Almost on a weekly basis we can hear about medical developments or discoveries that will eradicate particular illnesses or minimise the likelihood of catching them, or reducing their impact on us. Arguably people now live longer on average, and their relatively good condition allows them to enjoy their lives. It seems we are closing in on the moment, when the oldest dream of humanity will come true: the life that never ends.
Since the dawn of humankind people have believed that death cannot be the end of human life as it’s seemed illogical and counterintuitive. But as strong as that belief was so much the reality has been proving the inevitability of death. So, across all the millennia of humankind, there has been the pursuit of extending life beyond death. Some have marked their existence by erecting massive monuments at enormous human and financial cost; others have sought out allegedly magic potions or rituals promising life beyond the grave. Yet seemingly the most common solution has been offered by religion, as indicated by many archaeological finds in very ancient human settlements.
In much tougher circumstances than ours the promise of heavenly peace offered a consolation unavailable in earthly life. Christianity became so popular because it helped to make sense of otherwise senseless suffering and hardship. For the followers of Jesus his passion, death and resurrection have been the source of hope that through their own difficulties united with his they would reach heaven. It’s not a coincidence that in the rich Western European countries with their massive welfare systems religion life is in decline; earthly prosperity makes the heavenly promise redundant. An unfortunate side-effect is a rapidly ageing population; this eventually will lead to the collapse of welfare systems, and have pretty unpredictable but serious social and economic consequences.
Jesus’ promise from today’s gospel is still on offer: ‘Anyone who eats my flesh and rinks my blood has eternal life.’ We, Catholics, believe that Jesus Christ is really and genuinely present in the Eucharist. When He said at the Last Supper: ‘This is my Body; this is my Blood’, he meant exactly that. Since then the Church has held this sacrament in the highest regard as the source of the Christian life and its fulfilment. The Eucharist has been the most attacked and scorned practice of the Church; celebration of this sacrament was banned and priests were persecuted during the Reformation.
I think that in the last 20-30 years many casual Catholics have lost their understanding of Mass. For many it is like Chinese theatre; they see something happening, but have very little or no understanding of what is going on. Consequently the Mass seems to be a rather boring and empty spectacle with old meaningless hymns, uninteresting readings and uninspiring sermons; its appeal is pretty unappealing. Should we change the way we celebrate Mass to encourage younger generations to come along? Surely some minor improvements can be done; but they are secondary to a far more important action that should be taken: we have to help our children and grandchildren to understand the Mass. That’s the real challenge. In order to take it up we need to do two things, and then to pass them on: we have to believe that Jesus is among us, and we have to understand the Mass ourselves. Jesus’ offer of eternal life is so great that it deserves to be shared with each and every one of those we love.