All the beautiful treasures of our faith - the Bible, the Mass, the Sacraments, the catechism, the rosary and so many others - where did they all come from? Have they not all be handed down to us through the centuries by other believers who themselves received them. Everything that strengthens our faith, convinces us of the will of God and enlightens our minds with the truth has been given to us by those who went before us.
These treasures of faith have been preserved for us at great cost. Many saints were put to death for preaching about the name of Jesus. Before the invention of the printing press, monks dedicated their whole lives to copying the Bible and other classic spiritual works by hand. So much of what we take for granted today as Christians, millions of men and women, out of love for God, had to fight diligently to preserve and defend throughout the centuries.
No treasure is as precious as the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Himself. In this great Sacrament, our Risen Lord becomes present to us in a unique and special way. It is really His Body and Blood we receive at every Mass. There is no more intimate way imaginable for us to enter into union with our God than by receiving the Eucharist. It is no mere symbol or representation. It is Jesus offering Himself to us once again just as He did on Calvary so many centuries ago.
This beautiful Sacrament has been handed down to us. But it all began on that first Holy Thursday when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His apostles. Traditionally, Jews celebrated a Passover meal to commemorate how God had liberated them from slavery in Egypt. They recalled how the blood of a lamb which was smeared on their doorposts spared them from the angel who took the lives of the firstborn sons of the Egyptians.
Jesus, now celebrating with the apostles, would fulfill the meaning of that Passover. Instead of freedom from bondage in Egypt, He would free us from the slavery of sin and death. Instead of offering a lamb in sacrifice, He would offer Himself. And instead of eating the flesh of a roasted lamb, they would be eating the flesh of God Himself. With Jesus, the symbols of the Old Covenant would find their fulfillment in the New Covenant in His Blood. The time of symbols had passed. The new realities are what now are handed down to us through the gifts of the Eucharist and the Priesthood.
We can never stress it enough - the Eucharist is the real Body and Blood of Christ. It is no mere symbol but a reality hidden in the form of bread and wine. Symbolism was part of the Old Testament which pointed to Jesus. Now the realities have arrived with the New Testament and the New Covenant. Jesus did not die on the cross to give us a mere symbol. Thousands of Christians would not have given their lives for a mere symbol. We would not go down on our knees during Mass for a mere symbol. What we worship and give our lives to protect and defend is a reality - the reality of Jesus present to us in the Eucharist.
For our modern minds which demand certainty and proofs, this can be a hard teaching to accept. It was even a difficult teaching in Jesus times. Saint John tells us that many of His first disciples left Him when He told them that He would give His Body for them to eat and His Blood for them to drink. It is a truth that can only be accepted through faith which is a gift of God.
When this evening’s services conclude, the church will be left open so that we may pray before the Blessed Sacrament. It is a pious custom to spend an hour this evening in prayer before our Lord in the tabernacle to remember His agony in the garden and His question to His disciples, “Could you not stay awake one hour with me?” As we sit in the presence of the Lord, it is a good time to ask Him to deepen our faith in the Eucharist. If we have trouble believing in Jesus’ real presence in this Sacrament, it is a good time to ask Him for the gift of faith. If we have received the Eucharist mindlessly, it is a good time to ask Jesus to deepen our devotion to Him. And if we have received Him unworthily, it is a good time to ask for forgiveness and to resolve to go to confession as soon as possible.
After tonight’s services, I invite all of you to stay and make a holy hour before the Lord. Take advantage of Jesus who makes Himself really present to us. Whatever situation we may find ourselves in, we can bring our cares and concerns to Him, because He is really there and He is willing to give us whatever we need.