The Eucharist and Healing

Let me begin with three short extracts from the Word of God, for the Word of God is our Bread of Life:

The night before Jesus died, ‘He took Bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying “Take and eat – this is my Body”. Then he took a cup of wine, gave thanks and shared it, saying “Take and drink – this is my Blood”.’

On the first Easter evening, the two disciples at Emmaus ‘recognised Him in the Breaking of the Bread.’

Those converted on the first Pentecost day ‘devoted themselves … to the Breaking of Bread.’

For over 46 years now as a priest I have ‘broken bread’ and ‘shared the cup’ with God’s people almost every day. Over those years I have pondered more and more this first name given to what we now commonly call the Mass or the Eucharist – the ‘Breaking of Bread’. Breaking is a dramatic word – and it is a powerful action at the central moment of our worship of God. 

Jesus Christ is alive among us as the ‘broken one’, ‘by whose wounds we are healed’. He comes to us in broken bread to heal our brokenness, the wounded one who heals our wounds. Jesus the Good Samaritan ‘pours out His Blood’ into the wounds of a world beaten up by the shedding of too much blood by our wars and injustices. In the parish community I serve, each time I ‘break the bread and share the cup’ I am very conscious that so many of my sisters and brothers gathered around the Table have fled places of torture, political imprisonment, genocide and persecution: so many scars of body, mind and memory, so much trauma is brought to our Table, to our community. It gives new meaning to ‘the Breaking of Bread’. 

So I passionately believe the Eucharist is the great Healing Sacrament. When we gather as a community to share the Mass, to break bread together, to share the cup among us, we bring all that we are, all that the world around us has shaped us to become. In the words of the hymn ‘we come to share our story, we come to break the bread, we come to know our rising from the dead’. So we bring, each one of us, our particular story of joy and sorrow, our gifts and our wounds, uniting it with THE STORY of Jesus suffering on the Cross, his redeeming death and life giving and transforming resurrection. We unite our pain – bodily illness,  mental anguish, hurting hearts, painful memories – with the wounded broken Christ we encounter in the Eucharist. 

And in the Eucharist we meet the suffering and dying Christ whose love transforms those very wounds of the Cross into wellsprings of healing and new life in his Resurrection. Indeed the first disciples recognised that He is risen because He shows them his wounded hands, side and feet. Those wounds of human brutality become wellsprings of healing and peace. Just as bread and wine are transformed into the dying and Rising Christ, so the wounds of human suffering are touched by the loving power of Resurrection and we find healing and wholeness. That is why the Church’s liturgy invites us to say those powerful words before receiving the Communion – ‘say but the Word and I shall be healed!’. We need to utter these words with faith, with the expectation that God is touching us with healing and enabling us to grow into a deeper wholeness. 

In a Mass dedicated to Healing we have a special opportunity to ‘come and share our story’, to speak of our pain and anguish and receive prayer and ministry directly into our wounded self. I believe we need more opportunities to come together as communities of healing, communities of wounded healers in THE WOUNDED HEALER, JESUS CHRIST! As Pope Francis has said, each parish, each Christian community, needs to be a ‘field hospital’ where the wounded of our world know they will find welcome and non-judgemental acceptance, a willingness to listen to the wounds that are brought to us (to Christ among us), and an enduring love that will hold them until they experience healing, inner freedom and hope. When Jesus invited Thomas the apostle to reach out and touch His wounds, the Lord was challenging us, the Apostolic Church, never to be afraid to reach out and touch our wounded world, our pain-filled brothers and sisters so as to bring them healing. Remember that Jesus also said ‘whatever you do to these sisters and brothers of mine, you do to Me!’ Touching their wounds is for us to touch His with a love that can make whole!

The Eucharist is not some magical presence – no! it is the gathering of a loving community that is the Body of Christ, and grows as such by sharing the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist we celebrate becomes healing for each other and others as we allow ourselves to become ‘Living Eucharist’ – as the great African bishop, St Augustine, said – ‘may we become bread in God’s hands to be broken and given for the life of the world’. The Healing power of the Eucharist is the Healing power of an authentically Eucharistic community. The Bread we break around the Table of the Lord is Bread of Healing, Bread of Freedom, Christ’s Bread of Love for the world. Will we become that Living Bread for others? The Cup that we share is the Cup of the Lord’s suffering, which is the suffering of the world He welcomes into His opened Heart – will we who drink His Blood open our hearts to the suffering of others as He does and, like the Good Samaritan, pour ourselves out as the Divine Wine into the wounds of those who come to us, who have so often been ‘beaten up’ by the world? We are not a Eucharistic Community if we too ‘pass by on the  other side’. We are called by the Eucharist to be (again in the words of Pope Francis) ‘a messy church’.

And we must not forget – or neglect – the enduring Presence of the Eucharistic Christ in the tabernacles of our churches. The still Presence of such blessing waiting lovingly for us to ‘come and watch one hour’. Gently He cries out to us ‘Come to Me all who labour and burdened, and I will give you rest, peace, healing.’ To rest in the still gentle Presence of Divine Love in the Eucharist reserved in our tabernacles or in Exposition for Adoration is truly a ‘healing balm’ that can quieten our troubled minds, still our hurting hearts. Regular times of Adoration in our parishes can be power houses of prayer and intercession serving the mission of our communities, the healing ministry of our parishes. For me personally as a priest, spending time each day in the silence of Adoration before the Eucharistic Christ, this Sacrament of Blessing, is the source of energy for my ministry, and for healing for my life.

My hope is that the Eucharistic Congress will not only deepen our experience of and love for the Christ we meet in ‘the Breaking of Bread’, but will also challenge us to be missionary and healing Eucharistic communities – places where Jesus will be recognised as truly alive and life-giving among us – authentic Eucharistic Communities, called, blessed, broken and given for the healing of our world.

Questions to help reflection:

[1] Do I experience Jesus alive, healing and strengthening me through my sharing in the Eucharist?

[2] How can I help my parish become more deeply a Eucharistic community of Healing?

[3] How can the Mass we celebrate in our parishes enable people to ‘come and share their story’ more effectively and so find healing?

[4] How is the pain of the world embraced in the Mass I experience and share?

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