Given at a Votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament, celebrated according to the Missal of 1962, as part of the London Eucharistic Octave 2021 on Monday 13th September 2021
“Do this in memory of me”. Imagine you hear these words the first time they are spoken by Our Lord himself the night before he was to be taken to his death. The first followers of Jesus don’t know what will happen next in detail but, amidst their incredulity and anxiety, they know this is the end and they know they must suffer too. It’s the most emotional yet faith filled night of the twelve apostles’ life. Perhaps our English martyrs preparing to be taken to Tyburn would have had similar thoughts and prayers the night before their execution. They know this is the end. The last supper.
And so as such for us, who know in detail how the story unfolds and have grown up taught what this all entails, it is an experience which gets to the heart of our faith. When we gather around the altar at Mass we never do so simply as individual spectators but as the communion of the Church now present at this time in history yet part of a history through which the mandate to live out our faith in memory of the Lord reaches beyond times and places. Christ’s command to “do this” in memory of him is a command which invites each and every one of us to embrace a personal calling, as St John Henry Newman put it, to know we have some definite service to do as part of the plan of God for all time.
So when we gather around the altar we are also called, as were the first apostles, as part of Christ’s Body the Church with the mandate to bring others closer to Christ. To gather in the scattered children of God. Every time we come to Mass we hear the words “do this in memory of me”. And every time we participate in this Eucharist we not just remember the last supper but, through our adoration of the Eucharist as the central mystery of our faith, we are strengthened to act out the Lord’s command. Each time we are called to this service anew when we say ‘thanks be to God” to the invitation to “go in peace” to proclaim his Gospel. And at this time in particular, as we begin to emerge from this dreadful pandemic, that call is made afresh once again to bring the Gospel to a world which I believe, as Pope Francis keeps telling us, is looking to embrace a new era.
This call also includes the need to work as a truly Catholic community to show how Catholics and all Christians are united as a vital force in our beleaguered society. Throughout the pandemic many have been so inspirational in living out the Eucharist – the well celebrated emergency selfless work with the homeless, the wonderful work of health professionals, all amid the pain of grief and suffering and loneliness so many have been experiencing. On Sunday we all come together in Procession. All of us from parishes and communities who are in communion with each other under the Vicar of Christ Pope Francis despite our different expressions of liturgical practice, different ways of expressing our Eucharistic faith. And yet all called to respond to those words we hear, be they in Latin in the context of Old Rite as here this evening or, most typically for most of us, in New Rite in Latin or English or French or Italian or Portuguese or Polish or Tagala other languages representing different cultures in our truly Catholic parish life across our wonderfully diverse city. Or perhaps we hear those words to do this in memory of him in the context of a liturgy expressing our link with our past as English Catholics as our friends who bring to the Church their background in the Church of England bring us so much as a Church which is rooted in a place, in a country with a past, a bloody past where we know well how religion divides, and so are so keenly aware of how if we truly do this in memory of him we must do all we can to preserve and promote our unity as Catholics and Christians gathered around the altar. All the more so at a time of conflict and apparent division. We are all called to do this in memory of him and in communion with his vicar on earth our holy father Pope Francis. And still too here in England we live also the pain of separation between Christians and our desire for that full unity in the one communion the Lord desires.
What more important time than this for us to show how we are united as Church to witness to what the Eucharist is really all about. I personally think that to profess a faith in the Eucharist is actually quite an undertaking. Not so much because I might not be sure if I believe in the real presence or not. Or if I accept the way the eucharist is celebrated; whether I want more of the Old Rite or less of the New Rite or whatever. These are important matters indeed but they are more internal to the Church’s mission. The eucharist is so hard to accept because doing this in memory of him right now in this place at this time is a tough ask. Becaise this is a tough time to be a Christian. Because it is to commit oneself as a member of Christ’s Body to bring about what the Eucharist is all about, where everyone has a place at the supper. Pope Francis sums this up well in a quotation I particularly like – indeed I’ve used it before but I think it deserves repeating again and again: “The Eucharist … reminds us that we are not isolated individuals, but one body. As the people in the desert gathered the manna that fell from heaven and shared it in their families (cf. Ex 16), so Jesus, the Bread come down from Heaven, calls us together to receive him and to share him with one another. The Eucharist is not a sacrament “for me”; it is the sacrament of the many, who form one body, God’s holy and faithful people… Whoever receives it cannot fail to be a builder of unity, because building unity has become part of his or her “spiritual DNA”. This is why the Eucharist is so central, the source and summit of our faith, as St John Paul II called it. This is the central mystery of our faith. It can never be a private devotion. It expresses our Christian vocation to love as Christ loved. Each time we approach the altar to receive Holy Communion we say yes to this and so say yes to our Christian calling.
“Go in peace” is for me, after the words of institution and consecration the most important line in the Mass – it is what the Mass is all about. And yet following Christ’s command to do this in memory of him we are reminded that our faith is not based on our own efforts, however great and courageous and commendable they are. Rather, our faith is located deep in the power of the eucharistic sacrifice itself, deep in the mystery of the person of Christ who wants to touch each one of us with his love, to lead us forth as pilgrims on a journey, to be drawn into the mystery of his sacrifice for us, which gives ultimate meaning to our lives of Christian service and finds its final resting place at the eternal banquet in a heavenly destiny when all will have a place at that table of mercy, a purpose we strive for in our own society and yet ultimately even beyond this passing world.