Thursday, April 9, 2009

Eucharist every day, from the beginning

Along with the other unasked-for mail I received at home last week was a brochure addressed to Current Resident, from the local congregation of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

It was slick, tri-fold, full color and invited people to join the congregation's reenactment of the Last Supper. It quoted from the (synoptic) Gospels how the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus the night before He died. Of course the words were familiar: "... this is my body ... this is my blood."

Since the congregation takes the command to "do this in memory of me" (First Corinthians) literally, they are doing so on April 9, Holy Thursday -- on just this one day of the year!

Excuse me, but as a Catholic I have to ask, if it's so important to print a brochure, mail it to every home in the local area, and ask folks to share in this great feast by the Lord's command, why do it only once a year?

I do hope their celebration, in whatever form it takes, leads the participants to a deeper and yes, literal understanding of the Eucharist: Christ, the son of the Father, second person of the Holy Trinity, becomes truly present among the community of the faithful in the appearance of bread and wine. I hope they discover that in the Catholic Church, the Eucharist is celebrated every day of the year as it has been from the beginning of the Church!

The Eucharist is our Lord Jesus Christ's gift of himself to us every time we participate in the sacrifice of the Mass. What a great gift we share as Catholics. Christ established his Church and gave us His real presence in the Eucharist as spiritual food for the journey, as memorial sacrifice to help remember all that he did and said, as a sign of unity and of thanksgiving -- the literal meaning of Eucharist.

This source and summit of our worship bonds us together with one another in the Church and to our Lord Jesus. More than community, this is communion, thanks to the Eucharist whose institution we celebrate tonight, at the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper.

As Lent ends tonight we begin the Triduum -- three days of intense communal prayer leading toward Easter. Tonight we thank God in the most solemn way for the gift of himself.

Personally, tonight I pray also for those who have heard and read the Lord's command to "take, eat, this is my body..." but do not share full communion with the Catholic Church. In a special way, I pray for those people who were raised Catholic with the gift of the Eucharist but have chosen a different path.

May they, through the providence of God acting perhaps in an unasked-for brochure, find their way to Jesus Christ the bread of life, in his most precious body and blood.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Welcome to church. Take some palm.

You might have heard the complaint that goes something like, “Some people only go to church on Christmas and Easter!”

True, it’s not the optimal expression of one’s faith, but it’s better to have full churches one some occasions rather than none, right?

Two other times that witness full churches are Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday, which is coming up this April 5. Ash Wednesday of course is where last year’s palms are recycled into the ashes marking Catholics’ foreheads.

Palm Sunday packs in the crowds too, as churchgoers take home blessed palm fronds. Whether you display the palm in your home in a vase or turn the fronds into simple crosses tacked above doorways (my family’s preferred practice over the years), there’s an art to handling palm.

This week the Catholic Standard & Times shows how the masters weave palm – both in step-by-step photos and a fascinating story by Lou Baldwin in the newspaper, and four videos of the nimble fingers at work on our web site,

The video is new for our web site, but weaving palm is nothing new for the parishioners of Our Lady of Consolation in the Tacony neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia. Basically an Italian immigrant tradition, intricate palm displays are becoming more prevalent throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s churches.

They’re a beautiful way to welcome the King of Kings as we commemorate his entrance in Jerusalem this Sunday.

Just as palms give way to ashes then to the giving of new palms at the end of the Lenten journey, so too do we journey with Jesus from the excitement of this palm Sunday to the nadir of his Passion and death on Good Friday, and the joy of His resurrection on Easter Sunday.

And please God, perhaps some of the Palm Sunday Mass participants will be moved to stay with Jesus, like the disciples in Gethsemane, throughout Holy week to Easter.

As you try your hand at weaving some palm, try also to devote more intense prayer next week beginning Sunday.