The readings of the Mass today invite us to reflect on the mystery of the Eucharist. This great mystery was foreshadowed in Old Testament times when God provided the Israelites with manna in the wilderness.
In the first reading, we hear the words Moses spoke to the people: “Remember how the Lord your God led you for forty years in the wilderness … he fed you with manna which neither you nor your fathers had known, to make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Dt. 8,2-3). God taught the people that he alone was their Lord. He alone was the one who would lead them out of slavery. He alone was the one who would care for them amid the hardships and sorrows they would encounter on the way to the promised land. When they were hungry and thirsty, he gave them manna from heaven and water from the rock.
What was foreshadowed in Old Testament times has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He gave his followers food for the journey of faith when he entrusted to the Church the gift of the Eucharist. Jesus himself is the new spiritual food, for the Eucharist is his body and blood made present under the appearances of bread and wine. He himself says in the Gospel: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst” (Jn. 6,35)
In Wales, the Eucharist has held a place of prominence in the Church from the earliest times. This is shown by the Christian symbols of the Eucharist which have been discovered in the archaeological excavations at the Roman fort of Caerleon. Happily this great heritage has continued from the early beginnings down to the present time. This fact should not surprise us, since the Eucharist holds such a central place in Christian life and since the mystery of the Eucharist is so closely linked to the mystery of the Church. For every generation in the Church, the food which nourishes the people of God is the Eucharist, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What a beautiful prayer is recorded in today’s Gospel. After Jesus speaks to the people about the true bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, they cry out: “Give us that bread always” (Jn. 6,34).
This prayer expresses a deep hunger on the part of the people, one which goes beyond the hunger for food. It is a hunger which arises from the depths of the soul and from the desire for love and fulfillment. It is a longing for wholeness and salvation and a yearning for fullness of life—it is a hunger for union with God. Christ is God’s answer to this prayer, God’s response to the deepest hunger of the human heart. All the anguished cries of mankind to God since the fall of Adam and Eve find fulfillment in the Son of God become man. Jesus still says: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst” (Jn. 6,35). May this same prayer—”Give us that bread always”—often be our prayer too. From our First Communion until the day we die, may we have a deep yearning for Christ, the true bread which gives life to the world.
I would like to speak to these little ones who are about to receive Holy Communion for the first time. Dear children: Jesus is coming to you in a new way today, in a special way. He wants to live in you. He wants to speak to you in your heart. He wants to be with you all through your day.
Jesus comes to you in the Eucharist so that you will live for ever. Holy Communion is not ordinary food. It is the bread of eternal life. It is something more precious than gold or silver. It is worth more than anything you can imagine. For this sacred bread is the body and blood of Jesus. And Jesus promises that if you eat his flesh and drink his blood, you will have life in you and you will live for ever.
You come to the altar today with faith and prayer. Promise me that you will try to stay close to Jesus always, and never turn your back on him.
As you grow older, go on learning about Jesus by listening to his word and by talking to him in prayer. If you stay close to him, you will always be happy.
Dear parents of these children: your love for Christ has made this day possible. For you are your children’s first teachers in the ways of faith. By what you say and do, you show them the truths of our faith and the values of the Gospel. This is indeed not only a sacred duty, but a grace, a great privilege. Many other members of the Church share in this task, but the main responsibility for your children’s religious formation rests upon your shoulders. So try to make your homes genuinely Christian.
Help your children to grow and mature as Jesus did at Nazareth, “in wisdom, in stature and in favor with God and men” (Lk. 2,52). Allow no one to take advantage of their lack of experience and knowledge. As you share with them in their personal pilgrimage to God, may you always be united in prayer and worship and in humble love of God and his people.
Dear teachers in our Catholic schools: you too deserve an honored place in our celebration today. Together with the parents, you help to prepare the children for the worthy reception of the sacraments and for a more active role in the Christian community. You bring them to a reverence and knowledge of God’s word and you explain to them the doctrine of the Church. And thus you introduce to them gradually into the riches of the mystery of salvation.
You are heirs of a great tradition, and the People of God is in your debt. As you carry out your important mission in that special community of faith which is the Catholic school, may you have a deep love for the Church. May your love for the Church radiate through all your various activities and be reflected in the way you faithfully hand on the sacred deposit of the faith.
Beloved brother priests: this is a day of joy for you also, for these little ones are members of the parishes in which you have the privilege to serve. Together with their families and teachers, you introduce the children to the wider Christian community and help them to grow to the fullness of maturity in Christ. To them and to the whole parish, you seek to give a shepherd’s care. May you be the best of shepherds and model your lives on our Lord and Redeemer.
I know that Bishops are anxious to develop practical programs of adult education in the faith. I urge you to be in the vanguard of those efforts, which are so important for the vitality of the Church.
I also encourage you to make the worthy celebration of the Eucharist the first priority of your pastoral ministry. Recall the words of the Second Vatican Council. “The other sacraments, as well as every ministry of the Church and every work of the apostolate, are linked with the holy Eucharist and are directed towards it. For the most blessed Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth, that is, Christ himself, our Passover and living bread” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 5). No other work you do is of greater importance for the Church or of greater service to your people. For the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the source and summit of all Christian life. Ensure that the Mass is celebrated with deep reverence and prayerfulness, and make every effort to foster the active participation of the laity. Bear witness to the Church’s faith in the Real Presence of Christ by your own daily visit of Eucharistic adoration (cf. ibid., n. 18). And through the liturgical renewal that was willed by the Council, may all your parishes become communities alive with faith and charity.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, every time we gather for the Eucharist, we take part in the great mystery of faith. We receive the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation. This is the cause of our joy and the source of our hope. May this great mystery be for you and the whole Church be the center of your life and the way to eternal salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Eucharistia means thanksgiving, and the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” St. Justin Martyr described the Eucharistic Liturgy in 155 AD in his First Apology. The Paschal mystery of Christ is celebrated in the liturgy of the Mass. The Mass is the Eucharist or principal sacramental celebration of the Church, established by Jesus at the Last Supper, in which the mystery of our salvation through participation in the sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of Christ is renewed and accomplished. The word “Mass” comes from the Latin missa, as it refers to the mission or sending forth of the faithful following the celebration, so that they may fulfill God’s will in their daily lives.
The essential signs of the sacrament are wheat bread anf wine, on which the blessing of the Holy Spirit is invoked during the Sacrifice of the Mass, and the priest pronounces the words of consecration spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper: “This is my body…This is the cup of my blood…” (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Jesus died on the cross in sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 9:25-28). But Jesus is present for all time, as He is the eternal Son of God. What He did once in history also then exists for all eternity. What happened in time goes beyond time. In the heart of Jesus He is always giving Himself to the Father for us, as He did on the Cross. When we celebrate the Mass, the sacrifice of the cross, that happened once in history but is present for all eternity, that same reality is made present in the mystery.
The bread and wine through Transubstantiation become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and we receive the Real Presence of Jesus when we receive Holy Communion. Our soul is nourished, helping us to become like Christ. The Eucharist is the heart and source of community within the Church. Receiving Holy Communion with others during the Mass brings unity of the Church, the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 10:16-17).
Then He took the bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them, saying,
“This is my body, which will be given for you;
do this in memory of me.”
And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
which will be shed for you.”
Gospel of Luke 22:19-20
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven;
if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever;
and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Gospel of John 6:51
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you,
that the Lord Jesus in the night in which 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 He took the cup also after supper, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in My blood;
do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 11:23-26
There are a number of ways to read the Bible. One of the first things Catholics should look for is good footnotes at the bottom of the page that are indexed to other similar texts in the Bible. This helps the reader to understand the particular verse in context, rather than in isolation. The Bible is meant to be read in its entirety, and never to be taken out of context. That is what satan tried to do to Jesus in the desert in Matthew 4 – Taking individual verses out of context, trying to use them to mean something they really don’t.
That method is still used today, by well meaning, but misguided, non-Catholics. By using the footnotes at the bottom of the page, you can turn to a similar verse and see how it is used. Another rule to follow is that you must read the bible with a sense of Tradition, what the original author meant to say, not what you think it means. If you were the author of “Gone with the Wind”, you surely wouldn’t want someone 2000 years from now to come up with an interpretation that Scarlett was a Yankee! Likewise, neither should we come up with interpretations based on what we “think”, or what we “feel” today. The third rule to follow is that no interpretation of the bible can contradict Church teaching, since the Bible is a product of the Church. That would be like saying that a government document contradicts the government agency that issued the document.
In a lot of cases, the New Testament reading is prefigured in the Old Testament. For instance, when one reads that Jesus’ face shone like the sun in Matthew 17, you can flip way back in the Old Testament and see that Moses’ face also shone (Exodus 34). The deeper meaning here is that Moses was a biblical “type”, or foreshadowing of Jesus – Moses was the lawgiver in the Old Testament; Jesus is the lawgiver of the New Testament. Moses went up the mountain and brought down the Word of God to the people for the Old Covenant in Exodus 34; Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, which is the Word of God for the New Covenant.
