Paul writes, For I have received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, placing himself in front of the Christian community of Corinth consciously and authoritatively as a subject of tradition. “The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me”. In the same way also the chalice, after supper, saying, “This chalice is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”” (1 Cor 11, 23-25).
Paul transmits the gestures and words that he received through revelation from the risen Christ. In this way he unites himself to the other Apostles. They also transmit the same gestures and the same words that Jesus taught when he was physically with them, during the last supper, and which he then repeated during the short period in which he appeared to them after the resurrection. We too, after twenty centuries, have received from those who have proceeded us the gestures and words that we will soon be reliving, and we transmit them in our time. In fact, Paul says: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the chalice, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11,26).
Memory and proclamation, past and future are here bound together, on the alter where the priest consecrates the bread and wine and distributes them as Jesus himself did. The Eucharistic celebration is thus an act of tradition, in the strictest and most basic sense of the word.
Almost one hundred years ago, the French writer François Mauriac wrote this beautiful page in a booklet dedicated to the memory of Jesus’s last supper: “We should like to tarry, to see on His shoulder the place where St. John’s forehead rested, to relive in spirit this moment in the history of the world when a piece of bread was broken in deep silence, when a few words sufficed to seal the new alliance of the Creator with His creature. Already, in the thought of the One who pronounced the words, millions of priests are bending over the chalice, millions of virgins are watching before the tabernacle. A multitude of the servants of the poor are eating the daily Bread which compensates for their daily sacrifice, and endless ranks of children, making their First Communion, open lips which have not yet lost their purity. And in the vision of the Savior, an immense multitude of unchaste persons, of murderers, of prostitutes, regain the purity of their early years through contact with that Host; it makes them again like to little children. Already on that night, He saw the pillars of Vezelay and of Chartres rising up from the midst of the land of the Gentiles, waiting for the living Bread which would give life to the world.” (François Mauriac, Holy Thursday).
“Living Bread”. Here is the truly wonderful aspect: this act of tradition, renewing the memory of something we have received, makes something alive happen, a living and life-giving Presence here with us today. Nothing could be further from a tradition understood as an empty form, as an inheritance that has come down to us from the past but is now inert and lifeless. Here, on the contrary, form and life coincide in an eminent way! Right here, in the Eucharist, in the very act of transmitting the original event on which all our faith is based and from which our life receives breath and meaning: the death and resurrection of Christ re-occurs!
The astonishment experienced by Christians before this fact is so great that thousands and thousands of churches, basilicas and sublime cathedrals, pearls of art and beauty, decorated and made precious by the hands of thousands of painters, have arisen over the centuries to celebrate it. Chalices, patens, tabernacles, finely crafted vestments: the impetus of faith and wonder at the miracle of the Eucharist have often exceeded the economic means and the human resources of those who had undertaken these works, engaging the work and energies of several generations. Mauriac thinks about the middle ages and his France, he names Vézelay and Chartres, with their sculpted columns, but throughout Europe and throughout the whole world we run up against these magnificent structures, and not only in the big cities, but also in small isolated villages. For us today it is enough to admire the splendor of the basilica we find ourselves in, dedicated to St. Clement, the third successor of Peter on the chair of Rome, with its very famous mosaic in the apse.
All this is born from one single desire: to offer a place that is worthy of the bow of the priest before the bread and chalice, so that lines of men and women, elderly and children, monks and lay people might everyday draw close and in their mouth receive that which Jesus himself called the Bread from heaven (Jn 6, 32).
At this point our meditation about the Eucharist has surprisingly led to a contemplation of the Church. Those who receive the transmission begun by the Apostles are in fact the Church, the men and women who welcome this tradition become Church. The Eucharist is therefore the sacrament of unity, because it gathers together people who live in the four corners of the earth, and because it carries individuals and peoples through all of time within one single current. A unique people that receives this tradition every Sunday and each day, and when they listen to the words of the memory that has been handed to us, they become witnesses of a miracle that is always renewed, fresh, alive, a miracle that opens all those who desire the possibility of an intimate and personal union with Christ.
From the Eucharist the Church is born, and from the Church the memory that makes this miracle happen is transmitted: in this continually renewed circle, the Church prolongs the presence of Christ in history.
Dearest Marek and Francesco, the priesthood that you have also been called to is at the center of this intimate and immense event.
The priesthood serves this event, which begins in a humble piece of bread and a glass of wine, continues in my life and in yours changed by the communion with Christ, and will end in eternal life which will be full communion with him and between us in the eternal banquet which today the liturgy speaks about. A daily miracle that, accompanying our journey towards heaven, leads the Christian people to sew into the earth true treasures of art, music, wisdom, culture, laws and customs that are oriented towards relationships that instill respect and justice… luminous signs, albeit imperfect and always surmountable, concrete prophecies of a civilization of love in which man can live and grow according to his true dignity.
Marek and Francesco, we hope that you are always able to live consciously within this great missionary horizon, where Christ himself is the protagonist, present in that small host that from now on you will consecrate every day of your existence and live within the Church that you have been called to love and serve. May your hearts and hands always be worthy of what they receive and transmit.
Homily for the first Mass of Marek Mikulastik and Francesco Montini
Rome (Basilica of St. Clement at Lateran), June 23rd, 2019 – Solemnity of the most Holy Body and Blood of Christ