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A Mystery We Must Become

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). Fr Timothy Calvert preaches on our continual repetition of the eucharist, which recalls Christ's sacrifice of himself on the altar of the cross.

Listening to preaching can demand a lot of Christian charity and patience. Sometimes when hearing a sermon you can guess what the preacher is going to say next. This isn't because of any great gift of foresight or intuition, but because 'Father says the same thing every week'!

Sitting in church, we do not expect any surprises. As we celebrate Corpus Christi, we reflect upon the gift of the eucharist, the gift the Lord Jesus made of himself on the night he was betrayed. Generation after generation the Church has celebrated the Mass, obedient to the command to 'do this in memory of me'.

So Christians are a repetitive people. This is probably a mixed blessing, depending on how you see repetition. For many of us, doing the same thing over and over again helps to make our lives flat and uninteresting.

Repetitive strain injury doesn't just affect our wrists and fingers: much of our life at home and work consists of having to do the same predictable actions. Most Catholic families know the struggle to get teenagers out of bed on a Sunday morning; free time is for escaping routine into spontaneity, not finding more repetitive activities.

But repetition isn't always a negative experience. Small children who are only just learning to use their imagination love to repeat games over and over, crying 'Again!' until the adult is exhausted and begging for rest. Children take delight in the present moment so much that they can replay it again and again.

There may at times be an element of this in our eucharistic lives. At Mass we anticipate our final dwelling in the Trinity, when we shall dwell in the eternal moment of the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.

But there is another aspect of repetition, that of our characteristic activities. The kind person is one who can be relied upon to be kind not just in occasional spontaneous moments but over and over and again.

To understand someone is to find out how they are repetitive -- what sort of things they are known for doing. The generous man is a repetitive giver; the prayerful woman is one who keeps praying, not one who prayed only once for a long time. Not all repetition enslaves us ? some actions make us become what we do.

So Christianity is repetitive. Christians have literally been doing the same thing over and over again for 2000 years. In today's second reading St Paul writes of the mystery which was handed down to him, and which he is himself handing on, namely, how the Lord Jesus had anticipated the shedding of his blood by offering the cup of that blood to his disciples, and had offered his body to them as food.

Calling to mind the long history of Israel; the offering by Melchisedech of bread and wine; the blood of the Passover lamb which won freedom for the enslaved people of God; the manna rained down from heaven into the barren desert, Jesus was gathering a history of repetition together and offering a new ritual interpretation of all those events. All the events far back in history, lived and remembered again and again in prayer and sacrifice, these events find their fulfilment in the meal celebrated in the upper room by Jesus and his disciples.

And from that upper room a new repetitiveness streams forth, flowing down the generations of the Church:

Do this in memory of me.

Do this over and over again, not as you would a task in the workplace or a mindless chore, not just as a child would repeat a joyful game, but as that which gives meaning and shape to your life: become what you do here.

Throughout the liturgical season of Lent and Easter we celebrated the Lord Jesus crucified, risen, ascended and glorified. And at Pentecost the Easter mystery found its fullness in the confession that the Jesus who is enthroned at the Father's right side is with us in the mission of the Holy Spirit. The Jesus who passed through death into life is with us: the Lord of all time is truly present in our world and our lives.

In every Mass we encounter this real presence of the Lord. But why the repetition? Because this paschal mystery is given to us not just as an activity we have to live out, but as a mystery we must become. The one sacrificial offering of the Lord Jesus flows through the Church as a river: we continually share in it again and again so that we may learn to swim, to become that perfect offering of praise and love.


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