I want to start this morning by relating three short stories about the Eucharist.
- Buzz Aldrin, one of the first two men to step on the moon on July 20, 1969, was a Roman Catholic. On the day before lift-off, a priest celebrated the Eucharist for Buzz in his hotel room. After Mass, he gave Buzz a pyx containing a consecrated host to carry with him on his journey to the moon. Once Neil Armstrong exited the lunar module, Buzz spoke via the radio with the people of Earth, asking them to contemplate the events of that momentous day and to give thanks. Then, blacking out the broadcast for privacy, Aldrin read the following Scripture verse: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit.” Then, silently, he gave thanks for their successful journey to the moon and received Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
- One year, a seminarian got a job as a tour guide at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. One day, he was leading a group of Japanese tourists who knew absolutely nothing of the Catholic Faith. With particular care he explained the great masterpieces of art, sculpture and architecture. He finally concluded at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel trying his best to explain quickly what it was. As the group dispersed, an elderly man, who had been particularly attentive stayed behind, and said, “Pardon me. Would you explain again this ‘Blessed Sacrament?” When the student did, the man exclaimed, “Ah, if this is so, what is in this chapel is a greater work of art than anything else in this basilica.”
- Dominic Tang, the courageous Chinese archbishop, was imprisoned for twenty-one years for nothing more than his loyalty to Christ and Christ’s one, true Church. After five years of solitary confinement in a windowless, damp cell, the Archbishop was told by his jailers that he could leave it for a few hours to do whatever he wanted. Five years of solitary confinement and he had a couple of hours to do what he wanted! When the jailer asked him what he would like to do, he responded: “I would like to say Mass.”
This Solemnity is really three feasts in one: we celebrate the feast of the Eucharist as sacrifice, the feast of the Eucharist as sacrament, and the feast of the Real Presence of Jesus. It is a doctrinal feast established for three purposes: 1) to give God collective thanks for Christ’s abiding presence with us in the Eucharist and to honor him there; 2) to instruct the people in the Mystery, Faith and devotion surrounding the Eucharist, and 3) to teach us to appreciate and make use of the great gift of the Holy Eucharist, both as a Sacrament and as a sacrifice.
The anecdotes I used at the beginning of this homily reflect these purposes. Buzz Aldrin reminded us to be thankful. The seminarian instructed a man in the mystery, faith and devotion surrounding the Eucharist, and Archbishop Tang demonstrates his profound appreciation for the great gift we have in the Holy Eucharist.
The Scripture readings which the Church provides for this year ask us to reflect on the covenantal relationship we have with God, a covenant which is sealed in the Blood of Jesus, shed on the cross. The old covenant was sealed in the blood of a sacrificial bull. However, over the hundreds of years that passed between that first sacrifice and the sacrifice of Jesus, the covenant relationship was broken over and over again. It had been disregarded so often that Jeremiah the prophet, seven hundred years after the covenant of Sinai was ratified, proclaimed that God was going to make a new covenant, not written on stone, but upon our hearts. The new covenant was instituted by Jesus himself at the Last Supper. When he offered the cup of wine and proclaimed that it was his blood, he appended the words: “Do this in memory of me.”
These words have two levels of meaning. Yes, we imitate his action when we pray the words of institution over the cup of wine. However, if we truly appreciate his gift to us in this sacrament, then we must imitate him in his sacrificial life. Sacrifice is built into our relationship with God and must be part and parcel of the life of anyone who accepts the Eucharist. Like him, we must seal our covenant with the Lord by offering very selves.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator