Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

A Big Celebration

GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim sj - The Freeman

Today our celebration focuses in a very special way on the gift of the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. Perhaps today is a good occasion to understand more deeply what we are up to when we come to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. 

Let us first look at: 1) the background of the Eucharist, then 2) the history and development of the Eucharist, and finally 3) the structure and dynamics of the Eucharist.

First, the background of the Eucharist: It is a celebration, a covenant, and a covenant meal.  It is first, a celebration.  And in every celebration, be it a birthday, a wedding or wedding anniversary, a promotion, or victory, some elements are always present. 

A celebration involves an event, a happening.  We always ask, “What are we celebrating for?” – if we don’t know the occasion.  Then there must be people involved.  You don’t usually celebrate just by yourself. 

Next, there is always food.  Imagine going to a party, where the host announces, “I know most of you are watching your diet.  So tonight, there will be no food or drink served.”  I’m sure the party will be deserted in no time.

Next, a celebration always involves certain rituals.  It may be ritual food like cakes for birthdays and weddings, ice cream for children’s parties, and lechon for fiestas.  It may be ritual words and actions, like a handshake, a smile and “How are you?” “Happy Birthday!” or “Merry Christmas!”  You don’t say “Merry Birthday!” or “Happy Christmas!”

In the Eucharist we have all these elements.  There is an event.  We remember the event of the Last Supper, Christ celebrating with his apostles and friends gathered for the Paschal meal in which he gave us his own body and blood.  There was food, the Paschal lamb, bread and wine.

The practice of the Covenant goes all the way back to the Old Testament times.  Among the Semitic people, when two tribes – for example, the tribe of Asher and the tribe of Benjamin – strike a covenant concerning their land; they draw terms of agreement, and read them in the presence of all the members of the tribes. 

Then they slaughter an animal, cutting it in half.  The leaders of the tribes would walk through the middle of the two halves signifying that if they violate or break the covenant, let what happened to this animal happen to them.  Then they sprinkle the people with the blood of the slain animal.  The blood signifies the life-source of the people.  Then the animal is roasted and eaten together with other food to celebrate the event.

In the Book of Exodus, God – through Moses – called the Israelites to journey (Passover) from Egypt, their physical slavery and sin, to the freedom of being the children of God. 

The last plague God brought upon Pharaoh to pressure him to let the Israelites go was the slaughter of the first-born.  But the Israelites were saved by the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the their door post.  So, the angel of death passed over the families of the Israelites. 

In the desert of Sinai, God struck a covenant with the Israelites: “You shall be my people.  And I will be your God.”  Every year, the Jews celebrate this event of the Passover with the Passover meal.  And it was in the context of this Passover meal that Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist: “This is my body, which will be given up for you… this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.  It will be shed for you and for all people so that sins may be forgiven.  Do this in memory of me.”

After Pentecost, early Christians were remembering and celebrating this event of the Eucharist in private homes, because Christians were being persecuted at the time.  When the number of people coming to the celebration increased, a separate table was set for the minister of the Eucharist. 

The biggest change came around the 4th century, when Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity.  Christianity became the official  religion, and it became an “in-thing” to be a Christian.  So, many accepted Christianity, some with very holy motives, perhaps many with questionable ones. 

Instead of celebrating the Eucharist in private homes, which became too small for the large assembly, the Eucharist was celebrated in public buildings called basilicas, which are long rectangular structures. 

For the sake of acoustics, the ministers had to stay at the knave, where the voice could be heard by the whole assembly.  The result was a separation between the clergy, who stayed in front, and the people in the body of the building. And there was a separation of the people among themselves because of the sheer number.

Later on, some richer Christians began to build larger houses for the celebration of the Eucharist.  But take note that the Church was still the assembled Christians.  The building was the house of the Church.

The huge basilicas have the effect of emphasizing the transcendent God and making the people feel smaller, more unworthy.  The effect on spirituality was that it changed the spirit of being one with God and with one another to that of unworthiness, from active participants to that of spectators.  And most often people were so far away from the altar that many could not see nor hear what was going on in front, much less to understand. 

And less and less people knew Latin.  So, people invented their own worship in the form of rosaries, novenas, and other popular devotions.

Vatican II tries to bring back the spirit of community worship.  If you look at the structure and dynamics of the Eucharist, you would notice that to properly celebrate the Holy Eucharist, the assembled people must actively participate.  They are no longer passive spectators.

If you look at the structure of the Mass, there are two main parts: the Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  All other parts are either preparation leading to them, or their extension.

Let’s look at the different parts of what we do.  First, there is the proclamation from the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament.  After which the people respond with the Responsorial Psalm.

Next, we have the Proclamation from the New Testament.  And the people respond with the Gospel Acclamation – Alleluia!

Finally, the Good News, the Gospel is proclaimed and explained by the homily.  And the people respond with the Profession of Faith and the Prayers of the Faithful. 

As you can see, it is a constant dialogue between the minister or proclaimer and the people responding.  It is interactive!

The Second major part is the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist.  A common misconception is the Preparation of the Altar and the Gifts.  We used to call this the Offertory.  But it is really the preparation of the gifts (bread and wine) to be transformed and offered to the Father at the Doxology and the Great Amen.

So after the Preparation of the Gifts comes the Prayer, during which, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus.  The Doxology is the offering of ourselves and our transformed gifts together with Jesus to the Eternal Father.  “Through him, with him, and in him, all glory and honor to the Father forever and ever.  Amen.”

The Communion rite begins with the “Our Father,” not “my” Father, or “your” Father, or Jesus’ Father, but “Our” Father.

And at the Sign of Peace, it is not a greeting of “kumusta” or “How have you been?” or “Haven’t seen you in a long time,” but we extend to one another the Lord’s peace.  Peace of oneness with God, and oneness with each other.

Then the celebrant prepares to distribute the Eucharist as he invites us to reflect on the meal we are about to share. In the concluding rite, we are sent as Christ’s Eucharists to the people and the world around us.

Today, as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of our Lord, let us appreciate this most precious gift that God has given us.  Let us approach it with utmost reverence and gratitude, that you will be transformed into Christ for the world.

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