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On the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ 2004, the pope announced a Year of the Eucharist. Eucharist: Jesus With Us examines the function of the prayers and actions of the Mass, provides a fresh look at the Eucharist and explores the ways Catholics understand and talk about this central mystery of the Catholic faith.

Eucharist: Jesus With Us

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Do This in
Memory of Me

by Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D.

Each time we participate in the Eucharist we hear the words, “Do this in memory of me.” But what do these words mean? How do we remember Jesus? Obviously we can’t remember someone we have never met. Why would we want to join with other Christians on the Lord’s Day to remember Jesus if we have never met Jesus in prayer, or in the Scriptures or if—God forbid!—we have never met and recognized Christ in the community that bears his name?

It is only because we know Christ and love Christ that we are drawn at each Eucharist to remember him. We can’t remember Jesus if we don’t know him. So the important question is: How do we come to know Jesus?


Getting to know Jesus

To be honest, I had never given that question much thought before sitting down to write this article. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Jesus. I first learned about him from my mother and father. They taught me my first prayers. They taught me to talk to Jesus and to tell Jesus that I love him. My parents’ love for me told me of Jesus’ love for me.

I have early childhood memories of going to Mass with Mom and Dad. I watched them pray, and it was obvious that they knew Jesus. When I started school I learned about Jesus from the Baltimore Catechism and from Bible History, the common religion textbooks in classrooms before Vatican II.

What was missing?

My experience is probably typical of many older Catholics. And while that experience has served me well, I now realize that one important element was missing: the Bible. The Bible played a minimal role in my understanding of Jesus. I don’t recall that the Bible was mentioned very often in school. The Baltimore Catechism scarcely mentioned it. A very small portion of the Bible was read (in Latin) at Mass. Sometimes on Sundays our parish priest would read the Gospel in English at the beginning of his sermon; but other than that, I was ignorant of Scripture.

The bishops at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) realized that if they were going to restore the Eucharist to its central place in Catholic life they would have to restore the Bible to its proper place both in the Catholic home and in the Catholic liturgy. That is why they voted to read a larger portion of Sacred Scripture at each Eucharist “so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #51).

The Council Fathers took seriously the words of St. Jerome (345-420): “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” If at every Eucharist we are to “remember Christ,” we must first know Christ; and in order to know Christ we must know the Scriptures.

Getting to know Scripture

At Sunday Eucharist, following the Gathering Rites (which we discussed in the previous article of this series), we set about remembering Jesus—we celebrate the Liturgy of the Word. You are probably familiar with the elements of this part of the Mass: Old Testament reading, Psalm, Epistle, Alleluia, Gospel, homily, Creed and General Intercessions. (There are, of course, some minor seasonal variations.)

On the Sundays throughout the year (outside of the seasons of Lent–Easter and Advent–Christmas) the Epistle and the Gospel are read in a semi-continuous fashion. This means that the reading for one Sunday usually continues the reading from the previous Sunday. The First Reading (usually from the Old Testament) is chosen in relation to the theme of the Gospel.

Following the First Reading, we sing or recite a psalm, a song from God’s own inspired hymnal, the Book of Psalms. The psalm is selected in light of the theme of the readings, but the liturgical scholars who selected the various passages from the Bible to be proclaimed at the Eucharist also wanted to pick psalms that would introduce the Catholic laity to this traditional, biblical and poetic form of prayer. (Formerly, mainly priests and other “religious professionals” prayed the psalms.)

Receiving the Word

When I was a child growing up in Kansas, each Sunday after the priest read the Gospel he interrupted the Mass, turned around and faced the congregation: It was time for the sermon. The sermon offered an opportunity for teaching about some element of Catholic belief or explaining the Church’s moral teaching.

Today, following the proclamation of the readings from Scripture, we hear a homily that helps us understand and apply the Scriptures we have just heard. The homily helps us receive the word. Just as you would take a loaf of bread and break it into smaller pieces to be eaten, the homily takes the word of God and “breaks it open” for us to receive and digest so that the word of God becomes truly life-giving for us.

The homily is often followed by a few moments of silence. During this silence, we each have an opportunity to thank God for the word we have heard and apply it to our individual life circumstances. (When I preside at the Eucharist and preach, I get a sense of the helpfulness of the homily from the quality of this period of silence.)

We believe in…

Next we stand and recite the Nicene Creed. Originally the Creed served as the Profession of Faith for those about to be baptized at this point in the Mass. Today, as we move from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Creed reminds us of our Baptism.

