Eucharist is our central, defining ritual; the center point of our Catholic Christian Identity. Eucharist comes from the Greek word Εὐχαριστεῖν (Eucharistein), which means “to give thanks” So, Eucharist is not only the consecrated bread and wine that we share at our sacred meal each week, but it is also an action – a verb.
When Jesus asked us to remember him through the actions of this sacred meal, He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and shared it.
Author Henri Nouwen suggests that in these actions, Jesus is inviting us to pay special and close attention to these verbs: taken, blessed, broken, and shared and to ponder their meaning for us.
Another great teacher in our church, Bishop Kenneth Untener, said that the structure of the Mass itself reflects a four-fold action that corresponds to these four action that Jesus said and did at the last supper: Taken, Blessed, Broken & Shared.
Bishop Untener said it is super helpful to step back and first see the Mass in a broad manner, without getting lost in all the details. He uses the example of explaining a hockey game to someone who knew nothing about it, one might say something like this:
You can see that there are two nets out there, one at either end. The idea is to get that little black disk (we call it a “puck”) into the other team’s net more times than they get it into your net. Each team has six players on the ice at one time – each team wears a different color so you can tell them apart. Those fellows in the striped shirts make sure the rules are kept and if they’re not, they stop the game and straighten things out.
If someone knew that much, they could enter into the spirit of the game without worrying about all the details of off-sides, icing, tripping, high-sticking and so forth.
So, the question for us is, how would we explain the Mass as briefly and basically as possible to someone who knew nothing about it? This can be a helpful exercise because sometimes we get lost in all the details. Here is one way of doing it.
Picture the Mass as a prayer with four “movements” that we can enter into. The first is the movement of all of us coming together. This movement is called our Introductory Rites – where we are Chosen/TAKEN/Brought together. We do what people at a restaurant do when they see others they know. They pull some tables together to make one large table. Then if some other friends come in, they get some more tables.
In the first part of the Mass, people who come from all directions enter the church, say hello to one another and begin joining together around the altar table.
We all know how it feels not to be chosen. Perhaps we still carry third grade feelings about the times on the playground when the kids were choosing sides for a softball game, and we were chosen last. But, with God we are ALL chosen—each of us a unique and extraordinary creation of God. There is only one YOU. Never to be another. God calls us by name and we have a purpose in this great creation that is only for us.
The second movement is from God to us – we call this time in the Mass the Liturgy of the Word – where we are BLESSED by God’s word. God’s word comes upon us like the gentle rain or the bright sun. We believe that God is present and speaking to us through these words. And these words during Mass are always “live.” That’s why we call the Bible “God’s living word” because it speaks to us in different ways at different times in our lives – even though the words don’t change. In this way they are God’s living word to us and they are graced words, in that they have an effect on us, like the rain or the sun.
In Latin, to bless is the word “benediction,” which means to speak well of; to say good things of someone. Each of us are also blessed. All of us long for this blessing. We all need affirmation and encouragement. But a blessing is more than simple praise or appreciation.
To give a blessing is to affirm a person’s worth and dignity and identity—to affirm, as Nouwen says, “a person’s Belovedness.” Not for what we do, but for who we are. Each of us needs to hear, and know to our toes, that we are God’s beloved daughter or son; that we are precious in God’s eyes – deeply loved by God.
We experience God and this blessing, often through someone who affirms us, encourages us, loves us, without reservation – and claiming our OWN blessedness always leads to a deep desire to bless others.
The third movement is in the opposite direction: us towards God – the Liturgy of the Eucharist – You can actually see this flow when our donations of money and the bread and wine are brought to the altar. In this third movement we are BROKEN much like the sacred bread we share.
At this time in the Mass, we too, symbolically, place ourselves on the altar – giving ourselves to Christ – and then in the Eucharistic prayer we transcend time, joining ourselves with Christ on the cross as he gives over all of himself and moves from death to new life.
What does this action mean? We don’t know exactly. It’s a mystery. That’s why we call it the Paschal Mystery and it is something we unpack our whole life-time – and means different things to us at different times.
Perhaps the point of this action is to offer ourselves and affirm our oneness with Christ and one another as Christ’s body alive and living in the world today and to recognize that, like the concentrated bread on the altar, eventually, we are all broken. We all have our broken bits—our disappointments, wounds, pain, sadness, grief. Each of us is broken and suffers in your own way.
There is something very sacred to be found in our brokenness. Our cracks and wounds are where we are most deeply open to our loving God, who knows and loves our broken bits, and works powerfully with them, as St. Paul tells us “God’s power is made perfect in our weakness” and perhaps our brokenness reminds us too that togetherness is the greatest remedy for our suffering.
Lastly, we are SHARED. This fourth movement is outward, turning back home – and is called the Concluding Rite. I used to work at a church that had an enormous sign over the exit door that led to the parking lot that read “SERVANT’S ENTRANCE” and that about sums it up.
As we leave mass, we are blessed and sent out (the word Mass actually means to “be sent”) into our own parts of this world to live the truths we have just celebrated; to love as we have been loved. Our shared meal and communion (common union) is nourishment for the real work of being a Christian. Mass is like a well we come to each week to be fed and refreshed and encouraged so we can get back in the game. When we give of ourselves – turn our attention to the other person – do something for the other person – in the process we are strengthened by giving. Part of the deep mystery that Jesus struggled to teach us is that when we give love away, and share of ourselves, we end up having more.
Because one thing is for sure, there is no outdoing God in generosity!
May we all feel chosen, blessed, broken and shared this day…
*** Bishop Ken Untener once said “If you want to know what we believe listen to what we pray.” For centuries our Mass has offered a highly visual, sensory and symbolic yet concrete means through which we experience the sacred; connecting two levels of reality by imbuing very simple, humble things like water, bread, wine and oil with deep spiritual meaning – so our liturgy is, for our children, early training in imaginative, non-literal, spiritual thinking, fostering an ability to reverence the inexhaustible mystery that God is – what Sofia Cavalletti calls an “interior agility” that is central to all spiritual development.