"I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
About a year ago, I took Father Eliseus to a professional football game. Now since Father Eliseus is from Nigeria where football is actually soccer, he did not know a single thing about our version of football. During the game I kept explaining what was going on. I explained to him that the team with the ball had four chances or "downs" to get ten yards in order to get another four chances to continue to advance the ball down the field. We take these rules and the details of the game for granted until we have to explain them to someone who has no idea what is taking place in front of them. I would imagine that the same thing would happen to me if I ever attended a Cricket match. Slowly but surely, Father began to pick up the nuances of the game both on offense and defense. He would start to react wildly with the rest of us whenever our team did something positive (yes, we were watching the Miami Dolphins) and shake his head with me when the team did something negative (we were playing Tom Brady and the Patriots on Monday Night Football so there was a lot of head shaking). Father Eliseus came to enjoy the game more and more as he started to grasp the details and intricacies of it. It became something exciting for him as he learned more and more. We can apply the same logic to our understanding of the Mass. We cannot enjoy and cherish what we do not understand. So many people complain that Mass is boring or that they "get nothing out of it," but I guarantee you that if you understood the details of the Mass and why we do the things we do up here on the altar and frame them within a historical perspective and within God's plan of salvation then you will begin to enjoy and cherish this blessed event even more.
Every single gesture and prayer that is done up here has a meaning and a story. Every week we encounter the Lord in a new way through the different Scripture readings that we hear. Every week we get to partake in this heavenly bread that in today's gospel Jesus calls his "flesh for the life of the world." Stop and think about the magnitude of Jesus' words today: "whoever eats this bread will live forever." He gives us life through this Eucharist. He remains in us and we remain in him. If we truly understood these words, if we truly understood the Mass, we would be hungering for this divine food every single day. What is going up here is a divine exchange between God and his people. Jesus gives us his very flesh to eat so that we may be glorified and become like him! Notice that I used the word "flesh" instead of "body." St. John does the same thing in today's gospel. Instead of using the Greek word "soma" which means "body," which St. Paul used to refer to the Eucharist, John uses the Greek word "sarx" which mean "flesh" which has a negative connotation in the Greek as it does in the English language. When we think of "the flesh," we normally think of sins against the 6th commandment. But St. John uses this word in order to dispel any notions that were prevailing at the time that the flesh was weak. His uses the word "sarx" in the first chapter when he writes that the Word became flesh to dwell among us. Now he uses it again to describe the Eucharist and the bread that we eat to emphasize that if we eat of this flesh we will live forever. The flesh is no longer considered something negative or sinful, but now the flesh has been glorified by Jesus himself. It's little things like this that help us understand the Mass better and allow us to enter more fully into the divine mysteries that we celebrate here every Sunday because it is at this altar that we encounter and touch God himself by receiving the Eucharist. If we truly grasped this reality along with everything else that transpires during this divine exchange, then our experience of the Mass will never be the same.