Eating the word of God


Why do we eat? To stay alive, of course! But when we invite someone to eat with us, we’re doing more than just eating to stay alive. We are eating to affirm our friendship, our common humanity ; we are eating to show support and solidarity with one another. The meal can be very simple indeed. The starving who share a few grains of rice or the family having a big celebration for their daughter’s wedding are basically doing the same thing; and what we do when we eat together like this is a powerful illustration of what Mass is for.

But watch out here, because in a strange way we eat twice not once at Mass; for God is present with us and comes to us in two distinct ways. You may think only of the moment when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, either by making our Communion or simply by being present, but actually Christ also feeds us in the first half of the Mass; for we are supposed not only to listen to God through the Bible and the Homily and the Creed, but actually to receive him into our being, to feed on him as the food of eternal life.

The heavenly banquet that we hear of today in our Gospel (Matthew 22:1-14) and our 1st Reading (Isaiah 25:6-10) is not just an image of life with God after we have died, but is also an image of life with God now. Jesus says “Anyone who believes in me HAS eternal life” (John 3:36) – Note my stress on the present tense – HAS eternal life. So, just as we eat ordinary food to sustain ordinary life, so we must eat spiritual food to sustain eternal life, which is life with God, in and through Jesus, now.

So what do we do in an ordinary meal that can teach us more of what the heavenly meal is all about?  First, that we have to make the effort to go to it. If a friend invites us to eat, and we’re always too busy to go, it’s clear what we think of that friend! So it’s no good kidding ourselves that we are close to God, and then keep missing out on his invitations.  Secondly, we have to appreciate all the Courses that are given to us – more on that in a minute. And third, the meal is given to us both to build up our unity and friendship with those who eat with us, and so that we may go out in the strength that this food and this friendship gives us, to live out our lives to the full. Note that the first thing I ask a student who is stressed by work deadlines, or exams, is “Are you eating properly?” 

So there is a pattern at Mass that repeats itself. We come – we offer ourselves as God’s friends – we receive, we take within ourselves the food we are given – we go out and use what we have received in our life in the week ahead. It repeats itself because, as I said a moment ago, there are two parts to the Mass, and each is an important way in which we are fed by God.  This is why those who arrive at Mass too late to hear the Gospel should not normally receive Holy Communion. It is like saying to a friend at a meal, “I will eat your food but I am not prepared to talk to you or to listen to what you have to say.” A strange meal where one eats and does not talk!

What we need then to remember here is that we are sent out from Mass twice. Once, right at the end, when we receive the Blessing and are told to go in Peace. Remember that “Peace” here does not mean going around being vaguely peaceful. God’s Peace is an active presence, a fullness of his glory, a living out of his will, and in many circumstances that is hardly peaceful!  But we know this, or should know it, from the earlier sending out that takes place after we have been fed with God’s word as we have listened to the Bible. The Homily is meant to show us some way in which our Bible passages speak into our life, and then we respond by affirming our belief as we say the Creed. The Bidding Prayers that follow express our link between what we have heard, and the everyday life of our world – where much prayer and action must be offered to bring God’s love and  support to all who need him. So this, the first “sending out”, the Bidding Prayers, hopefully informs the second sending out, the Blessing and Dismissal at the end of Mass.

That’s why the Bidding Prayers are normally prepared beforehand and read out by an ordinary member of the Church and aim to make some link between the Bible readings we have heard and the things that are happening in the world. In a smaller gathering people can say their own prayers out loud at this point. And the silence in the Bidding Prayers, like the pauses in other places in the Mass, is there to give  us all time to be still with God and to share with him particular things, particular people, that we know of, and who need our prayers.

 Just one more thing! Another word for the Mass is the Liturgy, and the word Liturgy means Action, and this twofold action in Mass therefore has two names – the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Since both Liturgies, are foretastes of God’s heavenly banquet, we need to know that in those days it was the host who provided the wedding garments. We may not notice God clothing us, but if we are not open to God doing this to us in both Liturgies, then we need to ask God to help us to see the Mass in this new  way, so that we are drawn closer and closer to him.


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