In early Jewish culture an ordinary meal served as the foundation of the Holy Eucharist. Much of this tradition goes back to the days of the Exodus, when the Israelites were liberated from Egypt, and was a great gift to the Jewish people. The story of Pharaoh’s charioteers being crushed as they pursued them continues to live in our memory. In the Old Testament every Jewish household had to slaughter a lamb, prepare it as instructed, and dress in haste, as they prepared to leave Egypt. The doorposts of their homes were sprinkled with blood as security for God’s judgment to pass over them. On every anniversary this rite had to be celebrated to commemorate their freedom. This event has become a special way of giving praise of God’s wonderful works.
This sacramental memorial came alive again in the New Testament when Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist with his disciples, before sacrificing his life on the cross at Calvary. Christ’s salvation was to follow the tradition of our present-day Eucharist. Omar Khayyam (1048–1131), a Persian mathematician, astronomer and philosopher observed, “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.” “Thou” is “Jesus Christ” and “you and I” – his communicants. At Corinth however there were abuses of this rite that led to the nature of the Mass that Christians enjoy to this day.
Nature of the Mass
Our daily bread became a Mass with the Liturgical Word, hymns of thanksgiving, and the offering of bread – Christ’s flesh and wine – his blood, as described by Johannes H. Emminghaus entitled, The Eucharist: Essence, Form, Celebration. It was a divine right of the original Passover meal. Charlie Trotter (1959–2013), a chef and restaurateur described a sacred meal this way: “All four elements were happening in equal measure – the cuisine, the wine, the service, and the overall ambiance. It taught me that dining could happen at a spiritual level.” But unlike such a meal in the Middle Ages, and on the eve of the Council of Trent (1545–1563), there were deficiencies how the Holy Eucharistic rites were conducted in churches. There were abuses, schisms, selfish political interests, and social upheavals. The Word of God was not adequately preached, rituals were hindering it, and the spiritual life of the congregations was not helped.
In the nineteenth century William Morris Hunt (1824–1879), a painter spoke for many when he declared, “What is nobler than a man wrestling and wringing his bread from the stubborn soil by the sweat of his brow and the break of his back for his wife and children.” Today men and women don’t necessarily have to be in their working environments to have such hardships. They would wish to be touched by the Lord and accepted at his table in good standing. The Holy Eucharist is a communal undertaking, a salvific celebration that takes humility, dedication, discipline, and commitment on the part of believers, for full enjoyment of the Lord’s true blessings.
The Eucharistic Rite
From the 1800s reforms of the Holy Eucharistic rite could be traced back to the days of the Enlightenment Movement. By having better sermons in the vernacular languages, participation of faithful parishioners has enriched the liturgy. The continuation of education for the clergy in pastoral counseling was stressed. Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and renowned polymath wrote, “Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.” The “wine” like in the Holy Eucharist represents life itself.
Giovanni Guareschi (1908–1968), an Italian journalist, cartoonist, and humorist said, “When you share your last crust of bread with a beggar, you mustn’t behave as if you were throwing a bone to a dog. You must give humbly, and thank him for allowing you to have a part in his hunger.” The Holy Eucharist is necessary not only for beggars of God’s mercy, but also for his grace. We’re the hungry souls that have to be grateful that we have found trust in our Savior.
With such blessings come beauty and healing too. John Muir (1838–1914), a Scottish-American naturalist, author, and philosopher assured us: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” Even nature must be considered the bread of life that parishioners celebrate in the Holy Eucharist. “Our bread” is everything people need for sustenance.