If you have been following Church news in the past week or so you will be aware that an extremely important meeting is currently taking place in Vatican City. This is what we call an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The Synod of Bishops is a permanent structure in the Church, established by Pope Paul VI, who is due to be beatified next Sunday, as a means of fostering communion between the Pope and the bishops of the Catholic Church (c. 342). When the Synod meets it does so in an assembly. This is only the third extraordinary general assembly, to consider a topic of particular importance in the life of the Church, in this case ‘The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization’. The current meeting is in many ways a preparation for the ordinary general assembly which will meet next year after the World Meeting of Families to be held in Philadelphia.
One of the subjects at this meeting, which comprises cardinals and bishops, religious and lay experts, is that of the reception of Holy Communion and the other sacraments by those are married and divorced, and who have subsequently entered into a second union outside the Church. This is understandably causing some tension even if it is heightened by the media frenzy that is being stirred up. We all know people who have been through difficult divorces. Every priest has helped guide people who desire to be faithful to the teaching of the gospel but who have—for one reason or another—ended up in this sort of situation. It is nothing new.
The gospel interpreted and proclaimed consistently by the Church since apostolic times is an unchanging and unchangeable reality, and the Lord’s teaching on this issue is summarized beautifully in the Catechism of the Catholic Church—a book that if you don’t have in your home I urge you to get. The sacraments are a guarantee of God’s faithfulness to us, and so they must be celebrated, but also guarded and protected from abuse and misunderstanding, by the Church’s pastors ‘who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith’ (Canon Romanus). This is why so much is at stake.
During all of this kerfuffle, however, we risk missing something else which the Lord is communicating to us. And that is this: in these discussions we are constantly referred back to an innate knowledge of the supreme beauty and fundamental importance of the great gift of the Most Holy Eucharist. Setting aside for a moment the important questions that are being asked, the ‘silver lining’ of this conversation is an opportunity for us to give thanks for, and rejoice in, the graces given to us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; by our full, conscious, and active participation in the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, and most especially in our reception of the Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity, in that most precious act of Holy Communion.
In the first reading this evening Isaiah prophesies this reality in words that achieve their fullest sense through the lens of faith in Christ: ‘On this mountain’, says the Prophet Isaiah, ‘the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines. […] On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all people, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever’. Where, we might ask then, is this mountain? Where is this place where God is found, where his people are fed, and where death is destroyed?
Of course we know that it is the mountain of the Lord, Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, about which we hear in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 12: 22); what Saint Paul calls, ‘the Jerusalem that is above, our mother’ (Gal. 4: 26). It is the kingdom of heaven described by the Lord in today’s gospel as a wedding feast to which all adorned in the wedding garment, which is the white robe of our baptism, are invited: ‘everything is ready, come to the feast’ (Mt. 22: 4). But that heavenly reality is also brought down into our earthly realm and to a mountain which we ascend with awe and with joy each time we come to the Mass. This is the mountain, the dwelling place of the Most High, where the Lord of hosts provides for his people ‘a feast of rich food and choice wines’ to be our viaticum, our food for the journey, and the means of our sanctification and preparation for heaven itself. This is the place where God reveals himself, where he destroys ‘the veil that veils all people’ and ‘the web that is woven over all nations’, and where by means of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross which is represented for us in the Eucharistic sacrifice, ’death is destroyed’.
This mountain to which we are called is found in the prayer of the psalmist: ‘O sent out thy light and thy truth that they may lead me, and bring me unto thy holy hill and to thy dwelling. And that I may go unto the altar of God, even unto the God of my joy and gladness’ (Ps. 43). And it is to that mountain, which is every altar in every church, that we are bid to come today. It is here that ‘Christ is received, the memory of his passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us’. So may our whole selves be oriented to this reality. May everything that we do, and say, and believe, be a testament to the supreme importance of the Eucharist in our lives. And may we prepare through prayer and the grace of the sacrament of penance to celebrate and receive this greatest of gifts, each and every time in a manner that is fit and worthy of what we know it to be, that by it we may be prepared to reach the fullness of life and to share in the glory of the saints in heaven.