Sunday, February 2, 2014

It's the Difference Btw. Talking on the Phone and Making Love

I have been under the weather this weekend.  That being the case, I didn't want to take a chance of passing my illness to others by attending Mass. Instead, I prayed from the Liturgy of the Hours, read today's Scripture readings, talked to God, and meditated with the Rosary.  It was time spent with God, and that is obviously fantastic. I realized however, that it wasn't the same as being at Mass.  An analogy occurred to me.  I recognize that it is imperfect, but it captures how I have come to think of my worship outside vs. inside the Eucharist: It's the difference between a husband and wife speaking by phone vs. making love.

It suffers, I know.  If you're familiar with this blog, then you know the profound reality I ascribe to even the simplest of prayers.  Jesus pours Himself out to the Father through our hearts, minds, and voices!  And yet, when we take part in the Eucharist, our prayer and union with Christ is raised up to a different, a higher plane.

In the Eucharist, Jesus gives Himself to us not just in a spiritual manner, and He gives us not just His teaching, but His very Self - His whole Self.  In the Eucharist we take the God-Man into us - His Divinity, His human Soul, His Body and Blood.  We receive Him into ourselves, as a bride receives her husband.  It is a manifestation of the mystery written of by St. Paul:
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” [Genesis 2:24]. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)
It is the most intimate we can be with Jesus, this side of eternity. I remember how emphatic Jesus was about our need to receive Him in the Eucharist:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat [“phogein” in Greek, the usual verb for “eat”] the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life within you; he who eats [“trogein” in Greek, meaning “to munch or gnaw”] my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” (John 6:53-56, NIV)
Throughout the Old Testament the Passover and Temple sacrifices had united God and His people in the life of the sacrificial victim. God’s people had to take that life into themselves through a covenant meal. The New Covenant reality to which they pointed - the most powerful way we unite ourselves to Jesus' sacrifice - is the Eucharist. 

Look at what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
Christ, our passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival. (1 Cor 5: 7-8) 
Consider the practice of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? ... The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Cor 10:18,16) 
Whoever, therefore eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died." (1 Cor 11: 27-30)  
I know the early Church understood Jesus' words regarding the Eucharist just as literally as the Apostle Paul.  In 107 A.D., while awaiting martyrdom, Ignatius (Bishop of Antioch and disciple of the Apostle John) wrote:  
“I desire the Bread of God, which is the Flesh of Jesus Christ, Who was of the seed of David, and for drink, His Blood, which is love incorruptible.”(Epistle to Romans)

"Take note of those who hold heterodox [or heretical] opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which comes to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God ... They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes." (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans)
As hard as we might try, there's simply no way to rival or go beyond the Mass - it is Jesus and His Sacrifice made present upon the altar.  The Divine Bridegroom comes to make himself one flesh with His Bride ... and that's a union you just can't "phone in."