By – Victoria Seed
This Sunday at Mass my daughter asked me why there was a red light at the front of the church when all the other candles were white. She was captivated by the glow of the sanctuary light. I explained that it was a special light that is always lit when Jesus is at home in the tabernacle. She found the idea that Jesus is there right now reassuring. As we watched the priest place the undistributed Eucharist in the ciboria, cover them and return them to the tabernacle, my daughter whispered to me ‘Jesus is going to have a little rest now, and the light says He is still in his home, but you get to take Jesus with you, Mommy, because you had communion!’
I always thought I understood what it meant to treat the Blessed Sacrament with reverence. I have a good conceptual understanding of how the graces of the Eucharist are meant to nourish our faith and bring us closer to God. But I have never actually considered what it means to “take Jesus with me” when I leave the church. The sanctuary light says that He remains in the tabernacle, but what signs proclaim that He remains in me? Fortunately, the Holy Father answered just these questions in his second Wednesday address on the Eucharist (12th February, 2014):
“We all go to Mass because we love Jesus and we want to share, through the Eucharist, in His passion and His resurrection. But do we love, as Jesus wishes, those brothers and sisters who are most needy? […] I who go to Mass, how do I live this? Do I try to help, to approach and pray for those in difficulty? Or am I a little indifferent? Or perhaps do I just want to talk: ‘Did you see how this or that one is dressed?’ Sometimes this happens after Mass and it should not! We must concern ourselves with our brothers and sisters who need us. […] Let us ask Jesus, whom we receive in the Eucharist, to help us help them.”
It is perfectly natural that receiving the Eucharist should bring us, with our cooperation, into greater love and sympathy with our brothers and sisters in Christ because it is Christ himself we receive. Pope Francis is recalling us to the biblical accounts of Jesus’ ministry: when we read the scriptures we see again and again how Jesus encourages and requires care for the suffering and the sorrowful. There is not a single vocation so high and mighty that it allows indifference or neglect of the poor. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) shows the unfortunate man being rightly tended by the Samaritan who helped him when his plight was ignored by, for example, a priest who did not wish to risk ritual impurity. More strikingly still, in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) Jesus tells us that when we feed the hungry and clothe the naked we care for Him, and when we fail to minister to those less fortunate than us we fail to minister to Him. How, then, could any true communion with Christ leave us indifferent to human need?
There should be no divide in the Church between the most reverent liturgical traditionalists and the most evangelical social-justice crusaders: both draw their nourishment from the same source, from Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. The Holy Father tells us that the ‘the mission and the very identity of the Church’ are rooted in the Eucharist. He says:
A celebration may be flawless on the exterior, very beautiful—but if it does not lead us to encounter Jesus Christ, it is unlikely to bear any kind of nourishment to our heart and to our life. Through the Eucharist, however, Christ wishes to enter into our life and permeate it with His grace, so that in every Christian community there may be coherence between liturgy and life.
Reflect on those words for just a moment: coherence between liturgy and life. All true charity has its origins in the Eucharist, and we should always be drawn back to the Mass to receive strength and sustenance from Christ. But we cannot stay there, within the safe confines of the liturgy. What we believe about the Eucharist – that it is the true presence of Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity – is made ridiculous if we can receive it without being truly evangelized and converted from within. If our communion exists only within the walls of the church and the brief moments of the liturgy, then we will have no greater a share in the life of Christ than the paltry part we allow him in ours. When we receive the Eucharist at Mass we get to take Jesus with us when we go! We should pray that we may glow as brilliantly and reassuringly as the sanctuary light that promises God is with us, here, now and always.