March 3, 2023

The joy of the Eucharist


“...And they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread…”

Christ is present to us in a unique way in the bread and wine that is his body and blood. We believe that in this sacred meal, the love of God through his son Jesus is made present, and we partake in his body and blood.

Because of this, we recognize the living Christ in each other. In the act of sharing a meal, Jesus is recognized and is seen in the faces of others. This is not an easy teaching to appreciate when we are confronted by the face of Jesus in those who persecute and hate us. Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph and Son of God, was crucified because of his radical teachings. How could it be that they/we would be able to recognize the living Christ in sharing a meal? In the time of Jesus, the meal was considered sacred, yet obviously necessary as a means of sustenance. So how could this be, that Jesus would be present to us in this mysterious way and at the same time in the most common element of human meal-taking: bread?

The Mass exists as a time and place for Catholics to recognize Jesus "in the breaking of the bread." The joy found in this experience is clearly found in the realization that in fact Jesus is fully present to us in the Eucharist, and that we come to see him in the faces of each other.

Isn't it time for us to take these words to heart and celebrate the living Christ in the faces of each other, in the realization that God became one of us so that his love would always be within the reach of us, as close as our spouse, our child, our friend and even our enemy?

The Church teaches that at Mass we meet Jesus in a profound way in the Word, in the Eucharist and in each other. 

There is no greater joy than to have this full, conscious, active participation in the liturgy, as it uniquely has the power to fill our lives with a joy that has no bounds and is not measured in the world view of happiness and satisfaction. So much of this, though, is dependent on the way in which we celebrate the Eucharist, in our willingness to desire to see Christ alive and not hidden away from our eyes. Even though Jesus was present to those who broke the bread, is it still true that we are able to see Christ when we break bread together?

Jesus offers us this opportunity each time we gather in his name. It is our willingness to let Christ be visible to us in the faces of those who are in our lives, as well as all in this world. This is our greatest challenge, but our most beautiful and wonderful gift, that in the act of breaking bread we come to know our greatest joy, ours for the taking.

The word "joy" is different from the word "happiness." In our world, we confuse these words often, as we want to find happiness in all that the world offers us: "If only I could win the lottery, then I would be happy.” We easily look to money and power as a means of earthly happiness. Sadly, even though it appears that these goals are what we should pursue, their joy is short-lived and not what can ever sustain us!

The liturgy is the opportunity for us to take an active part in "seeing the face of Jesus" as food for our own journey to Emmaus. As meal was sacred and functional to Jesus, so is it in our lives now.

As a composer of liturgical music, a catechist and a liturgist, it is my vocation to provide music that helps us to know the joy of the love of Christ and to assist us in our mission of discipleship. For it is not enough for us to simply remain on our knees at the foot of the cross, but to do as Jesus commanded: Love one another!

Jesus spent much of his ministry deflecting questions regarding the law and rules thrown at him in hopes of proving that he was not the Son of God. Yet, again and again, Jesus was able to teach a new way of living – one of love, compassion, forgiveness and peace. It is a new way of living that we still have not achieved in our world. At times, it seems that Jesus was frustrated at the constant tests and tricks by the priests and Pharisees, and it is easy to sympathize with a frustrated Christ who says, "OK, if you need more rules and commandments, here is a new one: love one another as I have loved you."

But we are to live this out every day of our lives, and even within our own families, our deepest relationships. And it is not easy!

Jesus knew that his disciples would suffer much after his return to the Father and gave them a reminder of his presence in the bread and wine with the command: Do this in memory of me.

We are challenged to be open to the face of Christ present to us in the Eucharist. This challenge is always present, because it is not always easy for us to be willing or open to the joy that is offered to us. Just because it is offered freely to us, we sometimes are unable to receive it. We just cannot accept the forgiving love of God, believing that our sin is too great, that we are simply not worthy of this generous love, or, for some reason, that Christ is not able to love us since we are just too sinful. When we allow ourselves to live in any of these dark places, we willingly separate ourselves from the endless love and joy that God offers us and, even worse, we can then replace the real face of God with our own fractured version of what God looks like, in the breaking of the bread.

Christ's death and resurrection puts an end to all sadness and despair, wipes sin away, restores all innocence, comforts all who mourn, casts out hatred and gives sight to all our blindness. This is our faith, and it is our free will to accept or deny it. The joy that is offered is without any clause or attachment. And when we sing this reality, the joy is profound.

As a musician in the Church, I know that you have the tools to accept the joy that is offered in the Eucharist of Jesus, and when offered the chance to sing of this joy, you will then be filled with a complete sense of the living God, here in this place, here in your hearts and here in the hearts and faces of all who stand with you. 

We walk the road to Emmaus together – to a place scripture scholars can’t locate. But we who travel on this journey know exactly where Emmaus is.