I spent the first 19 years of my life in a country ruled by the communist party; a country with crippling economy, rubbish currency and very limited social liberties. Nobody could legally go abroad without governmental permission; passports were kept locked at police stations. Letters were censored and phone calls eavesdropped on. When people wanted to save money they bought foreign currency, mostly US dollars or German marks – which was illegal. Local currency was just rubbish. But I remember I could buy an ice cream, or a doughnut, or other treats children like. For me a little coin was a passport to a moment of happiness. I started realising the real value of the communist currency – or rather a lack of it – when as teenager I wanted to buy something more than an ice cream – I spent my monthly part-time job wage to buy an album of Sting.
Tonight we’ve gathered in this church to celebrate the Lord’s Last Supper; to recall and to re-live that moment when Jesus established two sacraments: Eucharist and priesthood. Both of them have been rejected and mocked by most dissident movements in the history of the Church; at the same time those two sacraments have seemed to protect the Church against all adversities. Despite ecumenical dialogue still many mock Catholics as wafer-eaters. Many think belief in the permanent presence of Jesus under the kind of consecrated bread and wine is ridiculous. This aspect of our faith has been attacked either from the so-called ‘truly Christian’ point of view or the scientific one. In tonight’s second reading St Paul reminds the Corinthians of the words uttered by Jesus at his Last Supper: ‘Jesus took some bread […] and gave it to his disciples. Take it and eat; This is my body. Then he took a cup and […] gave it to them […] This is my blood.’ (Mt 26:26-28). These words are direct. The bread and wine are not symbols of Jesus’ body and blood – this is real presence. The absence of any physical or chemical change – as claimed by non-believers – after the consecration doesn’t prove anything.
This is a twenty pounds note. I can go with this piece of paper to any shop in the UK and exchange it for a variety of goods, ranging from food to entertainment. And this is apparently an identical piece of paper: the same size, printed with similar pattern. But if I tried to use this anywhere I’d be stopped by the police and accused of forging money. A human being’s decision has turned this printed piece of paper – costing a couple of pence – into something with a real and enormously higher value. This piece of paper has its value because we share the same ‘belief’ with the issuer. But take this note, produced by the Scottish bank, to Poland, and you cannot buy anything, local currency included – there it’s just a piece of junk.
In the Eucharist Jesus gives us his permanent, powerful yet discreet presence. Thanks to the gift of priesthood his words: ‘This is my Body, take it and eat it; this is my Blood, take it and drink it’ are not only an echo from the past long ago, but a gift for here and now. Each one of us has to response to this gift individually with the faith that we share with the whole Church. So when you are presented with the piece of bread along with the words: the body of Christ; when the chalice with wine is offered you along with the words: the blood of Christ; your ‘Amen’ ought to mean: I believe this is true.