Eucharist as Gathering, Listening, and Loving

by Melannie Svoboda SND on March 21, 2016

At the last supper, Jesus took the bread and wine and said these sacred words: “This is my body… This is my blood… Do this in memory of me.” Let us take a few minutes today to reflect on the beautiful gift of the Eucharist. We will do so under these three aspects: Gathering, Listening, and Loving.

Gathering. The first thing we noticed when we celebrate the Eucharist is this: We gather with others to celebrate it. In other words, the Eucharist is essentially communal. This aspect of the Eucharist was not always emphasized. For centuries there was a privatization of the Eucharist where individuals recited their own prayers (like the rosary) while the priest “said Mass” at the altar. Since Vatican II, however, there has been a renewed emphasis on the gathering community.

eucharist church-192597_640Gathering to celebrate Mass is not always easy. The time of the liturgy may be inconvenient. The weather and distance may be challenging. The church itself might be too cold, too hot, too crowded. And if we worship with pretty much the same community every week, we soon become familiar with the shortcomings of our fellow worshipers. Even the presider can be annoying: He talks too loud, too soft, too long. Yet our faith tells us that it is within this gathering of “motley” individuals that Jesus resides. (Look at the “motley congregation” Jesus had at the last supper: a traitor and a group of close friends who were about to desert him!) The writer Fr. Paul Bernier reminds us that, at every celebration of the Eucharist, “the most visible sign of Jesus’ presence is the community that is gathered.”

Listening. When we gather for Mass, we gather to listen to the Word of God. The Church, in her great wisdom, exposes us to a wide variety of Scripture readings. Some readings are consoling—like Psalm 23 and the parable of the prodigal son. Other readings are less appealing or downright disturbing. Although it is wonderful to have some favorite scripture passages, we must be open to all of the readings. The readings that disturb us the most might be the ones we need to hear the most.

At the Eucharist we also listen to the homily. The main purpose of the homily is to relate the readings to our particular time and place. Some of us are blessed with good homilies on a regular basis. Others of us may be frustrated by what we hear or do not hear in the homily. Rather than merely criticize the homilist, we might try writing our own homily on the readings. We might discover how hard it is! At Mass we also listen to the prayers and hymns we sing. Sometimes a word or phrase from these sources can also have an impact on us.

Loving. A third aspect of the Eucharist is loving. I am reminded of a story by the bishop of Recife, Brazil. One day thieves broke into a church in his diocese and pried open the tabernacle. They grabbed the gold vessels, dumped the crucifix 3 crosseshosts into the mud outside the church, and trampled upon the hosts as they fled. The parish community was appalled by what had happened. They begged the bishop to come and pray with them where the sacrilege had been committed. The bishop came and prayed with the people. But then he said, “People broke into the tabernacle and trampled the body of Christ into the mud outside our church. This has saddened us, and rightly so. But, my dear people, in our country Christ is daily trampled in the mud in the persons who make up his body, and no one sheds a tear.”

The Eucharist reminds us that Jesus is present in all of humanity. This sacrament is given to us not to make us feel good; but to make us do good. As Fr. Bernier says, “A properly celebrated Eucharist should bring about a cosmic change in our way of thinking and behaving.” At Mass, we not only listen to what Jesus taught, we receive strength to live as Jesus lived. And the essence of his living was selfless loving.

On Holy Thursday we commemorate the Eucharist in a special way. Many of you will attend this beautiful service. You might also want to reflect on these simple questions this week:

How accepting and appreciative am I of the human community in which I celebrate the Eucharist?

What scripture readings am I naturally drawn to? Why? Which ones disturb me? Why?

How is the Eucharist calling me to love and serve others at this particular time in my life?

My Easter reflection will be posted next Monday. Meanwhile, I offer you this song for holy week: “Now We Remain” by David Haas:

Is there anything you wish to share with us this week? We’d love to hear from you!

PS: I am leading a retreat day for women on Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at Notre Dame Educational Center, 13000 Auburn Road, Chardon, OH. The day is based on Psalm 23: “The Lord Is My Shepherd.” It begins with a continental breakfast at 8:00, includes a nice lunch, and ends at 2:30. The program consists of input sessions, prayer, sharing, and personal quiet time. The cost is only $15. To register contact Sister Carol Marek at 440-279-1183 or cmarek@ndec.org. Bring a friend!

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen March 21, 2016 at 6:09 am

Sr. Melannie,

I like the reminder about gathering as a community as we celebrate the Eucharist. We come in our tattered state but move on to the heavenly.

Looking forward to Hoy Week.

Kathleen

Reply

Mary Therese March 21, 2016 at 10:03 am

Oh My! The comments made by the bishop of Recife will stay with me all week. How true! Have a blessed Holy Week Sister Melannie

Reply

Barbara March 21, 2016 at 10:33 am

Last Friday was the Anniversary of my First Communion at age 21 – many, many years ago. I have enjoyed reading your thoughts on the Eucharist and I look forward to the Holy Thursday celebration.
Have a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Easter … and thank you for all that you share in your blog, Sr. Melannie.

