I received from the Lord what I also handed
on to you,
that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over,
took bread, and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."
I was ordained in Carey Ohio where I served as a deacon and
newly ordained priest. We Franciscans maintain a shrine to Our Lady of
Consolation and people come from hundreds of miles to pray there.
One day a woman asked if she might take the Blessed
Sacrament home with her, to give to her elderly mother. In Carey we handed out holy water by the bucket; we blessed tens of thousands of religious articles from our gift shop; we blessed rosaries that had already been sanctified by bishops and popes. But I hesitated. I told her that her own
pastor should provide the Eucharist; he might send a Eucharistic Minister to
bring the Sacrament for her mother.
She replied they already do that but persisted, saying that
it would me more special if she could bring the Body of Jesus from the shrine
in Carey. Although I was a very young man – or perhaps because I was – I also
insisted that we could not provide that extra special service. There is only
one Blessed Sacrament; its holiness is unconditionally absolute and cannot be
made more or less sacred by anything we do. I offered her Holy Water by way of
a compromise but she said they have good water in Detroit.
As beautiful as the Blessed Sacrament is, there is always a danger
of smothering the blessing with overzealous piety.
Let’s go back to the beginning: “Why is the Lord given to
us?” That we might give him back. That’s
the nature of any true gift; it belongs to both receiver and giver. They are joined
in communion by the gift. When someone I hold dear gives me a gift, even
something of no great value, I keep it out of reverence for our friendship. It’s
value has nothing to do with money. It is precious because it belongs to us.
No sooner had Mary received the gift of her Baby than she gave
him to God by way of the shepherds. We can well imagine the astonishment of
this young woman, exhausted by the ordeal of childbirth, when these
outlandish fellows smelling of sheep came tumbling and stumbling around the manger. Perhaps she
was more astonished when she did not hold him back but gladly displayed the
baby for these rough intruders.
She did the same thing upon arriving in the temple when the
old man Simeon “took the baby in his arms and prayed.” She received the gift
and gave him back. Her sacrifice was complete when, standing at the foot of the
cross in grief-stricken bewilderment she again surrendered her Only Begotten Son to
the Mercy of God.
This kind of gift, in religious language, is called an oblation. We find it often in the Roman
Therefore, Lord, we
pray: graciously accept this oblation of our service…. (Eucharistic Prayer 1)
Therefore, O Lord, as we
celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the Dead,
and the glorious Assumption into heaven of Christ, your Son, our Lord, we, your
servants and your holy people, offer to your majesty from the gifts you have
given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the holy
Bread of eternal life, and the Chalice of everlasting salvation. (Eucharistic
Look we pray upon the
oblation of your church and recognizing the sacrificial victim by whose death
you willed to reconcile us to yourself, grant that we who are nourished by the
Body and Blood of your Son and filled with the Holy Spirit may become one body,
one spirit in Christ. (Eucharistic
Receiving this oblation from, and returning it to, the
Father we are joined in a most sacred communion with God.
To use another very simple example: a father gives his son a baseball.
What’s it good for but to be tossed back to his father? Some children don't get that immediately. They think, "This is mine; I won't share it with anyone!" They have to be persuaded that a ball is meant to be thrown from one person to another. Some people, too, think their lives belong exclusively to themselves, that their lives have some meaning or purpose or worth although they're shared with no one. They don't get it. The oblation of the Eucharist can lead them out of that empty place. The father and son play pitch and
catch and enjoy their growing friendship. A baseball that isn’t
thrown back and forth, or batted around a playing field, is nothing more than a
souvenir or relic to be boxed and kept on a shelf.
We receive the Lord Jesus during the Mass and give him, with our hearts, back to Father. We can keep him only by giving him away.