Live and be the Eucharist
The Eucharist is the source of Christian life and the summit of Christian life. For Catholics, everything is centered on the mystery and on the wonder of the Eucharist, and as such they were reminded to live the Eucharist and be the Eucharist to others by Deacon Michael Checkley.
“Be the presence of Christ to others,” said Checkley during the Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s City-Wide Lenten Mission at Loyola Hall, Gladstone Road.
Checkley spoke of Saint John Vianney, a French priest, who lived about 175 years ago, who said if people fully understood the Eucharist, they would surely die of joy.
“And some people say Mass is boring,” said Checkley, a deacon at Holy Name Church, Bimini.
With the theme for this year’s Mission, Eucharist: The Core of Our Faith, Checkley shared the story of the strong faith displayed by Paul Comtois, the former lieutenant governor of Quebec.
Checkley told the story of how just after midnight on February 22, 1966, the Comtois family was awakened by a fire and how Comtois entered the burning building to ensure that everyone was alerted and got out safely. And of them watching him go into the building one last time, but never re-emerging. His charred body was found the next morning after the fire was out, just outside the doors of the chapel that was in the government house. Checkley told of when Comtois was rolled over, they found the ciborium containing the blessed sacrament clenched to his chest.
“You see, he had one more person to save,” said Checkley. “He knew and gave his life for the knowledge that in the Eucharist, Jesus is really present. The person of our Lord is there.”
Checkley said one of the firemen when they saw this and understood what Comtois had done, said he was a fool; but that another fireman said – that Comtois was a saint.
The deacon said Comtois’ heroic devotion is the Eucharist.
“From the Eucharist we get all the grace and favor and strength and power we need to live the Christian life. The Eucharist is the source of our Christian life and the summit of our Christian life. For us as Catholics, everything is centered on the mystery and on the wonder of the Eucharist, so live the Eucharist, be the Eucharist to others. And be the presence of Christ to others.”
Tying together the message from two nights of services, Checkley said the Eucharist is the great gift of God to the world, as it is the body and blood – the very person of Jesus Christ.
“Eucharist is the great thanksgiving that we offer to God for the gift of Jesus present in the blessed sacrament, for Jesus truly is present in the blessed sacrament.”
He reminded them that Jesus said unless you eat of his flesh and drink his blood that they would not have life in them. And that Jesus said his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink.
“We’re talking about someone who is a person, not a piece of meat. In the case of the Eucharist the person is Jesus,” said Checkley.
He told the story of someone asking in a class what the Eucharist was, and the teacher rebuking the student, telling him he asked the wrong question – and that is should not be what the Eucharist is, but rather who the Eucharist is? As he said the Eucharist is not a what but a who, and the who is the living person of Jesus.
Celebrating the great thanksgiving
Checkley said the celebration is because Jesus is present in the Eucharist. He referenced the scriptures and history – the Last Supper where Jesus took bread at the Passover meal that he celebrated with the apostles.
“He took bread and said to them this is my body, broken for you; this is my body, take and eat. And he said over the wine, this is the cup of my blood which is shed for you, take and drink. Jesus gave the apostles the Eucharist.”
The deacon said the apostles then went out and celebrated the Eucharist, which today he said is what is called Mass. And of how as the apostles got older and the church got broader, the apostles couldn’t continue to do it all and they appointed successors who would do it in their place. He said those people were the first bishops of the church. As they celebrated the Eucharist and the church grew even more, he said the bishops could not celebrate the Eucharist everywhere that it needed to be celebrated, which resulted in men being ordained as priests to offer the Eucharist. Over the centuries he said this has continued and that the Catholic Archdiocese has its successor to the apostles in the person of Archbishop Patrick Pinder, as well as priests who offer the Eucharist.
Checkley also spoke about Saint Justin Martyr who was born about 100 years after Jesus, and who wrote a lot about the celebration of the Eucharist in the early church, first century Christianity which he said parallels what is done in the church today.
“We do the same thing today that was done back then. We may have different prayers and different music – we may do a few things a little differently, but if those first century Christians could come into our churches, they would say I know what’s going on here, I know what this is about. They might even be able to say I know what’s coming next because we do what they did. That’s our tradition that’s been passed on over all these centuries. It’s a beautiful thing, something that we should embrace … treasure,” he said.
Significance of traditions
Speaking to the traditions, the deacon said when they gather for the Eucharist, the first thing they do is make the sign of the cross which he said is the sign of their salvation for them to remind themselves that they have been saved and redeemed by the cross of Jesus Christ. He said it is also a reminder that they have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
He said baptism puts people on a path that will end with their death and they enter into eternal life.
“When we make the sign of the cross, we all should remember that we are baptized, and that we have a mission – that we have a calling, that we have a destiny, and we don’t want to miss it.”
But that they are also broken people, sinful people, and that even though they are on a road towards heaven, he said many people often end up in a ditch.
“Saint Paul called us clay pots – dusty, clay, chipped and broken pots. And so, we stand before God before we do anything else, and ask for his mercy.”