At each Mass we renew our baptismal promise to die to selfishness and sin as we unite our sacrifice with the sacrifice of Christ. Each time we come to Eucharist we come through Baptism.

Lord, hear our prayer

The Liturgy of the Word comes to a close with the General Intercessions. To understand the function of these intercessory prayers, imagine that you are leaving your house to go to a meeting. Before leaving home, you might look in a mirror to see if you actually look the way you want to look—hair in place, shirt buttoned, etc. Perhaps that look in the mirror causes you to make a few last-minute adjustments.

The General Intercessions can serve a similar purpose at the Eucharist. We have gathered as the Body of Christ. As we prepare to approach the table for Eucharist, we look into the readings as we would look into a mirror: to see if the Christ presented there resembles the Body of Christ present here in this assembly. Often it does not.

In the General Intercessions, we pray that we might actually come to look like the Body of Christ proclaimed in the Scriptures: a body at peace, a body that shelters the homeless, heals the sick and feeds the hungry. The petitions, as is the case with all liturgical prayer, are the voice of the Body of Christ, head and members, to the Father in the Holy Spirit. That is why the petitions focus on those intentions that we know to be the will of Christ.

Present in the word

There are many times and circumstances in which we can read the Bible. However, when the Scriptures are read at Mass, this proclamation has a special value because Christ himself is present in his word, “since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in church” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #7). Our insistence that Christ is really present at the Eucharist under the appearances of bread and wine must not lead us to neglect or forget the other ways in which Christ is truly present at the Eucharist.

One day I was celebrating the Eucharist with a group of Catholic men in the local prison. We were discussing the Incarnation and how wonderful it is that our God took flesh and became truly human, someone like us in all things except sin.

One of the men in the group said, “He became just like us, Father Tom. He had to go up before the judge. They accused him of all sorts of stuff he didn’t do. All his friends ran off. He was humiliated and beat up. He was just like us.”

When I remarked that his understanding of Jesus becoming like us in all things was one that I had never considered before, another of the men said, “Maybe that’s what it means when we say that Scripture is inspired. The Spirit speaks to us in different ways in the different situations of our lives—in here, on the outside, when we’re young, when we’re old.”

I believe that prisoner had good insight into what it means to say, “Christ is present in the word.” We are not simply reading about something that happened long ago and far away. God’s word is present and living here and now. And, in some mysterious way, we become present to the events we are celebrating.

Liturgical remembering

When we “remember” Jesus at the Eucharist, we are not simply recalling past events; liturgical remembering makes us present to the event. Notice how the word remember is used in the crucifixion account in Luke’s Gospel: When one of the criminals crucified with Jesus asked him to “remember me when you come into your kingdom” he wasn’t asking Jesus simply to “think about him” as we might remember people that we met on vacation last summer. He was asking the Lord to remember him in the biblical/ liturgical sense of the word. He was asking to be remembered, that is, to become really present in heaven with Jesus. We can see that this is how Jesus understands remembering. Jesus responds, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43; italics added).

God’s eternal now

When we “remember Jesus” at the Eucharist, we move from our chronological past-present-future kind of time and pass over into God’s own “time of salvation” where past-present-future merge into God’s eternal now. When we sing, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” the presumed answer is, “Yes, I was there!” Indeed, we are there now!

“Thus recalling the mysteries of redemption, it opens up to the faithful the riches of the Lord’s powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present at all times; the faithful lay hold of them and are filled with saving grace” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #102). In a real yet mysterious way we become present with the apostles at the Last Supper. We are there on Calvary. With the apostles we witness the Resurrection and the sending of the Spirit. We stand with all the angels and saints and have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet!

Each Eucharist begins with the Liturgy of the Word. Hearing the voice of Christ himself, we remember. And in that remembering we become present to the mystery of faith. We are filled with the Spirit, inspired to pledge our lives to one another and to become one body. We seal that pledge by sharing a sacred meal. And that is the subject of the next article in this series.

Next: The Lord’s Supper


Question Corner

• How did you come to know Jesus? What people and experiences helped you learn about Jesus and develop a relationship with him?

• In order to remember Jesus we must know him and recognize him in the Christian community, the community that bears his name. In what ways does your parish look like the Body of Christ?

• Pay special attention to how God is speaking to you through this coming Sunday's readings. What message of comfort, challenge or hope is God offering to you? Is God calling you to some sort of action in response?




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