The Breaking of Bread
At the last supper, Jesus changed bread into His body and wine into His blood. In this spiritual banquet, He performed a sacrificial action inseparable from His self-sacrifice the following day on the cross. Death on the cross was once and for all; but the sacrificial banquet was something that could be easily repeated. So He told the apostles to continue ever afterward to represent his saving death by repeating this sacred action.
Jesus gave us the sacrificial banquet, but He did not attach any name to it. Consequently, at different times and in different places different names have been used of it. We of the Latin-rite are most accustomed to the term “the Mass,” although this word derives from a very incidental phrase in our rite: “Ite, missa est.” (“Go, it is the dismissal”). Since Vatican II there is a trend to return to a more ancient phrase, “the Eucharist.” This Greek word means “a giving of thanks.”
The very first term applied to the Mass was simply “the breaking of bread.” That is the phrase used in today’s second reading. Speaking about the earliest days of the Church, it says “The brothers devoted themselves to the apostles’ instruction and the communal life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
Later on, this supper rite became more formalized, and it was prefaced by what we call the fore-part of the Mass – the scriptural readings and various prayers. The ceremonies also developed differently in different sections of the ancient Christian world, east and west. But, if you probe beneath the surface, you will find that the basic ritual is the same.
Here is the Mass as it was celebrated in the year 150 AD. St. Justin, martyr, wrote the description. Does it sound at all familiar?
“On the day named after the sun (Sunday), all who live in city or countryside assemble. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read for as long as time allows. When the lector has finished, the president addresses us and exhorts us to imitate the splendid things we have heard. Then we all stand and pray.
“When we have finished praying, bread, wine and water are brought us. The president prays and gives thanks according to his ability, and the people give their assent with an `Amen’. Next, the gifts over which the thanksgiving has been spoken are distributed and everyone shares in them… ”
Indeed it does sound familiar. Jesus told us to “do this in memory of me,” and we are still obeying His precious command.
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q313: Did Thomas get a bum rap, being called “Doubting Thomas” for his unbelief (Jn 20:19-31)? Isn’t ‘doubt’ an absolutely normal condition of uncertainty for humans, caused by lack of evidence?
Doubt and a ‘desire for certainty’ take many forms in our society. “Show me the money,” an unbelieving football professional tells his agent in scenes from the 1996 movie “Jerry McGuire.” “Show me the ring,” a long-suffering woman says impatiently to her beau, demanding concrete proof of his commitment. Missouri’s state nickname is the “Show Me” state, coined in 1899 by Congressman Willard Vandiver who could not be convinced by “frothy eloquence” alone, and wanted hard evidence.
The apostle Thomas, too, wanted “proof” that would convince his senses that Jesus is indeed risen from the dead; “show me” would be an apt description of his stance. And there is the key word, “senses” — Thomas wanted his eyes to reveal the truth to him, and his touch to confirm that truth. He was relying on the sensory world and his physical abilities to reach the truth.
However, through the skepticism of the apostle Thomas, Jesus passed on his message to all of us: it is not our physical eyes that count, but our spiritual eyes. We are being asked to believe based on the eyewitness testimony of others. This is called “faith,” believing in something we cannot see with our normal senses. And our openness to the action of the Holy Spirit is called blessed by Jesus in the gospel — “Blessed are they who have not seen, and have believed.” We can thank the Holy Spirit that this story about St. Thomas was preserved, so that we do not persist in unbelief.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! When we believe without “seeing,” we encounter the risen Lord and can say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (CCC #448). All of the disciples were doubtful, not just Thomas, and their faith was born under the action of divine grace as they experienced the reality of the risen Jesus (CCC #644). It is through believing that we have “life” in his name (CCC #514).
Q469: It seems that Jesus Christ works in special ways in groups, after his Resurrection.
The pervading thought in today’s two readings almost overwhelms us: we find Jesus in a special way in community! The First Reading (Acts 2:42-47) shows what can happen if we share our faith and make the spiritual journey together. We find people praying together regularly, celebrating Eucharist together regularly, and sharing their possessions with those in need. Is it any wonder that the loving witness of their lives should catch the attention of their neighbors, and lead to more conversions? Our Lord makes his presence known in such communities, including “signs and wonders” he works through them as a result of their faith.
We find the same communal setting occurring in the gospel (John 20:19-31). The difference seems to be that this time they are doing more than sharing bread and prayers; they are sharing fear! They are behind locked doors, afraid for their lives. Still, it is into this communal gathering that the Lord chooses to appear, providing the things that take away fear: his peace and the Holy Spirit!
One more gift is given to the community of apostles: the power to forgive sins! It is not only fear of physical harm that is removed by the peace of Jesus; now he removes fear of the afterlife. An avenue has been opened to continue the saving action of Jesus, through the Sacrament of Forgiveness!
The Easter Season is a special time to celebrate with one’s entire being this greatest of events in the history of the world, the Resurrection! Not only that, today on Divine Mercy Sunday we celebrate the love, forgiveness and mercy of Jesus – tender gifts that he longs to give to us freely, if we will only accept them!
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Our Lord told Saint Faustina, “When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity.” Pope John Paul II designated today ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’ on the occasion of Faustina’s canonization on April 30, 2000. Through the Sacrament of Confession, we are reconciled with God and the Body of Christ (CCC #1444).
Lord, I do Believe, Help my Unbelief.
These words in another Gospel passage were a petitioner’s response when asked if he believed Jesus could cure his child. They could have been a fitting response for doubting Thomas and could be appropriate for us when we find following Christ difficult. The other apostles saw Jesus on Easter morn and they believed But their belief was not confined to words. They went out and shared their joy with others, doing good for the sick and possessed. When Thomas saw the Lord he responded with the most explicit confession of faith in John’s Gospel: “My Lord and my God!” By Baptism we believe that we have been joined to Jesus in his death and resurrection. We are called to follow the example of the apostles even when that is hard to do.
Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief and enable me to extend my self in practical ways to deepen that faith in helping others.