Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
As I approach the Eucharistic table, do I marvel, am I transformed?
We are now in the 4th week of the our five-week reflection on the Holy Eucharist, “the bread that came down from heaven” (Jn 6:41). In the first week, we reflected on how God multiplied the gifts we bring to Him. In the second week, we reflected on our motivations for bringing forward our gifts. Last week, we reflect our expectations as we bring forth the gifts. Throughout our reflection, one thing is clear, our gifts are necessarily inadequate; our motivations and expectations not always pure. This is why we need Jesus. To emphasise this point, we ended last week’s reflection on Jesus’ proclamation that He is “the bread that came down from heaven” (Jn 6:41). As we present our gifts, we invite Jesus in; and through Him, we complete and perfect our offerings. At the Eucharistic table, by the grace of God, the earthly bread we present are mingled and then transformed into the heavenly bread of God.
As in the previous week, we would ordinarily be continuing our Eucharistic reflection by reflecting on John 6:51-58. However, with this Sunday coinciding with the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we will reflect on the Eucharist in the context of the life the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the role she plays in our salvation.
As Catholics, we often say that on the Eucharistic table, the bread is the true flesh of Jesus; the wine the true blood of Jesus. The question is: while we say this on our lips, do we believe in our hearts? To truly believe this in our hearts, we need to open our eyes of faith. For to our naked eye, it is still ordinary bread, ordinary wine. Let us ask ourselves: do I gaze at the ordinariness of the bread and wine before me and marvel at Jesus’ presence in His flesh and blood? Even more importantly, as I partake in the bread and the wine, as Jesus becomes physically mingled into my being, do I let Him transform me? Do I share in His love and His mercy? Do I proclaim His truth? If I truly believe that the Eucharist is the flesh and blood of Jesus, then the answers to these questions must be an unequivocal “yes”. But does it? And if not, why not?
The First Reading presented us a eschatological vision, where “the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple” (verse 11:19). What was in the Ark of Covenant? As St Paul explains in his letter to the Hebrews, “In it stood the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which there were a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant” (Heb 9:4) Reflecting on this, St Thomas Aquinas said that the three items personifies Jesus – Aaron’s rod signifies Jesus’ priestly ministry, the tablets inscribe Word of God who is Jesus, and the manna are food from heaven, the Eucharist. As the First Reading passage continues, it reveals that the ark is in fact “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birthpangs, in the agony of giving birth” (verse 12:1-2). As exclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI, “Mary, expecting the birth of her Son Jesus, is the Holy Ark that contains the presence of God”. Mary is the bearer of Jesus in His flesh and in His blood. In truth, she is the bearer of the Eucharist.
The Gospel recalls the story of the Visitation. Mary, carrying the flesh and blood of Jesus in her womb, visited her cousin Elizabeth who was blessed with a long-awaiting pregnancy in her old age. Elizabeth was one who truly believe that Mary was carrying the flesh and blood of God in her womb (verse 43). As we ought to be at the Eucharistic table, Elizabeth marvelled at this encounter. On hearing Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped in her womb (verse 41). In her mother’s womb, John the Baptist too marvelled at the presence of Jesus. Elizabeth asked Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (verse 42-44) And Mary, equally marvelled, replied, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (verse 46-48). It was truly a marvelled encounter, similar to our encounter with Jesus each time we approach the Eucharistic table.
Today, the Ark of Covenant exists in our church in the form of the Tabernacle, which holds Jesus in His flesh and blood. The Ark of Covenant exists in our body, as we partake in the Eucharist. And the Ark of Covenant exists in our heart, as we take Mary into the home of our hearts (Jn 19:27). If we are conscious of it, the marvel of God is in and around us all the time. But we are not always conscious of Jesus’ presence. The reason is because we are constrained. We are limited by our past, the baggage we carry, and our preoccupation with materialism and individualism.
In John 6:51-58, the Eucharistic discourse we would have been reflecting this week, Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (verse 51) This was a great challenge to the people, and they asked, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (verse 52) They could not understand how they could eat the flesh of a living person, not to mention the grotesque nature of the very act. They were so focus on their personal limitations that they lost sight of the spiritual transformation that Jesus was promising them. So Jesus pointed out to them, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” (verse 56-57)
What about me? Do I carry past baggage and past hurts, am I so attracted to the materialistic lure of the world, so much so that they blind me from seeing the Lord? When I approach the Eucharistic table, am so focus on my limitations that I lost sight of the spiritual transformation that Jesus brings? My brothers and sisters, in truth, many of us are. That is why we can come to mass day-in-day-out, week-in-week-out; yet our life has not been transformed, we are not healed, we are not freed. In the Second Reading, St Paul wrote, “since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being” (verse 21). By human sins, my sins and the sins of those around me, death comes into my life. To be resurrected from our death, we need to open our heart to Jesus. My brothers and sisters, what we were in the past, what we did, and what others did to us does not matter. Jesus can make us whole again. He is reaching out to us. Healing is on offer each time we approach the Eucharistic table. Take that first step; invite Him in through the Eucharist; reflect on the Scripture daily; encounter Him. “For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (verse 22).
Oh Blessed Virgin Mary, bearer of the Eucharist, pray for us.