Fifth Sunday of Easter (B)

This Sunday’s Gospel, the Vine and the Branches, reminds us why we are here right now.  We are Christians.  We are Catholics. This is more than membership in a society. It is even more than membership in a family.  We are united to Jesus Christ as branches are united to a vine.  His Life flows into us.  We come to Mass to be nourished with His Life through Word and Eucharist.

The earliest Masses in the first years after Pentecost, the Primitive Church,  were referred to as the “Breaking of the Bread.”  Each Mass was and is a battle of the Kingdom of God against Satan and the Forces of Evil. The first main section of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Word.  If today you hear His Voice, harden not your hearts, we pray in Psalm 95.  The Liturgy of the Word is not a preliminary requisite to the celebration of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word is an encounter with our God who is passionately in love with us, who is present in the Word and who gives us His Promise of Eternal Life through the Word. May our Minds, Lips, and Hearts be open to God’s Word. Those disciples on the Road to Emmaus said, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us on the road?” Their eyes were opened because their hearts were laid bare by the word.  Judeo-Christians saw a direct link between the ears and the heart.  Divine Revelation comes first through hearing, “Hear O Israel”.  God spoke, and He created the Light.  His Word will not return to Him empty.

After the Liturgy of the Word, we sit down, scoop money out of our wallets, watch the servers set the altar or lead a chosen few up the main aisle with the bread and wine and then  gaze at the Deacon and EM’s filling the chalices, waiting to see if they knock one over.  Well, the preparation of the gifts is  much more than all that. It is a transition into a deeper reality. It is a crossroad between Word and Eucharist, Bible and Table, Gospel and Communion.  It is the culmination of what went before and the foundation of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Preparation of the Gifts is a time to recognize the Blessings of God and a time to Bless God.

Then we come to that wonderful prayer that leads to the Eucharistic prayer, the prayer we call the preface. We lift up our hearts, we acknowledge that it is right to give Him thanks and praise, among the many reasons for our gratitude we enumerate a few that are united to this particular Mass, and then we join the angels in saying, “God is God, and we are not.” For that is what the Holy Holy does in fact say. And so we go to our knees, in profound humility at the Gift He Is. We begin the Eucharistic Prayer with prayers with the saints and angels and in union with the Church, all leading to the invocation of the Holy Spirit.  This is called the Epiclesis. We call upon God to send His Holy Spirit down upon the offering so that He may make the bread and wine His Body and Blood.  That which the Holy Spirit touches becomes consecrated and transformed.

Then the most profound offering takes place. Jesus is offered up to the Father for us. We remember how he loved us to his death, and still we celebrate. We also are offered to the Father.  And so we come to the Great Amen, our affirmation of Whom God is and whom He has transformed us into: God has entered into our history through His Son Jesus Christ.

And then we receive Him.  We receive communion not in eating until we are full, but eating to find out how to fill our hungry hearts.  We receive Jesus acting in us.  Communion is the union of Christ, head and members.  We don’t just receive.  We celebrate.  We become.  Become what you eat.  Don’t just receive Christ, become Christ to others.  That is what it means to be a Eucharistic People.  The Eucharist is not what we do, it is who we are. The Eucharist leads us into the world to die for others as Christ died and then to live forever. We eat the Body and Drink the Blood. Communion brings us into an encounter with His Love.  We have to be careful that we do not turn this action upon ourselves. We have to be careful that we do not allow our communion to be about us here, or about each of us as individuals. It is important that we take moments after Communion to reflect upon our union with Him, moments of profound silence, and yet, not the silence of individuals, but that of the community of God calling upon Him to give us the Grace to render the Real Presence we have received a reality in the world. For we Christians are called to make His Love, His Sacrificial Presence our very lives.  We are called to Become What we Eat.

During His ministry on earth, Jesus’ presence for the sick, the sinner, and the seeker was so powerful that it transformed people’s lives. So must our presence be for others. If we do not have anything to leave for, if we do not have the desire to bring Christ to anyone, then why did we come? The Mass is not an act of spiritual self preservation or self interest. The Mass is about the others. Those out there. Jesus called in order to send. We have been called here so that we might be sent. The very word Mass means a sending. We are a Church on a mission. And we go, with the Lord, who is with us always until the end of time.

Remain in me and I will remain in you, the Lord tells us in today’s Gospel.  That is what we are called to do, and that is what we do when we live the Mass

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris