We are gathering this evening the way Christians have for two thousand years.
Most likely, each of us began coming to Mass with our parents. They were our first catechists, teaching us to genuflect in front of the tabernacle, to keep quiet while in church and to bow our heads in prayer when the priest lifted up the Body and Blood of Jesus. Most likely, they learned from their parents. Each generation passed on to the next the importance of gathering every Sunday and on holy days to listen to the Scriptures being proclaimed and to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. If we were to go back through each generation no matter what our ethnic background, no matter where our family originally came from, it would all lead to one place - the upper room where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples.
It was on that night that Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body which will be given up for you.” In the same way He took the chalice with wine and, again giving thanks, He gave it to His disciples saying, “Take this all of you and drink from it. This is the chalice of my blood. The blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.”
For two thousand years, we have prayed these words handed on to us from Jesus at the Last Supper. They have been prayed in many different languages - Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Spanish, German, Swahili, and Arabic, just to name a few. They have been prayed in many places - in homes, in underground catacombs, in grand basilicas, in soccer stadiums, in prisons and in concentration camps. They have been prayed by the rich and the poor, by the powerful and the oppressed, by the proud and by the humble, by sinners and by saints. They have been prayed when the Church was being persecuted and when the Church was in peace. No matter what the language, no matter what the place of worship, no matter what the circumstances, the followers of Jesus have faithfully passed on His words and the sacrament of His love as he asked. “Do this in memory of me.”
It seems such a simple thing for us to gather for an hour as we do every Sunday and on holy days such as today. Most people hardly seem to notice when we do gather. But the history behind it is staggering. To make it possible for us to be here this evening worshipping freely, it took the sacrifice of millions of women and men. It took the willingness of millions of men who gave up the possibility of marriage and a career to be ordained priests so that the Eucharist could be celebrated. It took millions of bishops who insisted on preserving faithfully what Jesus handed on to us. It took millions of women who brought the Eucharist to the sick and the homebound. It required millions of martyrs who preferred to die than to deny their belief that Jesus is really present in the Holy Eucharist. What seems so simple and easy for us today required the shedding of much blood and the efforts of many good and holy women and men.
Not least of all, it required the love of Jesus Christ our Lord, who gave Himself up for us on the cross to free us from sin and to offer us the gift of eternal life.
Therefore, as we gather around this altar to remember all that Jesus did to save us, what should our attitude be? If all those who sacrificed to make this liturgy possible for us were to see us now, what would they think? Are we reverent enough? Have we come here out of love for God rather than out of a sense of obligation? Is our heart in what we say and do here tonight or are we just repeating the prayers out of rote memory? Most importantly, are we willing to sacrifice to ensure that our children and their children will also be able to worship and practice their faith freely?
What we receive tonight is the greatest gift that God has ever blessed the world with. It is a gift that Jesus gave to the apostles and that the apostles handed on to their followers up to our present day. It is the Body and Blood of Jesus. We believe with all our hearts that it is not just a symbol of His presence among us, but it is His real presence here and now. We do not come together here to simply remember what He did for us but to relive it, to bring it into our lives today and to receive all the graces that He has to give us.
This great Sacrament, this great mystery, this great love is here in our midst. We receive it from the hands of our Lord and pledge to pass it on until He comes again in glory.