The Eucharist, the centre and source of Christian life

1Corinthians 11 vs 23-29

“For this is what I received from the Lord and in turn pass unto you: that on the same night that He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and thanked God for it and broke it and said, “This is my Body which is for you; do this as a memory of me. In the same way He took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant of my Blood. Whenever you drink it do this as a memory of me….”

Dlamini family lived in the middle of the village. People were always surprised by them. Mr Dlamini himself was sick and did not work. His wife kept a vegetable garden. They had four children and an old man the uncle of Mr Dlamini lived with them. They had no income. And yet they always had food and even meat during the week. Their clothes were good. If someone got sick they were able to go to the doctor and pay the fee. They even bought a second hand car. What was the secret of the Dlaminis?

The secret was the old man who lived with them. This man had been a jeweler in Durban for many years. This is a skilled profession and he earned a lot of money. He dressed very simply and lived a humble simple life but it was he who supported the family. People never noticed him and yet he was the secret of the Dlamini family, it was he who enriched them.

You know we Catholics are like the Dlaminis. We are people like everybody else. But we have a secret, our secret is Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist. It is He who enriches us. We believe and live the truth of Jesus presence among us; we know that we receive Jesus who is God Himself and that we can visit him in church and speak with him friend to friend. If we lived that secret then we would always have joy and peace in our hearts. We may be troubled, we may have difficulties, we may be poor but we have the secret of having Jesus.

John Bradbourne was born in the North of England, he was an Anglican. He joined the army and saw service in Burma in the East in the Second World War. John Bradbourne was a man who was searching for truth and searching for God. Influenced by St Francis of Assisi and his love for the Eucharist and for people and for the poor, John Bradbourne became a Catholic. He spent a number of years doing small jobs in England searching for a way in which he could serve God.

In 1960 the Franciscans in Zimbabwe paid for his ticket to come to that country. When John Bradbourne came to Zimbabwe he had three desires, to work with the lepers, to die a martyr for Jesus, and to be buried in the Franciscan habit.

Having worked for a short while caring for sick people in various parishes John heard of a leper colony in Northern Zimbabwe. He moved there and began to nurse and care for the poor lepers. They loved him because he was kind and gentle. He was a man of prayer, a man of music, a man who loved Our Lady, a man who loved the Eucharist. John would spend the day preparing vegetables and food for the lepers and then spend the night in prayer, playing his music in the little hut he built for himself.

The war broke out in Zimbabwe and John found himself in a dangerous area. He was warned a number of times to leave but he felt he could not abandon the lepers. He protected the lepers who received a small grant from the Government. But this small grant was stolen by people who worked in the hospital and who refused to give the lepers their food or money. Because John reported this abuse they hated him and had him expelled from the hospital. John went to live just outside the gate in a small rondavel. The lepers could come to see him and he continued to nurse them. Above all, he prayed for them. He had the Blessed Eucharist with him in his hut.

One night in September 1979 soldiers came and took John Bradbourne away with them. On the way they decided to shoot him. They left his body on the side of the road. They tried to remove his body but beautiful music could be heard in the sky. They were afraid. They came back later to remove his body and white birds flew down over them. In fright they left his body by the side of the road. John was discovered by a priest who brought him to Harare for burial many days later.

During the funeral Mass drops of blood were seen to come from his coffin. It was opened and no blood was found inside. But then it was remembered that John had asked to be buried in the Franciscan habit. He was clothed in the habit and the funeral took place.

Today thousands of people visit the shrine of John Bradbourne. He is a saint. He is a man who drew tremendous strength from the Eucharist and therefore came to love and serve the poorest of the poor.

The catechism of the catholic church tells us that all the events in history have passed away except one. All that has happened is gone. But there is one event which has not become history, it is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That event is always present, is always now. And when we celebrate Mass we are present in the dying and rising of Jesus. As he said “When you do this, you bring me back”.

Parents bought their little son a bicycle. The child liked to cycle up and down the quiet road outside his home. One day a car came over the hill and crashed into the little boy on the bicycle and killed him. The bicycle was also smashed.

After the funeral the father went and took the broken bicycle and placed it in a quiet part of the house. Every time they saw the broken bicycle the parents had tears on their eyes for they remembered their child. When we see the broken bread at the Mass we remember the one who was broken on the Cross for us. This broken bread is the dying and rising of Jesus Christ and makes him present.

There are many windows in this room and in the church. We might think then that there are many suns shining outside, a sun for each window. It is not true, there is only one sun shining through many different windows. In fact, so it is with the Mass there are many masses being celebrated but the one Calvary and Easter Sunday is coming through in many different places.

We read in the church documents, “In this Mystery of the Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the church, namely Christ our Pasch. This faith cannot be taken for granted. Every generation needs to receive this gift. So that every catholic person must discover Jesus Christ who reveals to us how God is close to us, how God is the friend of humanity.

All generations of Catholics back to the Apostles have understood that Jesus is present in this Mystery. A young priest was assigned to a parish in the Cameroons. He went to do an outstation. When he came back in the evening the parish priest asked him how everything had gone. The young priest was pleased with his day. But like all young priests he had a suggestion to make. He said that at the end of the Mass a very old poor lady who was a leper crawled on knees and on arms up the church and received Jesus in the Eucharist with great devotion. The young priest said he learned that this lady lived two kilometers from the church and had to come here on the dusty field dragging herself and crawling.

