the cup of wine and told his apostles to drink this cup; his blood that will be shed for them; for you; for us! It is hard to imagine how shocking it must have been to the apostles to hear the words of the sacred Passover changed but then to hear how the words have been changed and what the meaning must be! The Passover and the Passover meal is a preparation for the Last Supper which becomes the First Mass; the birth of the Eucharist.

Jesus is the unblemished lamb that is to be sacrificed for us. His blood will be poured out on the cross (over the altar –which is the shape of painting a doorpost up one side, across the top and down the other side) to save us not from the Egyptian slavery but from slavery of sin. And, to remember how He saved us, we come together to celebrate him at Mass by hearing his word, having the word broken open to us, and receiving him in the Eucharist.

It takes a while for the Apostles to comprehend any of this – as all of us will spend a life time and beyond contemplating these mysteries. They get a more vivid understanding when we hear of the story of the Walk to Emmaus. The Walk to Emmaus really is a story of the Mass unfolding. How?

Two people are walking (to Emmaus) discussing all the things they had heard and seen. This is what we do when we enter the Church before Mass and speak to God about all the things we have heard and seen in the past week. Then, Jesus comes to the two men and begins asking questions and speaking to them. This is the Word of the Lord, the Sacred Scriptures proclaimed at Mass. Then, Jesus begins to explain all of it to them. This is the homily where what we brought to the Mass and spoke to God about before we began and the Sacred Scriptures come together in the homily. The Word of God is explained; broken open for us in our own lives. Then, the men are interested enough in what Jesus is saying that they invite him into where they were staying and offer him something to eat. If they are just arriving there, they will need to spend some time preparing what is to be eaten. At Mass, this is preparing the altar with the gifts of bread and wine. Then, Jesus takes the bread, breaks it, and gives it to them. This is the Eucharistic Prayer and the reception of the Eucharist at Mass. So, then what happens. The men drift off to sleep? No! They go back to Jerusalem to tell everyone what had just happened and that they were with Jesus. This is the Mass – the go in peace to proclaim who you have within you and tell everyone about him. This is our hearts burning within us because of being in Jesus’ presence and receiving him.