As an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion in my parish I take my turn distributing the Eucharist at mass. I am fascinated by the faces of people as they come to be touched by their God. Some glow with the awareness of “My Lord and my God!” Others have expressions that show they have retreated into some deep interior space to receive our Lord with tenderness and awe. Some have a warm, gentle sweetness and smile of anticipation, as if they are greeting their best friend. Some clearly bring their sorrows and pain for God to touch and heal. Some have an expression I cannot read. And some have a deadened look to their eyes.
Jesus comes to touch each one of them. He comes, to enter the dwelling of the body and soul of each person.
I wonder what that is like for Jesus. What is it like when he enters into me? I say at each mass, “O Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.” Some days I wonder if that tidies up my soul enough Jesus doesn’t gasp at the mess he finds there. I go to confession. I try to keep my heart clean. But I am also very aware of thoughts, feelings, concerns, and desires that are not of God.
Then I am glad that Pope Francis began his pontificate with the words, “I am a sinner.” I am not alone!
I am always amazed at how my physical house can be such a mess. The house of my soul is also messy. Worries about this or that pile up in corners. Fears litter the floor. Too often pride or resentment or “my will” make everything out of order. Sometimes selfishness tracks mud through it all.
Yet Jesus Christ comes to dwell in me day after day.
Not only that, he spends substantial time tidying up, cleaning out, sorting through, and generally making himself into a very welcome guest. In these past eight years he has done substantial repair and reconstruction on my soul.
Our reading from Hebrews today begins, “Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.”
The author of Hebrews then goes on to talk about Jesus as High Priest. A priest is one who offers sacrifice. In the Hebrew culture the High Priest was the one who could enter into the Inner Sanctuary on the Day of Atonement to encounter God and offer sacrifice. In the temple, however, all the priests, day after day, offered sacrifices: doves, pigeons, goats, bulls, sheep. The concept of sacrificing animals as a way to worship is very hard for me to appreciate. I can’t quite picture how such a thing could be holy and an act of worship.
But it was common in ancient times. It was an important part of the Jewish heritage of the Christians who are being addressed in Hebrews.
The author is helping them see that Jesus Christ is the Messiah because he offered himself as the sacrifice for the sins of the people. “He did that once for all when he offered HIMSELF.” He was the Son of God, perfect, and so the offering of himself meant there is no need “to offer sacrifice day after day.”
But still, “Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.”
He lives forever “at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up.”
Our faith teaches us: He also lives in our tabernacles and comes at every mass. He comes at every mass by offering himself. Every mass is Calvary again. This passage in Hebrews tells us this.
As the catechism elaborates,
“The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body. In all the Eucharistic Prayers we find after the words of institution a prayer called the anamnesis or memorial.
In the sense of Sacred Scripture the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real. This is how Israel understands its liberation from Egypt: every time Passover is celebrated, the Exodus events are made present to the memory of believers so that they may conform their lives to them.
In the New Testament, the memorial takes on new meaning. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present. As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which “Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed” is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out.” (CCC 1362-1364)
What the author of Hebrews is saying, what the Catechism is saying, what our faith teaches us is this: Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself once and for all AND he is “always able to save those who approach God through him, since HE LIVES FOREVER TO MAKE INTERCESSION for them.”
The Catechism puts it together this way:
“The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: ‘The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.’ ‘And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner…this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.’” (CCC 1367)
At every mass God is not only PRESENT in the Eucharist (as well as in the Word and the Assembly). At every mass God is present to SACRIFICE himself for us. He gives himself up for us.
On the altar. And by entering into our bodies and souls. He offers himself to come give himself to me and become a part of me. He offers himself to come give himself to you and become a part of you.
To tidy up our souls. Indeed, over time to transform them into appropriate dwellings for God.
To make us Christians under construction, saints in the making.
Such a High Priest!
Lord, today as I think about You as High Priest, as both God and man who chose to give yourself up that I might be able to enter into the life of God, it is too much of a Mystery. I hit the edges of understanding. My mind stops. My heart pauses. Yet my soul seeks. Can it understand? Lord, do come under my roof and work your reconstruction. Save me bit by bit, bad habit to good habit, selfish thought to generous thought, self-righteous attitude to humble one, Eucharist by Eucharist, mass by mass, day by day. Forgive me, Lord, for all the times you came under my roof and I was in sin, for the times when I have gone to communion as a matter of routine, for any and all carelessness with this great gift of Yourself, this great gift of Grace.
For today’s readings, go to http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011917.cfm