Today we will be praying the First Eucharistic Prayer, the most ancient of the Eucharistic prayers, known as the Roman Canon. The first part of the prayer sets out that we are praying to God the Father through Jesus Christ. We are praying that the Father will accept the offering that we make, the offerings that are our lives in Christ. Offerings that are made in Christ through our baptism and purified through both baptism and the sacrament of reconciliation.
The prayer then specifies that we make this offering first of all for the Church. The prayer for the Church first of all is that God will be in control, that the Church will truly be ordered by God. The prayer then next focuses on the key places of this governance, God working through the Pope and through our Bishop. However, the prayer then moves on to consider everyone who has a teaching role – which is everyone because we are all baptised as prophets. And here there is a very interesting description of those who have this teaching role, namely, all of us.
The prayer reads: “and all those, who holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith”. There seems to be a confusion of images: there is simultaneously a “holding on” and a “handing on”. How does one hold onto something that one is handing on, or, vice versa, how can one hand one what one is holding on?
It reminds me of a number of encounters I have had this week. A number of people came up to me to express their thanks to the parish and all the volunteers for the wonderful Easter services we had. This was truly a blessed experience and clearly something that people felt was precious, something to hold onto.
However, I have also had a number of chats with people who were worried about handing on the faith. Some people have worried about their jobs, fearing that the expression of their faith was no longer welcome; indeed, that it might be even a threat to their families’ financial security. Others have spoken to me about their concern for basic matters of truth, that the world seems to be turning upside down, where basic words are losing their meaning and people feel afraid even to state what only a few years ago seemed so obvious to everyone.
And so we have the challenge of holding onto something precious, and the challenge of handing on what is most precious to those in our care. Is this in the end a simply contradiction? In the end, do we have to settle for one or the other? Do we have to protect what is precious and give up on handing it on? Or do we have to focus on handing it on and prepare to get what is precious dirty? As I said, is this in some sense a performative contradiction, or is there a deeper mystery? I am sure you can guess which one I prefer.
Last Sunday, we had the Good News of the Resurrection. This Sunday we have doubting Thomas. This Sunday we have the pristine early Church. For the rest of the Acts of the Apostles, we have persecution, murder, scandal and trial. It is always the case. As with the Transfiguration, we experience the top of the mountain and want to say there – keep what is precious safe. But as also with the Transfiguration, we have to go back down the mountain, and hand on what we have received.
And this is the mystery of the Cross. It is precisely in holding on to what is precious, in staying close to Christ, in obeying his commandments, in living according to the precepts of the Church, that we show how precious Christ’s life is to others. But it is also in entering the furnace of society, in entering into the public square of debate, in taking the blows of argument and returning back love and forgiveness that we hand on Christ’s peace, the peace that he breathes into the world.
This peace that he breathes into the world is the Holy Spirit. And the joy that comes with the Spirit is not the sugar rush of optimism. It is the true food of the Eucharist. The knowledge that we are loved beyond death. That the gift of our lives, when made in Christ, is kept safe by the Father. That when we meet with our neighbours to bear witness to Jesus, we are free to hand on everything because we have already given it away.
In fact, this is the true paradox, we only keep our faith in the act of handing it on, and we only hand it on by remaining true to Christ. “He who keeps his life will lose it, he who loses his life for my sake will keep it.”
Let’s pray then, at the end of the Easter Octave, that we will image Christ to the doubting Thomas that is our world. Let us keep the faith. Let us accept the wounds that come with being Christian. And let these wounds, as with Christ’s for Thomas, become the chief testimony of our love of Christ and of how much we love our brothers and sisters. May our whole lives become the Eucharist.