Reply

Janis Stavana March 22, 2016 at 5:39 pm

I am amazed that you remember the date of your First Communion. I made mine as a child of seven and I’m sure it was not as significant to me as it was to you at age twenty-one.

Reply

Sr. Carolyn Pozarich March 21, 2016 at 10:39 am

Thanks for the thoughts. And the treat at the end is always a song/prayer to imbed the message of the thought. Sr. Carolyn Pozarich

Reply

Mary March 21, 2016 at 12:13 pm

Thank you so much Sister Melanie!!!! Christ poured himself out for our brokenness!!! May you have a blessed Holy week!!!!

Mary

Reply

Patty March 21, 2016 at 1:44 pm

Thank you, Sister, for this wonderful reflection at the beginning of Holy Week.

Reply

Sister M. Lalemant Pelikan,rsm March 21, 2016 at 3:13 pm

Thank you, so much, Sister Melannie, for these reflections! I have one other that was inspired by a comment by the Rector of our Cathedral Parish here in Lubbock on Saturday, March 19:
Jesus could have “zapped” the Romans and leaders of the Jews who were crucifying Him, because He IS the all-powerful God. But He didn’t choose to do so, because it wasn’t in God’s plan for His life. Instead, He allowed His weakness to be the means by which we were redeemed.
And so, my reflection is this: How much good may God be doing in our world through MY weakness? All I have to do is offer it to Him, and He can use it for infinite good, too, just as He did with Jesus’ human weakness! As St. Paul reminds us, “when I am weak, then I am strong!” in the strength of Jesus Himself — not my strength!

Reply

Jean March 21, 2016 at 3:18 pm

Your reflection takes me back to when I was a child, and some of the congregants. One woman wore a fur hat that reminded us of Davey Crockett’s coon-skin cap and sang loudly very out of key. That memory is 55 years old! Your blog is always fresh and down-to-earth. Thanks!

Reply

Rosemary March 21, 2016 at 3:20 pm

Thank you, Sister Melanie for a perfect beginning to Holy Week.
The chosen song is one of my most favorite. Your words always set the tone for my week…great reflections!!!
Thank you and God bless you..especially in this beautiful season.
Peace and love,
Rosemary

Reply

Sandy March 21, 2016 at 3:36 pm

I am a newer member of the group, Sr Melanie thank you for sharing yourself with US. Holy Week will be more everything for me this year, more meaningful, more loving, more open to all the scripture readings.

Blessed Easter, God Bless,
Sandy

Reply

Josita March 21, 2016 at 4:18 pm

Melannie, Thanks again for a very touching, practical and inspiring reflection on the Eucharist. The bishops story was powerful and really packs a “wallop”.
May the Holy Triduum be a source of true intimacy with Jesus and
May this Easter give you a glimpse of the glory of the Risen Lord!
My best wishes and prayers to you and your loved ones.
Happy Easter. Josita

Reply

Patricia Marshall March 21, 2016 at 8:48 pm

I like the comment about the ones that “disturb us the most”, yes, I can relate to that. It stirs in us feelings to do better. The prodigal son, wanting special cudos for doing what is right, not realizing how good Iit was to have a lost son returned to you. Not appreciating the community. So true. And the “motley crew”. Christ welcomed everyone. Marginalized folks, as well as the rich.

Reply

Thomas D March 22, 2016 at 3:50 am

I used to be allergic to the word “community.” (I still find it a bit odd when it’s used as a kind of phrasal verb, “to do community,” “to have community,” “to be community.”) But communities (and I use the plural, because we all belong to several communities at once: familial, occupational, ecclesial, etc.) are among the many instruments through which God performs salvific work. Wasn’t it C. S. Lewis who said that apart from the Sacrament, your neighbour is the holiest presence on earth? Craving solitude throughout my 20s and 30s, I was slow to discover this basic, this humanizing, truth. But I’m glad to report that my several communities — the parish, the family, fellow poets, neighbours in this pleasant suburb! — enrich me immeasurably.

A blessed Holy Week and a happy Easter to you, Sr Melannie, and to everyone reading this comment!

Reply

Charlene March 22, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Dear Sister,

Thank you for your beautiful words on the Eucharist. Gathering, yes as I age we learn it is not about us but about our sharing with others God’s grace as we are all broken in some way. Listening and Loving as receiving Jesus is not to make us feel good but hopefully worthy to receive and do good. I try each day not to trample on Him in my weakness clinging to His mercy. I love your thoughts for Holy Week and always. Have a blessed Easter and a very inspiring retreat, Sister.

Reply

Cathy Baier March 25, 2016 at 3:53 pm

Just participated with my church community the Good Friday liturgy. It is moving to receive Eucharist after generating the cross. It is also moving to observe all of us – broken too- processing up to receive the which heals us.
Blessed Easter to all!

Reply

Cathy Baier March 25, 2016 at 3:55 pm

Autocorrect:( Of course it should read : venerating the cross

Reply

Leave a Comment