Dear friends, so much has been on our minds and in our hearts these past few months – uncertainties and fears, as well as hopes and dreams. We’ve witnessed a worldwide pandemic that has affected every household and, more recently, we’ve seen the tragedy of violence on our streets. There’s a longing for some kind of return to normality, even if we’re not really sure what that ‘new normal’ might look like, what we might want to carry forward and what we might want to leave behind.
When the Government closed places of worship to control the spread of Covid-19 and save lives, it meant that Catholics across our country could no longer attend Holy Mass or receive the Eucharist. I know that for so many, losing this particular part of normality, this anchor for living, has proved incredibly difficult. We all understand the seriousness of the pandemic, but hardly a day has gone by without at least one person writing to express their pain at not being able to go to Mass. This has touched me very deeply. It speaks of the intense Eucharistic yearning that we have as Catholics.
Put simply, because we love the Lord Jesus, therefore we love the Mass. We know the Lord Jesus only ever speaks the truth. When He said ‘This is my body,’ ‘This is my blood,’ ‘Do this in remembrance of me,’ His words were and are true, and we have taken Him at His word ever since.
It’s often said, beautifully so, that participation in the Mass in the hallmark of Catholic faith. In other words, it signals the authenticity of belief. And yet a hallmark is stamped on the outside of something precious while, in truth, the Mass defines and shapes us profoundly on the inside. We have brothers and sisters in faith who were martyred for love of the Eucharist. It shouldn’t surprise us that something so central to our discipleship, but temporarily absent, leaves us feeling dislocated and incomplete.
Dear friends, this experience is far from hopeless. There is a yearning in our hearts; a Eucharistic yearning; a yearning for Christ. Isn’t a most wonderful thing to yearn for our Eucharistic Lord, whose flesh is real food and whose blood is real drink?
There is no substitute for physically attending Mass, but we have been sustained during lockdown knowing that Mass is being celebrated each day in our parishes, for the ‘redemption of our souls and in hope of health and well-being.’ (EP 1) And what consolation it’s brought us to participate virtually in the Mass, as we do now, knowing we’re united in a bond of spiritual communion, united in Christ, united with Our Lady and the Saints in the heavenly kingdom.
From tomorrow, it becomes possible for our churches to start reopening for individual prayer. This won’t happen everywhere immediately. But why does it matter for us to be able to enter our churches again? It matters because it allows us to draw near to Christ who is really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
All our personal and family prayer is orientated towards encountering the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. Our Eucharistic yearning is an interior homing instinct. What comfort we find by entering the presence of Christ, who dwells with us in the Tabernacle, who is exposed for our adoration in the Monstrance. The sanctuary lamp is like a lighthouse in reverse. Instead of warning us away, it pulls us close. The living flame signals the living presence of the living Lord. Before Him we pour out our hearts. We talk to our best friend, who also happens to be our Saviour. We tell Him, without camouflage, what’s really going on: what gets us down; what makes us sad; what lifts our spirit as we say ‘thank you, Lord Jesus’ – thank you that you see me and hear me; thank you that when you said, ‘I am with you always,’ you meant it and you are here now; thank you that you wait for me with loving, healing mercy; thank you for being delighted when I stay a while in your presence.
My brothers and sisters, it is a gift of faith to believe the Lord Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament. In this time of anticipation, as we look forward to our churches reopening and, in due course, a return to the Sacraments, our Eucharistic yearning glows and grow within us.
But what might it mean to have a Eucharistic yearning? Perhaps I can share four possible facets of this inexhaustible jewel.
- First, our Eucharistic yearning knows that when we next participate in the Mass we will be taken to Calvary, to the Sacrifice of Christ, in His body and His blood, offered, once and for all, on the cross. In this offering of the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation, our Eucharistic yearning desires that fulfilment which comes from entering into the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection.
- Second, our Eucharistic yearning seeks Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. We know we can, and should, pray anywhere and everywhere. But Christ’s presence in the Eucharist surpasses all other kinds of presence. (cf. Mysterium Fidei, 38). The Blessed Sacrament is Christ’s presence ‘par excellence.’ (MF, 38) Our Eucharistic yearning searches that deep consolation which comes from being physically and prayerfully present to Christ who is really and truly sacramentally present to us.
- Third, our Eucharistic yearning, rooted in the food and drink of eternal life, recognises that praying ‘give us, this day, our daily bread’ has consequences for the poor. Yearning for heavenly food and drink, carries with it an earthly concern to feed the hungry and quench the thirsty. Our Eucharistic yeaning propels us to work for justice and against poverty. When we pray ‘Blessed be Jesus in the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar,’ we should remember, and add, and ‘Blessed be Jesus in the poorest of the poor.’
- Fourth, our Eucharistic yearning is oriented towards unity. ‘That they all may be one,’ prayed the Lord Jesus as He said farewell to His friends. St Oscar Romero, whose shrine is here in this Cathedral, once preached: ‘We who are from different countries, different races, and different categories are like those grains of wheat – gathered together in our faith, moulded by love and hope, united by Christ in the Eucharist.’ The unity of our Eucharistic faith, our togetherness in the family of Christ’s body, compels us to mend what is broken in the Church and in the world, to gather fragments and build bridges in our lives, towards a new future.
Dear friends, even when we can, please God, soon pray before the Blessed Sacrament again and, eventually, attend Mass in our churches, we should, nonetheless, always nurture our Eucharistic yearning. This is not pie in the sky. This is truth in our hearts.