Twentieth Sunday of the Year B
Psalm 33:2-3. 10-15
We have arrived at the fourth of five Sundays on which the Word of God speaks to us of the astonishing mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. How important it is to profit from these five weeks dedicated to the Bread of Life. Do not let them pass without leaving an impression on your souls. The particular grace offered you today will not be there tomorrow.
Sadness and Grumbling
Read and re-read the entire sixth chapter of Saint John. Take the Compendium of the Catechism to prayer and review, point by point, exactly what the Church believes and teaches concerning the Most Holy Eucharist. Saint Bernard says, “When men grow weary of studying spiritual doctrine and become lukewarm, when their spiritual energies are drained away, then they walk in sadness along the ways of the Lord. They fulfil the tasks enjoined on them with hearts that are tired and arid, they grumble without ceasing.” Never say, “I have already read that, I have had enough: there is nothing more for me to learn.”
Like Jacob’s Ladder
We offer the Holy Sacrifice over and over again, in obedience to the command of the Lord, “Do this in remembrance of me” (2 Cor 11:24). The Mass is inexhaustible. The reality of the Eucharist stretches, like Jacob’s ladder (Gen 28:12), from heaven to earth, and from earth to heaven.
Good Things As Yet Unseen
Today’s Mass opened with a Collect that drew us into the very heart of the Eucharist. We prayed, “O God, who have prepared for those who love You good things as yet unseen.” What is the Most Holy Eucharist if not a glimpse and foretaste of these good things, “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9)? We asked God to “pour into our hearts such love for Him, that we, loving Him in all things and above all things, may obtain His promises, which exceed all that we can desire.” This is no ordinary love. This is the love that “takes the kingdom of heaven by violence” (Mt 11:12), a love that permeates every part of us, a love “strong as death” (Ct 8:6). The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass opens onto infinitely more than we can see or think, ask or imagine, onto things that “exceed all that we can desire.”
A Table for the Little and the Poor
How then are we to approach the adorable mystery of the Eucharist? In the first reading we encounter Lady Wisdom. She lays the table and pours out her wine. She calls the little and the poor inside to her table, sending out her servants to cry aloud from the highest places. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed” (Prov 9:5). The mistress of the house bakes her bread, airs her wine, and attends to all the details of a gracious hospitality.
God’s Own Hospitality
Wisdom appears as the handmaid of God’s own hospitality. She appeals to the simple, to those without understanding, without knowledge, in a word, to those without power. The First Reading gave us the very passage that completely changed the life of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, and became the foundation of her “Little Way.” Thérèse read it in the translation of the Vulgate where is it is rendered, “Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me” (Prov 9:4). We are to approach the Most Holy Eucharist conscious of our powerlessness, of our need for something that “exceeds all that we can desire.” The Eucharist calls us to the poverty of empty hands. Saint Thérèse understood this.
To Offer Ourselves
Saint Bernard teaches that it is not enough for us to take and eat the Bread from Heaven. We must also offer ourselves to be eaten. Holy Communion is a wondrous exchange in which we become the bread of Christ. Listen to Saint Bernard:
My penitence, my salvation are His food.
I myself am His food.
I am chewed as I am reproved by Him;
I am swallowed by Him as I am taught;
I am digested by Him as I am changed;
I am assimilated as I am transformed;
I am made one with Him as I am conformed to Him.
He feeds upon us and is fed by us
that we may be the more loosely bound to Him.”
Saint Bernard, ever the poet, uses images of eating and assimilation to describe how Christ unites us to Himself. Our Lord becomes our food that we might become His. We need the language of poets and preachers in our approach to the Eucharist; we need song as well.
The Inadequacy of Mere Words
In the Second Reading, Saint Paul says, “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (Eph 5:18-19). The Church has always sung her way through the Eucharist. The Mass cries out to be sung because mere words, uttered in the routine and conventional tones of our everyday exchanges, fail to convey that the Most Holy Eucharist is something awesome and heavenly, divinely inebriating, powerfully transforming.
The Synod on the Eucharist warned us that we are in danger of losing our sense of awe, in danger of wanting to tame the mystery, of trying to contain it with the narrow margins of our own comfort zones. The Sacred Liturgy demands a kind of singing that suggests more of heaven than it does of earth, a kind of singing that echoes the angels’ ceaseless song.
O Taste and See
In the early ages of the Church, Christians always approached the Body and Blood of Christ singing. Their favourite Communion chant was the one we heard as today’s Responsorial Psalm. They never tired of repeating, “O taste and see . . . taste and see” (Ps 33:8) because in the Body of and in the Chalice of His Blood they had discovered, already here below, the taste of Wisdom’s eternal banquet.
In the Gospel Our Lord brings Wisdom’s invitation to fulfillment. “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me will live because of Me” (Jn 6:57). Saint Bernard says, “Christ eats me that He may have me in Himself, and Christ in turn is eaten by me that He may be in me, and the bond between us will be strong and the union complete.” What awaits you in Holy Communion exceeds all that you can desire. Eat, then, and offer yourself to be eaten. Receive the Bread of God and become the bread of God.