Food for Thought

We were leaving Mass one recent Sunday, sorting out the experience.

There was actually a lot to talk about. We hadn’t been to our own parish that day. Michael had suggested that we expand our horizons by attending the bilingual liturgy (Spanish and English) at a downtown parish. The church, he said, was old and interesting, full of good statues and intricate tile. He’d been to Mass there before and found that he could even almost understand the Spanish parts, as articulated by the pastor, who tried his best, but who spoke in the slow, careful tones of one not quite comfortable in his second language.

So off we went. The church interior did, indeed, give us a lot to look at, which was fortunate since the presider was a visiting priest, perhaps filling in for the vacationing pastor. He pronounced his Spanish with more ease and a lot more speed than the regular presider, which, when you throw into to the mix the fact that he spoke his Spanish with some sort of African accent, made it harder to pick up on what he was saying. That was okay. We had the missalette, and, of course, we had the statues.

As we walked to our car afterwards, we reflected on all of this and more. The preacher had been a deacon in the parish who had attended the recent Encuentro 2000 in Los Angeles, and who was speaking in the stead of the attendee actually invited to do the recounting, and who, in the deacon's own words had apparently "decided to sleep in."

In the middle of the conversation, out of almost nowhere, Katie, our recent First Communicant, burst out with her own observation of the day:

“That Blood of Christ!” she burst out appreciatively, “it was so sweet and good!”

From the mouths of babes.

Many years ago, when I was living in a small town in middle Tennessee, the parish staff member who was directing the RCIA shared his concerns with me about the materials he had available to him.

“None of them emphasize the Eucharist,” he said, puzzled. “That seems very strange to me, since the Eucharist is one of the things that really gives Catholics our unique identity.”

Yup. One of the great mysteries I’ve often pondered myself is the scant attention paid to Eucharist in Catholic preaching.

A long time ago, when I, for strange and probably irritating reasons, read such books on a regular basis, I studied a book on preaching by one of the great Catholic homiletics teachers, Walter Burghardt, S.J. Now, I don’t remember the exact details of Burghardt’s theory of homiletics, but one of the aspects that stayed with me was his contention that every homily during a Catholic Mass should in some way point to, or even climax with a reference to Eucharist. It should do so, not only as a means of transition, but also as a vital expression of the truth at the heart of what we’re doing there: the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the vital reality at the heart of our faith: the most visible, concrete expression we have of God’s love for us and the most profound source of strength and nourishment as we go out and try to live the Gospel.

The Blood of Christ is sweet and good.

So often, when I go to Mass, it seems as if I’m in attendance at two distinct plays, rather than two acts of the same drama. In the Liturgy of the Word, we hear stories of God’s power and presence in human life. We listen to the revelation of who we are and who we’re called to be. We’re alerted to the tragic reality of a world broken by sin and how God seeks to work through us to make it whole again.

That’s a lot of responsibility. That’s difficult. That’s in contradiction to almost every message with which we’re bombarded when we leave the church doors. How are we ever going to do it?

God, of course. Present in our lives, strengthening us each time we open our spirits to His power.

God, giving of Himself for that very purpose under the appearance of bread and wine.

But, God bless them for the efforts, the homilists I hear seem to hardly ever make that explicit connection, which may have been okay forty years ago, when more people understood these truths about Eucharist, but is really insufficient in these days of weak catechesis and fuzzy spirituality.

It’s one of the big holes in the middle of contemporary Catholic life, I think - de-emphasizing the meaning and power of Eucharist in a world that seems condemned to spin in circles, wondering where God can ever be found.

The Blood of Christ, she said, is sweet and good.

Clipart courtesy of Hermanoleon

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