St. Thomas Aquinas was a great bear of a man with the heart of a lion and a mind graced by the angels. We heard part of his famous sequence Lauda sion just before the Gospel. You could say that Thomas had a “thing” for the Eucharist. Like a good priest he would celebrate Mass each day, but afterwards he would always attend the Mass of another priest. In fact, if you can imagine, he would very often serve the Mass on this second occasion during which according to a biography on Thomas, quote, “He was literally overcome by an emotion so powerful that he was reduced to tears. He was consumed by the holy mysteries of this great sacrament and strengthened by their offering.” Quoting these words, Archbishop Di Noia in a homily on the Mass reiterated that Thomas was “consumed by the holy mysteries. The Italian word here is divorato – devoured – eaten up, consumed by the mysteries.”
Archbishop Di Noia goes right after all of us to ask ourselves, “what have we been missing?” And he comes back to the term mystery. You know we hear that term mystery often enough when it comes to divine things and the temptation might be to yawn. There are many excuses we might tell ourselves: St. Thomas was a saint – that kind of superhuman perceptiveness of God’s love for us is saint stuff or perhaps if we had his intellect for theology….plus this whole idea of mystery – these holy mysteries aren’t the kind we can grasp. We consider them full of darkness impossible for our minds to understand. Ahh, but Archbishop Di Noia elaborates on mystery. Certainly a divine mystery is without end, but it is not filled with darkness. It is rather too light. They are “endlessly comprehensible and expressible.” Di Noia goes further to say: “That irritating conversation stopper, “it’s a mystery,” doesn’t mean that we have nothing further to say but that we can’t say enough about the matter in hand. The mysteries of faith are so far-reaching in their meaning and so breathtaking in their beauty that they possess a limitless—that is to say, literally an unending and inexhaustible—power to attract and transform the minds and hearts, the individual and communal lives, in which they are pondered, digested, and, ultimately, loved and adored.” On this feast of the True Body and Blood of Jesus Christ let us dig into this mystery.
To delve into the Eucharist it is helpful to look into the priesthood. The first reading brings up the intriguing character of Melchizedek. He brings out bread and wine and he is so important that Abraham receives a blessing from him, for he foreshadows Our Lord. Truly the One High Priest is Jesus Christ, and yet He desires to share His priestly sacrifice with all people in offering creation back to the Father. Through the sacrament of holy orders, all of the priests of the Church represent the one True priest, Jesus Christ. Behind the priest is truly the person of Christ within the Mass. And as there is only one priest, there is actually only one Eucharist that has been continually offered across the centuries and over all lands joining heaven to earth. These different Masses that occur throughout the centuries are really one and behind all of them is the one Christ.
The priest is himself a sacrament, that is, a concrete reality in which a divine reality is hidden. The first part of His role is to bring God to the people. Now a lot of times I have visited classrooms I’ve been asked why priests wear black clothing. There’s actually more than one way to explain this, but one of the symbolic reasons is that priests are supposed to die to themselves. I mention this because death is central to the meaning of the Mass. For Mass is a feast and any feast to really be a feast of thanksgiving has to deal with death. That’s right. For any party in which we mortals who have our own death to face are to really be invited – for this party not to eventually die itself and fade away then death must not be at the end, but must be in the center of the mystery. Pope Emeritus Benedict has described exactly this, stating that death is at the center of the Eucharistic Prayer. “Jesus died praying, and in the abyss of death He upheld the First Commandment and held on to the presence of God. Out of such a death springs this sacrament, the Eucharist.” Benedict goes on: “[He] transformed His death into verbal form — into a prayer.” He explains that His death is present to us because His death “continues to live in the prayer” and that He allows us to share in it for He has made His death into a proclamation of thanksgiving and love.
Just consider what happens every time we pray the Eucharistic Prayer. First we bring up the bread and wine, but as the priest with the help of the Holy Spirit consecrates the bread into the Body of Christ and then separately consecrates the wine into the Blood of Christ we are invited onto the mount of Calvary for this calls us to death – for to separate the blood from the body of anyone (including Jesus Christ) is death. And yet Christ from that event 2,000 years ago not only took hold of His death in anticipation at His Last Supper, and not only entered death in the bloody sacrifice, but owned it never letting death go even as He rose from the dead. We celebrate the Eucharist in the light of the Resurrection and so this separation of His Body and Blood is not His dead Body, but His living Flesh that He gives to us.
There is so much more to an endless mystery. But if the role of the priest is to bring God to the people, you, the laity, of course have a role. You represent the world to God. He has called you out of the world to be here not only for yourselves, but you bring your own unrepeatable experiences and interactions with the world. Certainly, many of the people even in your families and where you work and your neighbors are to come into contact with God through you (go in peace, love and serve), but you also bring them through your prayers to the altar that you might assist God in uniting all things in His Son.
In today’s Gospel, the Apostles represent the world so well to Christ, because so much of today’s world has yet to meaningfully encounter God and His providence. They’ve found the problem and already calculated that it is beyond our power to solve as they suggest to let the people clock out and go home. We are tempted to look at the components of the Mass, and to look at our own understanding, weigh up the distractions and think “maybe it’s not worth it.” Christ says to simply give what you have and see. Give everything and let the chips fall where they may. I have accounted for your weakness and yet if you share yourself, than from even this will come my life. St. Thomas was right: this is a mystery worth the emotion.