17 August 2012

'The strength that empowered me was the Eucharist.' Sunday Reflections, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Sandhill Mass Rock ('Carraig an Aifrinn', in Irish), County Donegal, Ireland.

During the 17th century, when Catholics in Ireland were persecuted, Mass was often celebrated in remote places, with a Mass rock as the altar.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA) 

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel John 6:51-58 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Jesus said to the crowds: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever." 

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has been central to the lives of Catholic Christians from the very beginning. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in Article 3, The Sacrament of the Eucharist, No 1382 says The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord's body and blood. But the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us.

Mass stone, Scotland

Some are called to share in the sacrifice in a very real way. In the video above there is a scene of a priest in mid-17th century Ireland celebrating Mass on a Mass rock. In Scotland these were known as Mass stones.

A Mass in the trenches during the Great War (1914-18)

Fr William Doyle SJ (3 March 1873 - 16 August 1917)

In a letter to his father in Dublin Father William Doyle SJ, a chaplain with the British Army in Belgium wrote about one of the last times he celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He himself was killed by a German shell on 16 August 1917.

Close beside us I had found the remains of a dug-out which had been blown in the previous day and three men killed. I made up my mind to offer up Mass there for the repose of their souls. In any case I did not know a better hole to go to, and to this little act of charity I attribute the saving of my life later on in the day. I had barely fitted up my altar when a couple of shells burst overhead, sending the clay tumbling down. For a moment I felt very tempted not to continue as the place was far from safe. But later I was glad I went on for the Holy Souls certainly came to my aid as I did to theirs.

Death at the end of Mass in China

In his book The Laughter and the Weeping Columban Fr Luke O'Reilly describes the last Mass of Fr Timothy Leonard (photo above), the first Columban to die violently. Father time was ordained for the Diocese of Limerick in 1918 and immediately joined the newly established Society of St Columban. He was a member of the first group of Columbans to go to China in 1920.

(Fr) Tim Leonard, the first Columban martyr, was killed by the communists in July 1929. He was pastor of Nanfeng, about 30 miles from Nancheng. the communist guerrillas had made a raid on the town and his information seemed to have been that they had left at dawn on this particular day in July (17 July). He decided to ring the bell to inform that people that morning Mass would take pace as usual. The bell attracted the attention of some of the communist stragglers and they decided to fire shots through a window into the church. (Father) Mick Moran, who was a curate (assistant priest) in the Nanfeng area at the time, told me afterwards that Mao Tse Tung (Mao Zedong) was in the party who fired the shots that July morning. Anyhow, some of the party entered the church, around the time of Communion, presumably, because they scattered the Sacred Hosts on the floor and Tim Leonard tried to prevent them physically from desecrating the Blessed Sacrament. the communists stabbed him and took him away and we do not know how long he lived but it does seem that they hacked him to death. The Nanfeng Catholics regarded Tim Leonard as a martyr.

A Mass in Belsen Concentration Camp

Memorial Stone at Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, Germany

Retired Northern Ireland politician James Molyneaux, now Lord Molyneaux, was among the British soldiers who liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in May 1945. He wrote about this in The Daily Telegraph (London) on 27 January 2004. I have seldom read a more powerful testimony to the centrality of the Mass in our lives than what he wrote:

The most moving experience came on the second morning as I was walking from what had been the luxury SS barracks which our troops had transformed into a hospital. My attention was drawn to two packing cases covered by a worn red curtain. A young Polish priest was clinging to this makeshift altar with one hand, while celebrating Mass. Between his feet lay the body of another priest who probably died during the night. No one had had the energy to move the body.

I had no difficulty in following the old Latin Mass, having been educated at St James's Roman Catholic School in County Antrim, and, although an Anglican, I had gained a working knowledge of all the rituals. Still supporting himself against the altar, the young priest did his best to distribute the consecrated elements. Some recipients were able to stumble over the rough, scrubby heathland. Others crawled forward to receive the tokens and then crawled back to share them with others unable to move. Some almost certainly passed on to another - probably better - world before sunset. Whatever one's race or religion one can only be uplifted and impressed by that truly remarkable proof of the ultimate triumph of good over evil

As an Anglican James Molyneaux has a different understanding of 'the consecrated elements' than Catholics have. We believe that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. But his deep reverence for what he saw - prisoners who had been starved sharing the Body of Christ with one another - is very evident.

Celebrating Mass in a Vietnamese Prison
'The strength that empowered me was the Eucharist'

In Preaching Hope from Prison François-Xavier Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuán, Coadjutor Archbishop of Thành-Phô Hô Chí Minh (formerly Saigon), writes about celebrating Mass in prison:

The day I was arrested I had to leave everything behind me. The following day I was allowed to write and ask my friends to bring my clothes, toothpaste and other personal needs. I also asked them to include some wine ‘as medicine.’ My friends understood. They sent me a little bottle of Mass-wine labeled ‘Medicine for Stomach Aches’ and also some hosts hidden in a little burner used to keep the humidity at bay.

Every night I kept a tiny piece of bread for the following day’s Eucharist. And so every day for many years I had the joy of celebrating Mass with three drops of wine and one of water in my palm. This was my altar, my cathedral. For me it was the true medicine of body and soul something to stave off death in order to live for ever in Christ.

A Joyful Celebration of Mass Amidst Drug Wars in Mexico

Fr Kevin Mullins is an Australian Columban who is parish priest of our only parish in Mexico, in Ciudad Juarez, just over the border from El Paso, Texas, USA, where the Columbans also work. Father Kevin was featured recently on the news in Australia.

For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 

No comments: