Order of the Eucharistic Celebration, a participation in the life of Jesus

October 22, 2010

Once in a lifetime, you might be wondering why we celebrate the Eucharist the way it is. I never asked the question why we do what we always do in the Eucharist. But one day I started to question, why? And one of the “why” question that came to my mind is why the Eucharistic celebration has that order: we begin with the liturgy of the Word, and then liturgy of the Eucharist.

At first it does not seem to be intuitive for me, in many prayers, such as the liturgy of the hours (the official prayer of the church), we begin with Thanksgiving and praise (through the psalm), and then we have the Word of God. In many prayer groups, we sang praise and thanksgiving also, and then we have the preaching of the Word. But why in the Eucharistic Celebration, all those seems to be reversed? We begin with the Word, and then the Eucharist (the greek word for Thanksgiving).

I remember one day I read a book, which now I can’t remember the title. And it explains the “why” of  my question. It turns out to be simple, and the more I reflect on it, the more I understood how true it is.

The reason is that in the Eucharistic Celebration, the order of the liturgy follows that of the life of Jesus himself. In fact, our participation in the Eucharistic celebration becomes a participation in the life of Jesus! Isn’t amazing?

Just as Jesus began his public ministry by preaching, so it is in our liturgy as we enter the Eucharistic celebration: we have the liturgy of the Word! Just as Jesus preach 2000 years ago, he still preaches now. Just as the Word of God is being proclaimed, so it is today in the liturgy of the Word. It is the same Jesus that speaks and preaches. That is why we stand up when the Gospel is going to be proclaimed, and we cried “Alleluia!!”, praise the Lord! God is going to speak again in our midst. And we all fell into silence as the Word is spoken and being broken for us to eat.

And just as Jesus finish his public ministry by going to Jerusalem for His passion, death and resurrection, so too we enter the liturgy of the Eucharist. In this liturgy of the Eucharist, we enter the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We experience the sacrifice of Jesus as it was happen then. The same person, the same body is being sacrificed out of love for you and for me.

And should we wonder now that the Eucharistic celebration ends with the word, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”, just as 2000 years ago Jesus told his disciples before he ascended into heaven, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15). The same command is given to us all by Jesus himself, “Go into the world”.

There is one interesting point that we often overlook, and that is the main person in this whole celebration is Jesus. Jesus is the one who preaches, and ministers to us, Jesus is the one who sacrifices himself for us. Jesus is the one that make the offering of Love.

Many people complained that our Eucharistic celebration is not really engaging. If only we understand what is happening, we would not choose otherwise. Our celebration is the time when Jesus ministers to us just as he was 2000 years ago. We don’t need to be envy with those people who were living at the time of Jesus, because Jesus still lives today! Jesus still ministers today! What we need to do then, is to open our selves to receive what Jesus wants to do in our lives.

It’s about being like Mary instead of Martha. Our Eucharistic celebration is like Mary who listens to the Word of Jesus and allow ourselves to be nourished. It is also like Mother Mary who stood at the foot of the Cross and open herself for the grace and salvation from the pierced heart of Jesus. It is like peter who allowed Jesus to wash his feet so that he may have fellowship with Jesus. Our Eucharistic celebration is not about what we want it, but it is about allowing God to do what He wants to do. This is humility. And we can participate, by allowing God to speak to us, to cherish his word, and live it.We can also participate by uniting ourselves with Jesus and his sacrifice, by accepting His love on the Cross, and His healing power to save us.

This is our celebration, it’s not about what we do, but about what God is doing. The centre of that celebration is Jesus who offers himself to the Father, and somehow we are caught in that love exchange between Jesus and the Father. This exchange of love is God’s divine life, and by participating in this Eucharist and uniting ourselves with Jesus, we have participated in that divine life.


Water and a new heart

October 16, 2010

We know that human body is composed of about 60% of water. How significant it is. If water plays a significant part in our physical body, could it be that it also plays a significant part in our spiritual life? If this physical world is meant to point us to something deeper, could it be that there is something deeper also about water in the spiritual realm?

In the previous post, we have mentioned how the water that is used to bless ourselves as we enter the church reminds us of our water of baptism. That water of baptism brings us into the Church of God, which is Christ Body. We have also mentioned the prayer during the Baptism ceremony and how God plans to use water to signify something deeper, his beautiful plan for us. Now we will talk about water and a new heart: the effect of that water of baptism.

Long time before Christ, there was this prophet with the name of Ezekiel. In one of his prophecies, he spoke about water and a new heart.

“25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26* A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27* And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Ezekiel 36

This verse really reminds me of the liturgy in the Church. And maybe the liturgy of the Church is meant to speak to us about this verse. There was this part in the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration when the priest will go around the people and sprinkle water. Isn’t it amazing? We don’t simply read the Word of God, we experience it! God says he will sprinkle clean water upon us, and we shall be cleansed.  We will be cleansed from all idols and uncleannesses.