The young priest suggested that they should tell the old lady stay at home and after Mass Holy Eucharist could be taken to her. The parish priest said, that was not a good suggestion. He himself had thought of that ten years before when he had come to that station, when he suggested this to the old lady she was very disappointed. She said, “Father, how can you ask me not to come to church. Can’t you see what an effort ,what a sacrifice Jesus made in order to be present in the Holy Eucharist for me. And he comes from Heaven to give himself to me in this little village church. Look what he does for me. And you think then that I must not make some effort to receive and welcome him with joy.

Here is a modern person with wonderful faith in the Holy Eucharist. She believes the teaching of the church that the Eucharist is the centre and source of Christian life.

We today then must build into Eucharistic liturgy respect for this great Sacrament. We must celebrate the liturgy with recollection and prayerfulness. The vestments, the church, the worship, the singing, the readings, the movements must all be done with devotion and sincere love.
For we believe that the King of Heaven is really present. We are in the presence of the Transcendent.

Fr Victor Phalana speaks of taking the students in the seminary to visit a Sangoma. At the end of the visit the sangoma gave them all muthi. Fr Victor noticed that they carried the muthi with great care as if it were something very precious. He remarked them, “I never see you exercise the same respect and honor when you carry the Holy Eucharist”.

You cannot celebrate the Mass today in Saudi Arabia, a Muslim country for fear of being killed. But 300years ago it was dangerous to celebrate Mass in Ireland. Catholics went to quiet places in the mountains. There they will choose a flat rock and a priest would secretly celebrate Mass for them. These people too believed that the Eucharist is the centre and source of Christian life.

Go back 700 years and you will find majestic Cathedrals in Europe built around the altar and the Eucharist. St Thomas Aquinas was singing his fervent hymns “Tantum ergo”. Francis was found crying, “Because love is not loved.”

Go back 1600 years ago to North Africa there you will read the great sermons of St Augustine on St John’s Gospel chapter 6. He says, “Recognize in the bread that same body which hung on the cross. And in the cup the same blood that which flowed from his side.”

Go back 1800 years ago to the Catechomes in Rome. These are the graveyard- corridors underneath the city of Rome where the early Christians were buried. Now and again you will find a room down there and you will see an altar and the symbols of the Eucharist, the vines, the grains of wheat, the fish.

We remember the African Martyrs of the Abelene in the early church. They died because of their refusal to renounce the Eucharist. They told the pagan Emperor, Diocletian, who was about to kill them, “Without fear of any kind we have celebrated the Mass. The Mass cannot be missed. We cannot live without Mass. They did not die for a social meal, they died because Jesus was truly present to them in the Holy Eucharist.

St Cyril of Jerusalem again in the third century writes, “tell me, if anyone gave you grain of gold would you not hold it with the utmost care and take great care not to loose it. How much more care must we take not to loose a crumb of what is more precious that gold, the Body and the Blood of the Lord.”

Of course we can go back 2000 years, some 30 years after the death of Jesus, we will find the words that we had at the beginning of this lecture from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. And we remember Chapter 6 of St John’s Gospel where Jesus said, “My flesh is real food and my Blood is real drink”.

Pope Benedict tells us to celebrate the Eucharist with great care. We are not called to invent something, we have been given something. We enter a reality which preceded us that embraces heaven on earth. He said the best catechesis of the Eucharist is to celebrate it well.

The transcendental dimension must stand out clearly in the liturgy. That of the Mystery of the encounter with the divine which also illuminates and raises the horizontal dimension, meaning the bond and solidality which exist between all the members of the church.

Celebrate the divine Mysteries with intense inner participation so that men and woman may be sanctified.

St Leo the great in the 5th century says we must become what we celebrate. The Eucharist, the bread is humble , it reminds us of the service that Jesus gave. It shows us the love that Jesus had emphasized by washing the feet. And of course the bread is the symbol of the unity, of the grains and of the members who receive the Eucharist together.

In receiving the Eucharist, therefore we are called to become humble, to be of humble service, to be charitable and be united.

Descartes began with Cogito ergo sum that is, I think therefore I am.
However in Africa it is better to say cognatus ergo sum, I am related to others, I am with others, therefore I am.
The Eucharist relates us that Jesus and with each other.

The words actually Jesus used at the Last Supper were ‘hu bishri’. We translate these Aramaic words as ‘this is my Body’. But we could also translate them as “This is myself”. It is Jesus himself.

Let us then celebrate with great care.

A legend from Zambia can help us to see the power of the Eucharist. The legend speaks of a King in the Western Province who lived in the desert. But he lived in a oasis. There a gushing spring where he was able to build a house by water and have vegetables and a beautiful garden. He was proud of his garden. The most beautiful thing in his garden was a giant tree, a bamboo tree.

One day walking in the garden the King stopped before the bamboo tree and said; “Bamboo I need your help”.

The Bamboo bowed its head, it had waited to hear these words for a long time. It replied that it was ready to obey its master and happy to do anything for him. The King said, “Bamboo I need to cut you down.” The bamboo was frightened. Why would its master want to cut him down. But it trusted the master and bowed to the ground saying that it was willing to obey his will.

The King cut down the Bamboo and lopped all the branches off, he removed the soft centre of the bamboo and made the bamboo into a channel of pipes which he connected with the fountain in the centre of the garden. And so the water from the wonderful fountain was able to pour out further and further into the desert. The king was able to plant many more bamboos, many more vegetables, many more marvelous fruit trees and trees of all kind. The bamboo had sacrificed itself and had given life to the desert.

Jesus is like that Bamboo. He is the fountain flowing out from the Trinity with the life of God. He has sacrificed his life and through him there pours across the world a spring of water which brings paradise to all souls. Let us love the Eucharist and teach our people to do so.

Bishop William Slattery ofm