“The Eucharist is the summit of our life in Christ,” Sr. Elissa Rinere said during a recent online workshop entitled, "What Does the Bible Say about the Eucharist?" sponsored by the Office of Faith Events.
A summit is the pinnacle or highest level of something, said Sr. Elissa, noting people train their whole lives to get to the summit of Mount Everest, often enduring great difficulties and overcoming overwhelming obstacles to get there. Similarly, she said, “We have to go through the difficulties of life in order to deepen our relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist. Full, aware, and complete participation in the celebration of the Eucharist is our Everest. We aim for the deepest relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist that is possible for us. That is our Everest. It is the summit of our life in Christ.”
Sr. Elissa, is the retired former chancellor of the Diocese of Norwich where she also served as director of the Diocesan Office of Worship and the Pastoral Planning Office.
While some people doubt the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, Sr. Elissa referred to the Scripture passage of the Last Supper in which Jesus broke bread for his disciples and said, ‘This is my body, take and eat of it.’ He then offered his disciples wine and said, ‘This is my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ “We need to take Jesus at his word of what his actions are intending.”
She likened the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy to the Gospel story of two disheartened and distressed disciples encountering the risen Christ as they walked the seven-mile, three-hour journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Along the way they encountered a stranger, who interprets Scripture for them.
The stranger is Jesus, but they do not recognize him until he breaks bread and shares it with them during a meal. “I would like to suggest that that story is our story,” said Sr. Elissa. Following the meal, the disciples returned to Jerusalem. “They carried on the mission of Christ once they recognized him in the breaking of the bread…We too are called to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.”
She asked participants to consider the Liturgy as a play in four acts similar to the story of those two disciples. In Act One, we come together in our parish communities as those two disciples did along the road, each with our own individual problems, and failings in a journey of faith and unite as a community in asking the Lord for mercy.
Act Two is the Liturgy of the Word where, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we hear the Word of God. And, like Jesus did for them, our priests use their homilies to help us understand the Scripture readings and give us a message of hope and clarity as we continue on our journey of faith.
Act Three is the preparation of the great Eucharistic feast. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus nourished the souls of the two disciples in his explanation of Scripture, then he nourished their bodies in the breaking of the bread. The same occurs in our liturgies. The Eucharistic prayer is the story of our salvation, said Sr. Elissa. After the consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, we make acclamations that profess our faith.
Those acclamations, she stressed, should be sung with gusto as they acclaim the mystery of our faith and, as with all Mass responses, should not be routine or pro-forma. Becoming more aware and more attentive to our full participation in the Mass through our responses and our actions is ‘the key to going to the summit.’
Act Four is the Communion Rite in which we share the feast receiving the Body of Christ. Before doing do, we declare our humility and unworthiness, acknowledging our own poverty and sin and going forward in faith, trusting in God’s love.
“The Eucharist is not something we can grasp with our mind. It does not yield to intellectual understanding,” she said. “The Eucharist is a call to a relationship with Jesus…It is an acceptance of what we cannot comprehend.” Therefore, receiving the Eucharist should not be an action we go through but an encounter with the living Christ just as the disciples encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
“They recognized him in the breaking of the bread. That is our hope that as we go through the journey of life we will recognize Jesus.” Once the bread has been broken and shared, and Jesus recognized in the sharing, we bring the celebration to a close. “We continue our journey, and, like the disciples, we are enlightened, strengthened in our faith, and strengthened in the mission we have received from Jesus.”
She continued, “Our great and noble journey is to become Christ for others. Building this relationship with Jesus and furthering his mission to reach out to others is not a task to be accomplished. It is a journey to be lived. It doesn’t ever end. It is the journey of life. We arrive at the end of the journey only in the peace of death…. That’s when we are joined in perfect bliss in the spirit of the Lord. We are working toward that all our lives.
She closed by stressing, “The Liturgy is indeed the summit of our life in Christ. We are on the Road to Emmaus. That’s the metaphor for life. We meet Jesus. We are enriched by Jesus, and we continue on the journey.”
By Mary-Jo McLaughlin