6/1/2017 9:00:00 AM BISHOP'S COLUMN 'Do this in memory of me' An explanation of communion
‘The celebration of the Eucharist is the sacrament that actually creates the Church — makes it what it is. United with Christ, we are united with one another in such a way that we become what we eat. We are transformed into the Body of Christ.’
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER
Following up on last week's reflection on the Mass and how revolutionary it really is, we might say that the Mass represents an invitation to live on Earth as if we are already in heaven -- and it gives us the power to do this.
What is my role as a Christian? What does Christ expect of me as His follower? It makes sense to go right to the source: What exactly does Christ Himself ask of each of us?
Christ gives many instructions to His disciples, but none are so specific or clearer than the directive, "Do this in memory of me." Most Catholics have a pretty good understanding that the "this" of which Jesus speaks is the taking of up of the bread and the cup of wine which are consecrated at Mass into His Body and Blood.
Yet, even if we believe in the real presence of Christ and that He asks us to partake in it each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we have not yet understood what He is asking. The "this" to which Jesus refers is not only the action of the consecration, but the action that the consecration signifies.
Most of us have heard the expression that the Mass is the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary, re-presented in the form of a meal. It is not just a memory of the Last Supper, but an action that brings the bloody sacrifice of Calvary into the present, so that we are really "there when they crucified my Lord," as the song goes.
The key word here is "memory," which is a translation of the Greek word "anamnesis." When "memory" is used in most of our modern languages, it means nothing more than bringing to mind an event that happened in the past, but is no longer happening. The work of memory is our work, something that we do by trying to use our best imaginations to reconstruct the scene as it might have happened. But this cannot bring back the reality.
When Scripture uses the word "anamnesis" ("memory"), it means much more. Think of the words of the good thief on the cross, who asked Jesus, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Was he just asking Jesus to think about him after he is dead? Not at all! The response of Jesus clearly indicates He understood that the thief was asking to be with Him: "This day you will be with me in paradise."
Jesus is offering us the same invitation to be with Him when we remember Him in the Eucharist. It unites us with Him in a way that nothing else does, because it unites us not just with our imagination, but with the real Jesus who is alive and present with us now!
The Mass is Calvary. Yet, what is Calvary but the action of God in Christ that reconciled God and us, heaven and Earth? When Christ died on the cross, the veil that separated us from direct contact with God was torn in two. The sin that cast Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden has been vanquished and we can once again walk on this Earth with God in our midst.
That is why the celebration of the Eucharist is the sacrament that actually creates the Church -- makes it what it is. United with Christ, we are united with one another in such a way that we become what we eat. We are transformed into the Body of Christ.
There is no doubt that St. Paul understood this connection clearly. His is the earliest written account of the institution of the holy Eucharist (1 Cor 11:23-36). He makes it very clear that we should ask ourselves what we are really doing when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. He raises the question of our disposition or worthiness -- that we approach this sublime mystery with awe and reverence and purity of heart and mind.
Since it is Christ's sacrifice at Calvary that makes us holy, then the Eucharist must be celebrated with a life that is centered on Christ, the Holy One, filled with a desire to follow Him.
Another way of saying this is that, if Christ is really present to us in the Eucharist, then we must really be present to Him -- in "communion" with Him! If not, our "memory" is just a figment of our imagination, an empty dream, a fantasy; and our reception is hypocritical, because it is not a truly holy "communion."