There are numerous examples of Old Testament types of Jesus. For instance, Jesus is called the Son of David in Matthew 1. David was a Jewish King, Jesus is a Jewish King. The Bible says that David was a shepherd (1 Samuel 16) and was 30 years old (2 Samuel 5) when he became the King of the Jews. David was also from Bethlehem (1 Samuel 17). This foreshadows Jesus exactly, who was also the Good Shepherd of us all (John 10), was 30 years old when he began His public ministry (Luke 3), and who was also born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2). The Old Testament, in Genesis 37, tells the story of Joseph, who was stripped of his garments by his own brothers, and sold to the pagan authorities. Later on, Joseph forgave the very people who had sold him into slavery. Jesus was also sold to the pagan authorities by his own people (Matthew 26), and stripped of his garments (Matthew 27). Jesus also forgave the people who killed him. The innocent Joseph was thrown in jail; the innocent Jesus was thrown in jail. Joseph became Pharaoh’s right hand man; Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father. Joseph gave bread to Israel to save his brothers; Jesus gives us the Eucharist to save us, his brothers. In other words, the people and events of the Old Testament all point to Jesus as Messiah. There are numerous other examples of typology in the Bible. A Bible with lots of good footnotes will point all of these out.
Numerology is also used in the Bible. The number seven (the day God rested from His Creation in Genesis) is the number of perfection. The number 6 is the number of imperfection. We see that Jesus changed the water into wine at the Wedding Feast of Cana on the seventh day of the story, in John 2. John, who starts his Gospel out with the same 3 words that Genesis started out with “In the beginning” is trying to tell us here that Jesus is God, and that there is now a new Covenant, a new creation. The number 6 is used to imply the name of the beast in Revelation 13 (Caesar Nero). Goliath was 6 cubits high (1 Samuel 17).
There are 4 basic levels of scripture to understand:
The literal sense, the allegorical sense, the moral sense, and the anagogical sense. The literal sense is what most people stop at when they read the bible. The literal sense when one reads about a temple in the bible is a big building where everyone went to worship. This is what the Pharisee thought that Jesus was talking about in John 2 when Jesus said “Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in 3 days.”
However, Jesus was talking about the allegorical sense (how the text refers to Jesus) and the fact that His Body is the new Temple.
The moral sense of scripture is how the verse applies to us and our personal morality. Since the bible says that our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 6, then we should not spend one second desecrating our temple by getting drunk, watching impure movies, having an abortion, cursing, etc. The desecration of the temple is what started the whole Maccabean revolt in 1 Maccabees.
The last method, the anagogical sense, refers to the heavenly sense. We know that after the second coming there will be a new heavenly temple (Revelation 21), and the old earth and all of its churches and temples will pass away.
The average bible reader will be very enriched if they concentrate on the moral sense – How the bible verse applies to you personally. For example, when Mary presents the Baby Jesus to God the Father in the Temple (Luke 2), are you personally ready for Mary to present you to God the Father? When Mary and Joseph lose Jesus and find Him in the Temple (Luke 2), do you seek out Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament at Church when you feel lost and forsaken? When Jesus is blinded by his own blood and sweat following the crowning with thorns, do we realize how sinful thoughts in our own head blind us to the saving power of Jesus’ blood and the water from His side at the cross? The list is endless.
And last, we should never put our own personal interpretation on scripture, unless it agrees with the Tradition of the Catholic Church. St. Peter himself warns against this practice in 2 Peter 1 and 2 Peter 3. After over 1600 years of Catholic Biblical history (Pope Damasus I and the Catholic Church approved the canon of the bible in the late fourth Century), the great scholars of the bible like St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas have already got everything figured out for you. Believing that our small 21rst century minds can figure out 4000 year old verses that were written in a very different language and culture, in a very different time, and with very different idiomatic expressions and meanings is the height of pride. You might as well say that you can understand physics on your own without first reading the writings of Einstein and Newton. That is why the Magesterium is needed to interpret scripture.
A good example of why an interpreter of scripture is needed would be the following sentence: “I never said you didn’t have to give me lots of money”. The intent of the writer could mean that I never said it, but I thought it. It could also mean that I expected you to pay me back with a favor instead of money. It could also mean that I never said it, but he did. It could also mean that I expected a loan of money, rather than a gift. It could also mean that I expected a little money, but not a lot. Without the Magesterium interpreting scripture for us through the lens of Sacred Tradition, there are all kinds of ways to misinterpret what the original authors had in mind. For instance, what would the proper meaning of this sentence be: “You never said not to take the bat down”. It would all depend on where the accent is in the sentence – “You never said not to take the bat down” (but your mom did). Or, “You never said not to take the bat down” (but you did write it down for me). Or “You never said not to take the bat down” (but you did say to leave it alone). And what kind of bat is it exactly? A flying rodent, or a baseball bat? Without a proper interpreter of that one sentence, it is impossible to know what the author had in mind. Now multiply that one sentence by the entire Bible!