Most people do not appreciate this good news because we don’t feel we have idols and uncleannesses. We thought we are ok. But what we feel or we think does not necessarily reveal what truly is. Just as someone who never bath for months will not realize the smell on his body so are we with our “sins” if we never cleanse it or even examen it. We adapted, and get used to it, and we rationalize it, that at the end of the day, we no longer realize the bad in it. I have met some people who say that this kind of retreat or that kind of retreat is for people who are new in the faith. They need conversion, these people say. But don’t we all need that ongoing conversion? The biggest lies that the evil can put in our mind is that, “you are ok”. And because when we think we are ok, we just do our religious rituals without “needing” God. We do it out of trying to be righteous. But blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who always in the need of God.

Many of us also no longer feel we have idols. We don’t keep charm or those devil statues. But Idols have come in many different ways today. They have different names. We can mention a few, like money, career, or maybe even boyfriend. We can also include in this list our dream or even our own ego. And Pride can be an idol as well. These are things that people worship these days, and most of us do not realize that we worship them. Only when we lose it, we start to realize how much we are attached to it. The list can go on and on when we try to examen our lives daily.

But this is the heart of stone that the prophet Ezekiel speaks. It is a heart that is not capable of loving. It is a heart that is not alive but dead. Because of money, we see people fight or even lie. Because of careers, we see how families are falling into ruin. Because of pursuing our dreams, we are willing to sacrifice others. Our mouth and our words also sometimes creates hurt and divisions. And we never realize a little bit, that our heart becomes a heart of stone, a heart that is not capable of loving . We see that in all of us, even with those who are in ministry in the Church. Ego and personal dreams strive rather than charity.

Maybe that is why every time we begin the Eucharistic Celebration, we also start with some penitential act. We admit our sins and weaknesses before God, and ask for His Mercy. If the Church does that regularly, aren’t we too suppose to have our conversion ongoing and not just once?

Interestingly if you notice, this penitential rite in the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration sometimes are substituted with another rite. And I hope you can guess what rite it is. It is the rite of sprinkling of water 🙂 Yes it is the moment when we remember of our heart of stone, and we ask God for a new heart, a heart of flesh that is capable of loving. A heart that is filled with the spirit of God so that we can love as God loves.

The prophecy says, “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” Some people have that honesty to realize that it is impossible to live as a Christian in Today’s world, with its ethical demand and call for holiness. And they are rightly so. It is impossible! But this is what God promises us in Christianity, that he will give us His Spirit within us. And that Spirit is the one that will “cause” us to live holy Today. I know it sounds like a cliche and some Christians even no longer believe in this Good News. But maybe it is also the very reason why “faith” has a such an  important place in the Christian religion. It is by believing in God’s power to save us, that we will never lose hope in that promise, and we will continue to accept that grace that can save us. Rather than following those who no longer believe in the Good News, let us follow Mary in her faith, in that way, we too will hear the message that Elizabeth spoke to her, “Blessed is she who believes that the promise made her by the Lord will be fulfilled”- Luke 1:45.

So now, every time we bless ourselves with water or when we participate in the sprinkling of water rite at the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration and in the renewal of Baptismal promise, let us remember this beautiful promise. Let us remember our weaknesses, and how God has the power to change our heart from a heart of stone, to a heart of flesh. Let us believe in God! During the renewal of our baptismal promise in the Easter Vigil celebration we cry out together with the whole Church “I believe in God!” Let us live what we proclaim. And as we believe, the Spirit will continue to change our heart bit by bit into a heart of Jesus, a heart of God.   This is the heart that is beating and alive, a heart that is giving life to others. Just as a human heart pumps out blood that gives life to our whole body, so too our lives should be. Our life should not be self-seeking but rather life-giving to others. If only Christians live what they celebrate in their Baptism and Eucharist, the world will be a different place. This is our hope, a new heaven and a new earth, a place where righteousness is at home (2 Pet 3:13). This is what our Baptismal water give us, the Spirit of God that make us holy. We are called to be holy, and that holiness should give life to the world around us starting from our family.

“25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26* A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27* And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Ezekiel 36

On that water as we enter the Church

September 25, 2010

We have talked about our gathering, how if only we can see from above, on every sunday, we gather like wheats are being gathered into one bread. And as we finish our Eucharistic celebration, we disperse into the world, just as a bread that is broken and shared to the world. We are that bread. And in this article, we want to reflect what we, catholic, usually do as we enter the Church. There is a place for holy water, and we usually dip our hands into that water and make the sign of the Cross, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And what does that sigify?

That water as I enter the Church really reminds me of my water of baptism. And is it a coincidence that we “enter” into God’s Church through Baptism, just as we enter the Church building and blessed by that holy water? Indeed, the water at the entrance of the Church reminds us of our own baptism and our entrance into God’s Church.

