Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost—5 August AD 2007
First Holy Communion

[Ordinary of the Mass]
[English Text]
[Latin Text]

    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.[1]  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.[2]

    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.[3]  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.[4]  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.[5]  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.”[6]

    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.[7]  He turned water into wine and multiplied loaves of bread to feed thousands.[8]

    In chapter six of his Gospel, Saint John describes this last miracle, the feeding of five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes.[9]  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 in you.”

    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 literally, really.

    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 Me.”[10]  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 day.


[1]   Genesis iv, xiii, and xxii.

[2]   Genesis xiv.

[3]   Exodus xii.

[4]   Exodus xxv-xxx;  all of Leviticus.

[5]   Exodus xvi;  Numbers xi.

[6]   Malachia ii: 10-11.

[7]   Mark v-ix; Luke iv-vii;  etc.

[8]   John ii and vi.

[9]   Unless otherwise cited, all remaining quotes are from John vi.

[10]   Matthew xxvi;  Mark xiv;  Luke xxii;  1 Corinthians 11.


Dei via est íntegra
Our Lady of the Rosary, 144 North Federal Highway (US#1), Deerfield Beach, Florida 33441  954+428-2428
Authentic  Catholic Mass, Doctrine, and Moral Teaching -- Don't do without them -- 
Don't accept one without the others!