Checkley reminded the Catholic missioners that they have a God of compassion, mercy, a God of love and forgiveness and that in the liturgy they sing glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to people to goodwill. Which he said is rooted in scripture from the Gospel of St. Luke and has been in the Catholic Mass since the fourth century – 1,600 years ago.
During the offertory, bread and wine are brought forward towards the altar. Checkley said bread and wine is used in Mass today because they were the staple food and drink and basics of life centuries ago.
“They didn’t drink the water then. The water in those wells sometimes wasn’t the best, but the fruit of the grape you could always depend on that. And if you mixed it with some water, the alcohol content in the wine could kill whatever was bad for you in the water. Bread and wine, the basics of life. We need to eat and we need to drink. And we bring these two gifts up the aisle to the altar, we’re giving to God. We’re offering to God the very stuff that we need to live. We’re not giving him something extra or something else, we’re giving him what we need to live and we’re offering it to him.”
During the procession of the bread and wine Checkley said Catholics should remember that it’s the time for them to offer themselves on the altar – offering God all of their problems – financial stress, relationship stress, and health issues. He said the good things and the bad things should be offered and placed on the altar.
“Offer him you.”
He said the priest or the bishop will take their joys and tears together with the bread and the wine and offer it to God.
The most sacred
At this point the deacon said they begin the great thanksgiving, celebrating the most sacred part of what they do as a community with the celebration of the Eucharist as the priest tells the congregation to lift up their hearts and they respond with enthusiasm that they lift them up to the Lord. And he goes on with more lines of praise to the father in heaven for what they have been given.
“Then the drama moves on with the priest speaking to God the father, addressing God the father, thanking God the father. He can’t stop thanking God enough. This is Eucharist.”
Checkley said the priest calls the Holy Spirit down upon the bread and wine, and that in some churches they ring the bell. The priest puts his hands over the bread asking the Holy Spirit to come down to bless what is there. He reminded them that what is there is all of their stressors.
It’s at this point the priest/bishop speaks as if he were Jesus, because they act in the person of Jesus: “This is my body, and the priest will genuflect, bells will ring; at a solemn mass incense will be swung. This is the cup of my blood, and the same takes place, bells are rung, the priest will kneel, incense will swing. Jesus is present. The bread looks like bread, the wine looks like wine, but the substance of each is different – it’s changed. The miracle of the altar has taken place right before our very eyes. Jesus Christ is here. He’s on the altar. He’s been made present. Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity. Our Savior is really and truly present.”
Checkley told Catholics that the offering of the bread and wine which he said at that point is the body and blood of Christ, is the greatest gift they could ever have.
“The living Christ right here in front of us. And as we come to the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest … the deacon, hold up the Body of Christ and the cup filled with the blood of Christ as the person of Christ is presented to all of us, and he says – ‘through him, with him, in him’. We say amen – so be it, yes, I stake my life on it; as we say in the islands true-true; as the young people would say real talk. This is Jesus.”
The last part of the celebration entails praying the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus gave to his people. Checkley said it’s a prayer that Catholics should mediate on and consider often, because it’s beautiful.
Checkley also reminded Catholics to be careful when the invitation is extended to share God’s peace with each other and to remember what they are passing and to be reverent. He said it’s not a meet and greet.
“We don’t look to one another and say hi, how you doing? Good to see you. We are to pass on the gift of peace that comes from God, and our proper attitude is one of reverence because of what we’re going to do. We’re going to give you the peace, the peace that comes from God. What a beautiful gift to give someone. So, while we do get a little excited, let’s remember where we are, and what we’re doing, and who is on the altar.”
Checkley described the celebration of the Eucharist as the most intimate and sacred part of the celebration, which he said is also rooted in scripture. He said when they leave the pew to begin their approach to the sanctuary, with every inch they make that they should be cognizant that they are getting closer to standing one-on-one with their savior face-to-face.
He encouraged them to know who they are and who they stand before because they are about to touch God, and God is about to touch them.
“We consume him and he consumes us, and that is what we call the holy communion. You are in communion with him, and he with you, and all of us together.”
In receiving Communion, he said they must never approach the sanctuary of holy communion as if they were in a line to buy a ticket for something. He said they should know what they’re doing and that in actuality, it should be a little frightening, because of whom they’re about to receive.
Their receipt of communion he said is also important and that they should ensure they do it properly to avoid any accidents and again approach with reverence.
“Approach your savior with reverence. When you approach your savior on judgement day, you will be approaching with reverence, so practice now,” said Checkley.
“If you receive on the tongue, fine. Be sure that you open your mouth wide enough so communion can be placed on your tongue, and that there’s no danger of the host falling to the floor. If you receive holy communion in the hand, remember what you’re doing – you don’t pick like it’s a chip; you don’t hold your hand out like gimme.”
He said they should form a “throne” for their king with their hands and let the minister place the sacred host in their hand.
“Form a throne for your king and let the minister place the sacred host in your hand, for that is God in the palm of your hand. Don’t walk away. Consume him right away. There’s no danger then of having an accident with the blessed sacrament.”
When they return to their seat, he said they should kneel in thanksgiving and in humility for what they had just received, which he said is Eucharist.