Many people no longer understand the importance of baptism. Many people thought just believing and doing good is enough. But what do we really believe in? If we believe in Jesus, then we should also believe in what he says, and he says:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” -John 3:5

Unless we are born of water and the Spirit, we cannot “enter” the kingdom of God. Do we really believe that? But why? and what does it mean to enter the kingdom of God?

There are several instances that involves water in the Bible. And the Church liturgy has beautifully narrate them in the liturgy of Baptism in Easter Vigil.  This is what the priest says when he blessed the water before baptism ceremony begins:

Father, you give us grace through sacramental signs, which tell us of the wonders of your unseen power.

In baptism we use your gift of water, which you have made a rich symbol of the grace you give us in this sacrament.

At the down of creation your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness.

The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness.

Through the waters of the Red Sea you led Israel out of slavery, to be an image of God’s holy people, set free from sin by baptism.

In the waters of the Jordan your Son was baptised by John and anointed with the Spirit.

Your Son willed that water and blood should flow from his side as he hung upon the cross.

After his resurrection he told his disciples: ‘Go out and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’

Father, look now with love upon your Church, and unseal for her the fountain of baptism.

By the power of the Spirit give to the water of this font the grace of your Son.

You created man in your own likeness: cleanse him from sin in a new birth of innocence by water and the Spirit.

How beautiful it is. In that short prayer, the meaning of our baptism is unfolded from what is written in the Scriptures!

I do not want to make this article to long, and so maybe I will talk a little bit here and there in the upcoming articles on some of the points mentioned in that prayer: the wellspring of holiness, a new beginning, set free from sin, anointed by the Spirit, water and blood, and grace. And how it is relevant as ever on how we should live as a Christian.

Our Gathering every Sunday

September 11, 2010
On every Sunday Christians all over the world gather together to church. Isn’t it amazing? If only we can observe how it looks like from above, we see people start to move from every houses, different houses, and they all move to one place. They all converge to one destination at that one hour. At the call of the Church bell, they all came. Once the Eucharistic celebration ended, they all dispersed from that one place going to all directions, to all the world. If only we could see how it looks like from above, that must be fantastic. I imagine it would like seeing dots or grains moving from all over the place and they all move to one direction, to one center, the Church, and they all go inside that place. That really reminds me of a song.
As wheat upon the hills was gathered and was grown,
so may the church of God be gathered into one…………………
And the refrain says:
Seed, scattered and sown,
wheat, gathered and grown,
bread, broken and shared as one,
the living Bread of God.
Vine, fruit of the land,
wine, work of our hands,
one cup that is shared by all,
the living Cup, the living Bread of God.
Indeed it must have been like gathering wheat from all over the fields, and put into one place. And from that one place results indeed the fruit of the grains of wheat, which is bread, bread that gives life.
Have we ever reflected how our lives should be? As we gather together to church every Sunday, have we ever asked, what does this all mean?
If only we can see from “above”, then we will see our lives like that grains of wheat that are gathered from different places, but gathered into one. Not only one place, but into one bread, which is the fruit of the grains. And this is what Jesus said about that grains of wheat,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24
This is what every Christian does every Sunday as we gather in the Church to celebrate the Eucharist.  We are being gathered into one, but in that gathering, what we really do is no other than dying. But what does this dying mean?
We can know the answer by looking at Jesus. He is that one grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies. I know it sound quite literal. He “went” down from heaven to earth. And at the end of his 33 years here on earth, he dies. But because he dies, he bears much fruit. But what kind of death does Jesus die to?
Jesus died to sins. He does not live for sins. But in todays world where sins is not a common vocabulary, it helps to rephrase it in another words. Jesus died to himself. In Jesus, there is no self-centredness, no selfishness, no self-love. This is what Christians are called every Sunday as we gather into that one place. We are called to die to our self-centredness, to our selfishness, to our self-love. And that is why Jesus continues with this words after he talked about the grain of wheat that falls and bears fruit:
“He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. ” John 12:25
We know that the word “hate” in that Greek word means to “love less”. But this is the meaning of our Eucharistic gathering, we are dying to our self, we learn to love less our self, and to love more God. And not only to love more God, but also to love more others they way God loves.
Just as the grains are gathered and crushed, pressed, and at the end become bread that gives life, so too are Christians. We are gathered into that one place to become bread. But are we crushed and pressed in the church? It may sounds weird. But indeed we are crushed and pressed from Monday to Saturdays in our day-to-day activities. It is in our office, in our family, it is when we meet the people that irritates us, that we are crushed and pressed. It is when we are facing difficulties or problems, we are crushed and pressed. It is when relationships are broken and hearts are wounded, that we are crushed and pressed. But every Sunday, we gather together, to bring that crushed and pressed lives as an offering. An offering that God would not refuse. And that offering will be brought into the altar as a sacrifice. That is our tears and joys that lays on the altar, that is our lives. And the priest will lay over the offerings that it may become the bread of life. Indeed, as we went home from that one place and that one hour, we have become bread that gives life. Not because of our own merit, but because of what God is doing. And that is why we give thanks, we “eucharist”.