I used to live in community with a very holy Jesuit Brother. Br. John Masterson taught me a great deal about not taking for granted the gift of my daily access to the Eucharist, especially in a world where so many devout Catholics, especially in remote areas, do not have access to a regular celebration of the Eucharist. Likewise, in these pandemic times, most Catholics must rely on television or livestreaming celebrations.
Br. John used to regularly comment that he felt so privileged. All he had to do was walk out of his room and take about twenty paces to reach the house chapel, where there was a tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament and Mass was celebrated at 7:30 a.m. each day. I think of him as we acknowledge the Feast of Corpus Christi.
There is a line from the Sequence from the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ that refers to the “living and life-giving Bread.” It calls to mind the words from Jesus about giving bread “for the life of the world.” Jesus says, in the Gospel for Corpus Christi that his blood is “poured out for many.” In other words, the Eucharist must make a difference in our lives.
Our participation in the celebration is not passive. We don’t just sit in the pews and be disengaged from the Word of God or from the actions taking place. We bring our real lives to the Mass. We are blessed and dismissed (missioned) to live the Gospel with our lives.
Let me share an excerpt from the writings of Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan. He is now on the path toward canonization. He lived from 1928-2002 and spent thirteen years in prison in Communist Vietnam, nine of them in solitary confinement.
In his 2007 encyclical, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI referred to Thuan’s collection of writings from prison, saying: “During thirteen years in jail, in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope, which enabled him, after his release, to become for people all over the world a witness to hope – to that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude.” Here are his words:
When I was arrested, I had to leave immediately with empty hands. The faithful sent me a small bottle of wine for Mass with a label that read, ‘medicine for stomach-aches.’ They also sent some hosts, which they hid in a flashlight for protection against the humidity. The police asked me, ‘You have stomach-aches?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Here’s some medicine for you.’
I will never be able to express my great joy! Every day, with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of my hand, I would celebrate Mass. This was my altar, and this was my cathedral! It was true medicine for soul and body. Each time I celebrated the Mass, I had the opportunity to extend my hands and nail myself to the cross with Jesus, to drink with him the bitter chalice. Each day in reciting the words of consecration, I confirmed with all my heart and soul a new pact, an eternal pact between Jesus and me through his blood mixed with mine. Those were the most beautiful Masses of my life!