By Christian Bergmann
“As soon as is possible, we must return to the Eucharist with a purified heart, with a renewed amazement, with an increased desire to meet the Lord.” Earlier in September, Cardinal Robert Sarah, arguably the finest spiritual writer on the scene today, published these words to encourage the faithful to return to Mass as safely as possible. The cardinal said that this time apart from the Eucharist has been an opportunity for us to rediscover its "importance, beauty, and immeasurable preciousness.”
I would like to reflect a little on the significance the Eucharist has for us, especially when shaped by deep biblical intuitions. As with most things in the Catholic universe, it’s important to take a step back and follow the roots of what we say, do and believe back to Jewish antiquity – the Old Testament.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Temple in the life of the Jewish people. Everything was built around this sacred space. It was the centre of their existence. Political, religious, economic – it didn’t matter. Why? The Temple was of supreme importance because deep within dwelt what they referred to as “the glory of the Lord”: the manifestation of His presence.
The whole of creation, we read in Genesis, was intended to be a kind of temple, a place where God could dwell – or “rest” – with his people. But in the wake of Original Sin, everything fell apart. So, God chose Israel to be a special people through which he would established a new creation. God dwelt amongst them, mostly in a tent as they wandered through the desert. Then King Solomon built a temple. And this temple centred their existence, because God, the creator of the heavens and the earth, had chosen to make His presence manifest and dwell amongst them. It was a singular, incredible privilege that defined who they were.
However, later in Jewish history, something strange happens. We read in the prophet Ezekiel that the idolatry of the Jewish people becomes so bad – their abandonment of the living God had become so pervasive – that this “glory of the Lord”, His holy presence, what defined them as a people, left the Temple (Ezekiel 10). It just up and left.
After this point, the Jewish people awaited the return of the glory of the Lord. Fundamental to the novelty and excitement of the New Testament is that God’s holy presence did in fact return, but in a strange and unexpected way in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
When Jesus is presented at the Temple in the Gospel of Luke, he is described by Simeon as “glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). This should tell us everything about Jesus’ significance: God’s holy presence has returned to the Temple in this young child. Except – in another bizarre twist – Jesus replaces the Temple with himself as the crucified and risen Lord.
As I reflect on this incredible legacy and the significance of who Jesus is, I can’t help but think: this holy presence of God, around which Israel built their existence and defined themselves as a people, comes to me in the humble form of the Eucharist. How often do I reverence this mystery as I should? The glory of the Lord that once resided in the Temple now comes to dwell in me. How much does this centre my existence? The Jews built everything around it! What do I do? Do I treat this as the privilege that it is?
Too often the answer is no. Maybe now, having fasted from the Eucharist during this pandemic, together we can reverence the Eucharist for the truly incredible mystery that it is.