Bairbre Cahill reflects on the importance of the Eucharist in our everyday lives
At the Last Supper, when Jesus lifted that bread to bless and break it, I wonder what he was thinking of? Jesus probably spent a lot of time as a child watching his mother Mary bake bread. My own children loved helping me, mixing the water into the flour and yeast, trying to knead the dough and getting caught up in a sticky mess. As a very small boy did Jesus help Mary?
When he lifted that bread to bless and break it, did he think of his mother? Did he think of all the ways that the bread she baked summed up her love for him? Did he see it as a symbol of how she gave herself so generously – her love, her courage, her nurturing of him day by day, shaping him for adulthood? Did he think of all the meals he had shared within his own family and then, following that example, the meals he had shared with friends and Pharisees, sinners and tax collectors?
It occurs to me that in the action of blessing and breaking bread, giving it to his friends and saying “this is my body”, Jesus was gathering up the experiences of a lifetime.
In this season of First Holy Communions, it is worth stopping and wondering about how the Eucharist that we celebrate echoes our own life experience. Just think for a moment about what it is that we do at Mass.
We begin by gathering. Being a Christian, like being family, is not about individualism. We are part of something more, something bigger than just me. Gathering matters. For our family these days family dinners are becoming more difficult to organise.
Several nights a week someone is away whether at training, a meeting, an event or a music class. We find that we miss sitting down together and make every effort to ensure that we do so at least three or four nights a week.
It is even more special when our eldest daughter is home from college and it is the six of us again.
Having gathered for Mass, we pause to ask for God's mercy and forgiveness. For all of us our understanding of forgiveness begins in family life. That is where we learn that we are loved – even beyond the jealousies, moods and arguments that are part and parcel of family life.
We learn gradually that not only can we ask for forgiveness, but we can also offer forgiveness to others. It is in family that we glimpse the wonderful, merciful forgiveness of God. We experience the relief of the warm cuddle that assures us we are ok.
That is the experience we bring to our celebration of reconciliation in the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Confession.
Storytelling is a key skill of parenting. Children love to be told stories – from books but even better when they are stories that come from our own lives. What mammy and daddy or granny and granddad did when they were children may seem like ancient history to children, but it is also fascinating and fun for them.
Children gain something vital from such stories – a deeper sense of who they are and what has shaped their family. That is exactly what the Liturgy of the Word offers us in the readings at Mass. These are our stories. They give us a deeper sense of who we are and the journey that has shaped us.
The Eucharist that we share in Holy Communion is a reminder of all the meals we gather to share – the everyday dinners and the parties, the summer picnics and the winter stews.
We are reminded that we need to be nourished, not only through the food we eat, but also through the company we keep. In the Eucharist we receive the body and blood of Jesus. Jesus tells us that He is our bread of life.
Bread – such an ordinary, everyday thing. Jesus desires to nourish us always, everywhere – not just on the special occasions.
The Eucharist expresses so beautifully Jesus' generosity, the complete and utter gift of himself. I believe that family life can give us insight into that self-giving love.
Think of the parent who walks the floor at night with a colicky baby or sits with a sick child.
Think of the work that goes into providing for a family, the constancy of putting food on the table, the everyday challenges of negotiating life with teens who are under pressure from exams and social expectations.
Families know a lot about giving of themselves to the point where it hurts – and then some more. We have within our day-to-day reality a lived experience of the Eucharist.
When we send our children out, whether to school or a friend's party or out into the world as an adult we expect them to take with them the values and perspectives that they have been raised with.
So, too, at the end of our Mass we are sent out to live the values and perspective of the Christian community.
The forgiveness we have celebrated, the Word of God we have shared, the Body of Christ with which we have been nourished – all these are to shape and direct our lives until we meet again.