Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” So each week, on the first day of the week as was the custom from as far back as the first century, Christian communities across the globe have gathered to worship, to listen to God’s Word proclaimed and preached, to remember, and to celebrate the Lord Jesus’ great act of thanksgiving in the breaking of bread and the sharing of the chalice. We believe we are doing what the Lord Jesus instructed us. But even in our own lifetime, the celebration of Mass has seen such changes that have resulted in much controversy and schism. And some people can be so passionate about their understanding of faithfulness to Jesus’ command, they will not hesitate to denounce and excommunicate anyone who disagrees with them. But are we really doing what Jesus asked of us? Are we doing all or just some of it? I’m not suggesting we’ve been unfaithful on purpose. But we know how we can be neglectful of spiritual realities that are difficult to measure, and instead can get hung up on material realities while our hearts and minds go wandering off to galaxies far, far away.
Take for instance the variety of opinions out there about when Mass officially begins and ends. As presider, you can bet I have an opinion. I say it begins when the Lector reads the introductory announcements and the Processional Song begins. And it ends when we finish singing the Recessional Song. But that’s just me. No big deal. I don’t hand out demerits or send anyone to detention if you happen to disagree with me. In fact, there should be no significant difference in how I relate to you based on when you arrive for mass. I may have expressed annoyance in the past. Not anymore, I promise. But don’t get me wrong. I still care. I just have no desire to keep score or ruin your day. Now growing up I heard, as I’m sure you have too, that as long as you arrive before the Gospel and stay through communion, you’ve been to Mass. Your obligation is fulfilled. It doesn’t matter that you spent a good chunk of your time in the restroom, or daydreaming, or gossiping with your friends, or playing videogames on your phone. Perhaps what’s problematic is that we still see Mass as obligation. God is not in the business of arm-twisting. Nor does he turn his back on us if we play hooky.
If we show up at grandma’s for Sunday dinner each week, we are nourished at her table with food and fellowship. She misses us when we don’t show up. But if her table nourishes us in a way no other table can, our willful neglect or laziness is our own loss. So I propose we look at Mass not as something we do for God, but as something God does for us. When we show up and participate at Mass, God nourishes our spirits. When we don’t, we deprive ourselves of spiritual nourishment that God alone gives us. God is in no way harmed when we miss Mass. Instead we do harm to our own spirit.
Another point of many a lively discussion is what is and isn’t appropriate attire. I wear black. It’s not mandatory, but it makes my life simpler. However, the vestments are mandatory. In contrast, you get more leeway. A rule of thumb, I say, is if you might get unwanted attention, try to avoid it. That’s not why we’re here. Any attempt to draw attention away from what’s truly important, I would say, is not appropriate.
St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contains what is likely the oldest account of the last supper, predating by a decade or more the earliest account in the gospel of Mark. Paul even mentions that familiar line not once, but twice: “Do this in remembrance of me.” In the gospel of Luke, Jesus says it just once. But in Matthew and Mark, he doesn’t say it at all. And in John the actual meal is mentioned only in passing. In this passage, Paul was attempting to correct an abuse at the Eucharistic table, where distinctions were made between people according to their attire, their seating in the assembly, and the extent of their participation in the liturgy. Clearly they were missing the point.
So what exactly is “this” that we are instructed to do in remembrance of him? Is it simply the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup? A quick review of what has come down to us through the ages includes the reading of scripture, the singing of psalms, and the words of institution. Most everything else we might see as historical development over many generations: the confession of sin, the Glory to God, the homily, the Profession of Faith, the General Intercessions, the collection to support the church’s mission, the Lord’s Prayer, the sign of peace. That is not to say these developments are not important. But might we still be dancing around what is most important, that Jesus gave us his whole self, his Body and Blood, as food for our hunger, and that he instructed us to do the same, that is, give our whole self, Body and Blood, as food for the hungry of the world?
The feeding of the 5000 is recounted in each of the 4 gospels. And although the disciples ask Jesus to dismiss the crowd, he tells them instead to “Give them some food yourselves.” Jesus knew what he was going to do, how he was going to feed the crowd. But he still demanded of his disciples their willing contribution and participation. They brought him five loaves and two fish. And with that meager and woefully inadequate contribution Jesus provided in great abundance food to nourish the hungry crowd. Scripture scholars agree that the feeding of the multitude points to the Eucharist. Jesus desires to provide us food for our spirit, prefigured by food that nourishes our body. But he demands of us his disciples our willing contribution, our five loaves and two fish, along with our cheerful and willing participation in the work of feeding, our time, our efforts, our hospitality, our patient and compassionate interaction with the crowd. And although the story ends with the gathering of leftovers, we all know that people will get hungry again. So we will need to feed them again. Or rather, Jesus will need to feed them again. But he will want us to bring him again the five loaves and two fish, and to cheerfully and willingly feed the crowd again from the abundance he provides.
So when Jesus tells us to do “this” in remembrance of him, we will need to reflect more deeply on how what we are doing is what he asks. We know we can only feed the body. Jesus alone feeds the soul. But whatever we contribute, no matter how meager, and however we participate, no matter how strained, still helps in no small measure to accomplish his purpose. The degree of our willingness to surrender our own body and blood, that is our whole selves, to feed the hungry, is evidence that perhaps we grasp what Jesus asks us to do in his memory. We will always need to resist the urge to just go through the motions, to just fulfill an obligation, to just act out some ancient ritual. We know what we do here points to a most powerful spiritual reality, but when we are inattentive, when we narrow our focus to what is visible and tangible, it remains in our hands empty, meaningless, and all for show. Truly God wants for us so much more.
Rolo B Castillo © 2019