Each issue carries an imprimatur from
the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
Do This in
Memory of Me
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 cant remember
someone we have never met. Why would we want to join with other Christians on the Lords
Day to remember Jesus if we have never met Jesus in prayer, or in the Scriptures or ifGod
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 cant remember Jesus if we dont 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 cant remember a time when I didnt 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 dont 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 Gods
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 Jesuswe 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 Gods
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
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 Churchs 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 lookhair 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 didnt
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
thats what it means when we say that Scripture is inspired. The Spirit speaks to
us in different ways in the different situations of our livesin here, on the outside,
when were young, when were 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. Gods word is present and living here and now. And, in some mysterious
way, we become present to the events we are celebrating.
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 Lukes Gospel: When one
of the criminals crucified with Jesus asked him to remember me when you come into
your kingdom he wasnt 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).
Gods eternal now
When we remember Jesus at the Eucharist, we move from our chronological
past-present-future kind of time and pass over into Gods own time of salvation
where past-present-future merge into Gods 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 Lords 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 Lords Supper
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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