FROM A READING FOR MAY 29, THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
'The Twelve came to Him and said, "Send the crowd away...to lodge and get provisions." But He said to them, "You give them something to eat..."' -- Luke 9:12-13


There was once a time in my uncritical life when I thought the Mass I experienced in the 1950s was the exact Mass Jesus had "instituted" during His Last Supper and the Church had faithfully passed on for almost 20 centuries -- including the vestments and Latin.

Then I read theologian Rev. Joseph Jungmann's double-volume work, "The Mass of the Roman Rite." I presume many Vatican II-era bishops also read this Austrian Jesuit's classic work; otherwise, they wouldn't have reformed the Eucharist in the 1960s.

The pre-Vatican II Mass was far removed from the Eucharist Jesus' earliest followers celebrated. To quote Martin Luther's famous 16th-century insight, "The Church had turned an action into a thing." Catholics simply were expected to "attend" or "hear" Mass. The only way they participated in it was to be somehow present when it took place.

As Father Jungmann wrote, during the Renaissance, the Mass was widely regarded as a "performance," on the same level as a play or opera. Especially during "High Mass," people expected to be entertained.

Action word
We find none of this nonsense in Sunday's readings (including Genesis 14:18-20).

For biblical Christians, the Eucharist was an action -- an action in which they not only participated, but in which they died and rose, constantly surfacing the risen Jesus in the process.

Paul zeroes in on the dying dimension in our I Corinthians (11:23-26) passage.

The Eucharist, during Paul's day and age, was akin to a potluck meal: Everyone was expected to bring something and share it with all the participants. The problem in Corinth revolved around certain members -- slaves and the poor -- who couldn't bring anything to share.

Some of the well-to-do not only resented this, they actually told the poor that the Lord's Supper started at 7:30, while they told others it began at 7:00. By the time the former arrived, almost all the food was gone -- and, as the Apostle noted, some people were sitting in the corner, tanked up with wine.

Paul was amazed that certain individuals didn't recognize the body of Christ in the poor -- something he claimed made them unworthy to receive the Eucharist. If the Eucharist is where "you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes," then the Eucharist is also where you die by surfacing the risen Jesus in everyone, including the poor.

Notice in Sunday's Gospel (Luke 9:11b-17) that Jesus doesn't actually feed the crowd personally; His disciples take care of that. His role is to get them to share what little they have with everyone else. He blesses their meager fare, then gives it back to distribute to the crowd.

Sharing time
Luke, along with Mark and Matthew, was convinced the Lord's Supper was the unique place to share ourselves with others. No one is excused simply because "I didn't bring anything." Our evangelists were convinced everyone had something to give. Because that something was blessed by Jesus, it could more than take care of the needs of the people around them.

Since, as Father Jungmann showed, the Lord's Supper eventually devolved into just a one-man show, it's hard to find areas in which we can give ourselves. There's no more potluck meal, no more shared homilies.

Perhaps the only way we can do so today is to be totally open to everyone who celebrates with us. If we don't die enough to ourselves to recognize the risen Jesus in each of them, neither -- according to Paul -- will we be able to recognize Him as present in the bread and wine.