So get a good Catholic Bible with great indexed footnotes. Read the Bible like Jesus is talking to you personally. Look for Biblical types of Jesus in the Old Testament like Adam, Moses, and Joseph. Don’t take scripture verses out of context. And if studying the Bible doesn’t make you a more loving, kind, and gentle person, then you are doing something wrong. The end result of your scripture study should not make you into a know-it-all arrogant person. It should make you more like Jesus.
Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary commonly called Candlemass Day
On this day the Church solemnly celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the temple, and the obedience and humility both of Mary and her divine Son, who, though not subject to the law in regard to purification and presentation, yet subjected themselves to it. Hence this feast is called the Purification of the Virgin Mary. In common speech we call it also Candlemass, because on this day the candles required for the divine service are blessed and carried in procession.
What is the design of this custom?
1. It is to remind us that Jesus, the light of the world, was offered up to His heavenly Father, by Mary, in the temple at Jerusalem, where He was called by Simeon a light for the revelation of the gentiles, and the glory of the people of Israel.
2. To remind us, also, of several important truths, to which the priest refers in the prayers at the blessings. Thus he prays that as the earthly light dispels the darkness of night, so Jesus, with the light of His divine doctrine, may clear away our spiritual blindness and ignorance, and lead us in the way of virtue; that as the Holy Ghost enlightened Simeon, so He may also enlighten us to acknowledge Jesus as the true light, to love Him and follow Him, to keep our hearts from the way of sin, and to guide them in the way of virtue, and to kindle them with the fire of holy love; finally, that God may preserve, in soul and body, those who use blessed candles with devotion, may hear their prayers, and grant them entrance into the kingdom of the eternal and ever-blessed light.
In the Introit of the Mass the Church sings:
“We have received Thy mercy, O God, in the midst of Thy temple; according to Thy name, O God, so also is Thy praise unto the ends of the earth; Thy right hand is full of justice. Great is the Lord and exceedingly to be praised in the city of our God, in His holy mountain.”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Almighty, everlasting God, we suppliantly beseech Thy majesty that, as Thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, so Thou wouldst grant us to be presented to Thee with purified souls, Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, etc.
Epistle: Malachi 3:1-4
Thus saith the Lord: Behold I send My angel, and he shall prepare the way before My face. And presently the Lord Whom you seek, and the angel of the testament whom you desire, shall come to his temple. Behold he cometh, saith the Lord of hosts: and who shall be able to think of the day of his coming? and who shall stand to see him? for he is like a refining fire, and like the fullers’ herb: and he shall sit refining and cleansing the silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and shall refine them as gold, and as silver, and they shall offer sacrifices to the Lord in justice. And the sacrifice of Juda and of Jerusalem shall please the Lord, as in the days of old, and in the ancient years, saith the Lord Almighty.
Gospel: Luke 2:22-32
At that time: After the days of Mary’s purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they carried Jesus to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord; and to offer a sacrifice according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons. And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was in him. And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when His parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law: he also took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said: Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word, in peace; because my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; a light to the revelation of the gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.
The Blessed Virgin presented herself and her divine Son at the temple so as not to give scandal to such as were ignorant of their being exempt from the law, to show from the first that Jesus was come to redeem sinners, and to leave us an example of humility and obedience. Mary offered the gift of a pair of doves, like the poor, because she was poor, and was not ashamed to acknowledge it before the world.
Instruction for Women after Childbirth
The law of purification in the Old Testament, it is true, no longer applies to Christian women, because the Church has done away with Jewish ceremonies. But the spirit and intention of that law the Church would yet have complied with. She permits women, therefore, to remain at home, with a good conscience, for six weeks after childbirth, or so long as circumstances may require, without attending divine service, in order to care for their health. This permission is, at the same time, an excellent admonition to women, that, in order to their recovery, they should refrain from anger, from exposure, from hard labor, from injurious food; to men, not to refuse their wives during this period, set apart by God Himself under the Old Law, the rest and attention which their nature requires.
But when this time is past the Church desires that women should, after the example of Mary, repair to the church with their children, to procure the blessing of the priest, to give thanks to God for their safe delivery, to dedicate their children to Him, and to implore of Him, with the priest, grace to bring up their offspring in piety and holiness. In this consists the so-called “churching of women”; and, from what has been said, it is evident, not only that it contains nothing to be ashamed of, but that it should by no means be omitted by such as desire God’s blessing.
The feeble health of both women and children after child-birth is almost always owing to their having injured themselves by want of care.