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Without Sunday mass, we cannot live

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In the year 303, the Roman Emperor Diocletian ordered that all Christian writings be burned, basilicas pulled down, and sacred rites prohibited. A group of 49 Christians in Abilene, a small village of present-day Tunisia, would secretly gather every Sunday in one of their homes to celebrate the Eucharist. Soon enough, they we discovered, imprisoned, tortured and eventually put to death. When interrogated why they defied the emperor’s decree and risked their lives, one of them answered, “Sine dominico, non possumus.” Without Sunday Mass, we cannot live.

Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Why do we celebrate this yearly feast? Do we not celebrate the Eucharist every day of the year? The Church wants to keep this special feast of the Eucharist so that we are reminded of its meaning and appreciate its pre-eminent value.

In one of his Wednesday audiences, Pope Francis lamented how easily we forget the value of the Mass and trivialize it. He said that when the priest invites the congregation, “Lift up your hearts,” people raise their cellphones instead. “The Holy Mass isn’t a show. It’s where we go to be present for the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus,” the Pope reminds us.

We have become so familiar with the Mass that we easily take it for granted. Those who are deprived of it would sacrifice anything to have it, as shown by the martyrs of Abilene. In the early days of the Church, Christians hid in catacombs to gather and celebrate the Eucharist. Today, countless Christians continue to risk their lives for the Eucharist in places where the Church still suffers persecution. 

The Mass is not a show. It is something more serious, in fact, the most serious thing in the world. The Mass is about life – particularly, a Life sacrificed so that we may live. It is a memorial meant to be kept for all time so that we may not forget “the Body which will be given up for you” and “the Blood… which will be poured out for you… for the forgiveness of sins.” It is a celebration of the greatest love. “For no greater love is there than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 13:15) That is why the Eucharist is also called the Sacrament of Love.

The love celebrated in the Eucharist is not only that of a life offered in sacrifice so that we may live. The Eucharist is Jesus’ own life given to us to be lived. In the Eucharist, he unites us to himself so intimately that we become one flesh and one blood with him. He gives himself totally to us: body, blood, soul and divinity. How awesome! That is why the Eucharist is also called the Sacrament of Communion.

Because we become one with Jesus in the Eucharist, our life is meant to be identical with his. They say that occasionally St. Augustine would change the words of presentation for Holy Communion. Instead of saying, “The Body of Christ,” he would say to the communicant, “Receive who you are.” 

The point is clear. In the Eucharist not only the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. We too who receive the Eucharist are turned into his Body. This is true for us not only individually, but also as a community. Since we all eat of the same Bread and drink of the same Cup, we are all united in Christ and become his Body, the Church.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” Now we understand why the martyrs of Abilene said, “Without Sunday Mass, we cannot live.”*

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