1/29/23 Homily: Ritual and Eucharist
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
Today we have another “teaching Mass,” and the theme today is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In parishes across the diocese this weekend, the Liturgy of the Eucharist is being mentioned in bulletins, announcements, or homilies. Near our holy water fonts and on our parish website, you can find a handout on this topic. In the space of this homily, I’d like to speak about the Liturgy of the Eucharist from the perspective of ritual.
All of us are familiar with rituals. We all have them. They secure us into our day, and we can feel somewhat disjointed when those rituals aren’t observed. For example, in my own morning ritual, I clean up, brush my teeth, pray my morning prayers, perhaps drink a cup of coffee, and then I set my watch. It’s a mechanical watch that loses a second every three hours. And so, every day, my watch is behind by eight seconds. Every morning, I reset it. Then I typically go to the school’s morning assembly, followed by the 8 a.m. Mass. If for whatever reason, I’m unable to follow through this morning ritual, my whole day seems off.
Rituals can be personal, but they can also be communal. I mentioned the school’s morning assembly. Every classroom lines up in a certain way each morning. We pray together. We pledge allegiance together, as the national and state flags are raised. We listen to a few announcements, and we then end with a patriotic song, before we go our separate ways to our separate spaces. That’s our communal ritual. It gives us a sense of community.
Now, relating to the liturgy of the Eucharist is perhaps one of the most beautiful of natural and communal rituals: and that is the sharing of a meal. It’s very human to share a meal with others; it’s very intimate to share a meal. With family, the dinner table is where loved ones gather at the end of the day to reconnect, after having separated earlier, each to their own spaces and responsibilities. But over dinner, loved ones can relax, recharge, laugh, and share stories; all the while revitalizing their sense of who they are as a community.
I remember on one occasion a few years ago, I once said with mock exasperation after dinner, “These kids…”. And my nephew, maybe four or five at time, said, “No… not these kids… this family…”. There’s a beautiful truth to that. At the dinner table, the family community is re-established. It’s also the place of reconciliation. No matter how feelings may have been hurt during the day, conflicts must usually be resolved before the sharing of a meal again.
Our faith is also very much tied to the family meal. You may recall the bread and wine offered by the High Priest Melchizedek at the time of Abraham. You might remember the Paschal sacrifice instituted at the time of Moses.
In the New Testament, the gospel of Luke in particular seems to emphasize the meal. On at least eight occasions, we find Jesus at meal with others:
At Levi’s house, Jesus sat with tax collectors and sinners. At the house of Simon the Pharisee, the sinful woman wept at Christ’s feet. Jesus fed the 5,000 through the multiplication of loaves and fish. He ate at the home of Mary and Martha. He stayed at the home of Zacchaeus for a day. The parable which perhaps is the most famous also involves a meal: when the prodigal son is finally reconciled with his father, the fattened calf is slaughtered, and the feast is celebrated.
After his resurrection from the dead, our Lord broke bread with two disciples at Emmaus. At that same time, he also appeared to the Eleven and reconciled with them over a meal behind locked doors. Again, at the seashore in Galilee, he ate fish with them after another miraculous catch.
Above all, Jesus instituted the new and eternal Covenant at a meal.
A covenant establishes a relationship where there was not one before. God chose to establish a new and eternal relationship with humanity through a meal; and that meal is the Mass.
The single act that unites all Catholics regularly is the Holy Mass, culminating with the reception of the Eucharist that is consecrated on this altar. This is our dinner table [gesturing to the altar], and the Eucharist is our family meal. Everything else is detail.
It’s here where we come to reconnect after having gone our separate ways for the week. It’s here where we come to share stories [gesturing to the Book of the Gospels] in the Liturgy of the Word. It’s here where we come to be reconciled to one another and to God. And then we eat the meal that is prepared for us in the Liturgy of the Eucharist; the same Eucharist given to the apostles at the Last Supper.
Just like a sound can erupt in one place and be heard as an echo in a very different place; or how starlight can reach us thousands of years after first radiating from a star; the Eucharist we receive at every Mass is the very same Jesus given to the apostles in a faraway place in a very distant time. The Eucharist we eat is not symbolic, but real. The eucharist really is Jesus Christ.
As Catholics, when we fall short in adhering to this weekly ritual, our whole week—and lives—can feel very off. But thankfully, by God’s providence, we’ve made it here after another long week. May the grace we receive through this family meal sustain us until we gather again. May God bless you.
Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, by Raphael, c. 1509-10, Fresco, Vatican Museums [Public Domain]