Tenth Sunday after
Pentecost—5 August AD 2007
First Holy Communion
[Ordinary of the Mass]
This morning our young friend Justin will make his first
Holy Communion, in the company of his family and other members of our parish.
I believe that it will be beneficial for all of us to reflect briefly on the
meaning of Holy Communion.
We might begin with the Old Testament. In the book of
Genesis we see a number of examples of people offering sacrifices to God.
Abel the just, Noe, and Abraham are obvious examples.
These were people of the land, and their sacrifices were generally the best
animals of their flocks—although in Abraham we see a man who was willing to
offer even his own son if God required it of him—a prefiguring of the
sacrifice that would come in the New Testament. In the book of Genesis we
also encounter the priest and king Melchisedec, who also prefigured the
Christian sacrifice by offering bread and wine to God.
In the book of Exodus we see every family of Israel
offering a sacrificial lamb and eating it with unleavened bread at the beginning
of their journey to the promised land. The blood of the lamb, sprinkled on
the lintel and doorposts of their home, preserved their first born sons from
death on that terrible night.
Later, as they marched through the desert God established an entire sacrificial
system and a priesthood in the sons of Aaron, the brother of Moses.
The Jewish people would offer sacrifices to God, and in many cases they and
their priests would receive portions of the sacrifice for them to feast upon.
God provided for His people in the desert, sending flocks
of quail for them to eat, and a sort of bread, called “manna” that seemed to
rain down upon them from heaven.
This too is a prefiguring of what was to come; we refer to the manna as a
“type” of the Blessed Sacrament.
Even in the Old Testament there are more or less explicit
references to the changes that would be made to the sacrificial worship of God
when the Messias came to Israel. Psalm 109 refers to the Messias as “a priest
forever according to the order of Melchisedec”—the priest-king who offered
sacrifice in bread and wine. The prophet Malachi predicted the replacement
of the animal sacrifices with “a clean oblation” a “pure offering,” that
would be offered not just by few chosen people, but “from the rising to the
setting of the sun,” among all the “nations.”
In the New Testament, the first years of our Lord’s
public life are filled with miracles that suggested (at least to the
open-minded) that Jesus Christ was the Messias mentioned in Psalm 109 and the
other prophetic literature of the Jews. He healed the sick, forgave
sinners, and raised the dead—certainly prerogatives reserved to God.
He turned water into wine and multiplied loaves of bread to feed thousands.
In chapter six of his Gospel, Saint John describes this
last miracle, the feeding of five thousand people with five loaves and two
Apparently, to many, this was more impressive than the other miracles Jesus
worked: “You seek me, not because you have seen signs, but because you
have eaten of the loaves and have been filled.” He cautioned them not to
“labor for the food which perishes, but for that which endures unto life
everlasting.” Moments later, he promised them something much greater
than the manna, the bread from heaven, which their fathers had eaten in the
desert. He said: “I am the bread of life that has come down from
heaven.” “If anyone eat of this bread, he shall live forever;
the bread that I will give is My flesh, for the life of the world.”
“Unless you eat of the Son of Man and drink His blood you shall not have life
This, of course, was extremely difficult for the
crowd to understand and believe. “How does He say ‘I have come down
from heaven’?” “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”
“This is a hard saying! Who can listen to it?” “From that time
many of His disciples turned back and no longer went about with Him.”
But Jesus didn’t call them back. He made no attempt to explain that He
wasn’t being literal in what He said—He didn’t try to explain that this
was just a figure of speech, or that His body and blood would be some sort of
symbol. He didn’t call them back because He meant every word of it
How any of this was to be, probably remained a mystery to
His followers. The Scriptures say no more of this promise until a year
later, when our Lord gathered with the Apostles to eat the Passover sacrifice in
the Cenacle in Jerusalem. Knowing full well that in the following hours he
would be falsely accused by the Sanhedrin (the ruling body of Israel), and
handed over to be crucified by the Romans, and that He would die on the Cross in
sacrifice for the sins of the world, He made good on His promise.
In the context of the sacrificial Passover meal, He changed
bread and wine into His body and blood: “This is My body ... This is My
blood which is being shed for you and for many. Do this in memory of
And within hours His body had been given up and His blood shed.
The sacrifice we offer is not that of a bull or a goat—it
is the perfect Lamb of God, Jesus Christ Himself, who is both victim, and priest
according to the order of Melchisedec. The priest you see at the altar is
but a man, perhaps a saint, perhaps a sinner, but Jesus Christ acts through Him
as an “alter Christus,” another Christ.
“The bread that I will give is My flesh, for the life of
the world.” Our Lord’s promise is thus fulfilled in the Most Blessed
Sacrament of the Altar. Every time we receive Holy Communion—whether it
is our First Holy Communion, or our last—we are taking a step further along
the path of eternal life. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has
life everlasting, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Note well
that our Lord tells us that one who receives Him in Holy Communion “has life
everlasting”—he has everlasting life, right now, in the present—even
though heaven and the resurrection will come later. We began eternal life
at Baptism, and that life is nourished every time we receive Holy Communion—a
very good reason for frequent, or even daily Communion. No one is
completely sure of his eternal salvation, but remaining in the state of eternal
life through frequent Confession and Communion is the best “salvation
insurance” anyone can get.
This is an appropriate time to call to mind the respect
that is due to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus Christ is the
focal point of our Catholic Faith. This is true in all we believe and in
all we do. It especially true in our worship. As Catholics, when we
come to church our most important intention is to visit Jesus Christ, really and
truly present—everything else, the sights, the sounds, our friends, the coffee
and doughnuts, everything else is secondary to Jesus Christ in the tabernacle on
the altar. This is why we genuflect, this is why we speak to one
another as little as practical, this is why we make the effort to dress as
modestly and as respectfully as our means will allow.
Whether Mass is offered in one of the magnificent
cathedrals of Europe, or in a humble hall such as our own—indeed, if Mass must
be offered on top of a bale of hay, or on the hood of a jeep—we worship in the
real presence of Christ the King. All of our attention, and everything we
do or say must be directed toward Him.
Justin: I hope you and everyone else here will keep
these things in mind. Always be attentive to our Lord in the Blessed
Sacrament. Receive Him as often as you are able. Live the eternal
life of sanctifying grace, that He may raise you (and all of you) up on the last