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This Graced Life

Ted Mason reflects on the Eucharist


Ten years ago I was the lone representative of the laity in a group of 36 priests and religious, having just concluded a 30 day retreat. My lay status earned for me the privilege of assisting the main celebrant at the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday night. We had reached the start of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The priest stood at the altar table, the gifts of bread and wine in front of him. He had concluded the Preface and was about to continue the Eucharistic Prayer when he stopped and looked directly at the congregation.

"When I was a missionary in South Korea, I was supported by many people from my home city of Durham. One in particular, a female friend of many years, would go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that I had warm clothes for the severe Korean winter; books for the long dark nights, and home made marmalade for my breakfast table.

She became seriously ill with cancer, and my superior arranged for me to fly home to be at her bedside as she died. As her death approached, I made one last request of her. 'I have nothing,' I said, 'nothing personal to remind me of you, after you have gone.' She smiled, motioned to me to lower my head, and whispered just a few words to me. Now, every time I recall those words (the tears were flowing down his face), she is with me."

There was not a movement or a sound from the congregation. He wiped his face, regathered his composure and continued:

"As Jesus sat with his friends at that last supper, he looked around and saw how unprepared they were for what lay ahead. They had so much still to learn. What else could he do to help them, to ensure they would not forget him? They would need him over and over again in the coming days and weeks. He took the bread in front of him, blessed it, broke it, gave it to them and said, 'Every time you do this, I am with you.' He took the cup in front of him, blessed it, drank from it and passed it to his friends saying, 'Every time you do this, I am with you.'

Again the priest stopped, again he wiped the tears from his face.

"Every time I recall those few precious words given by my friend, she becomes present to me. Jesus went further than word and memory, he gave himself."

He paused again, and then went on with the Eucharistic Prayer.

I have never forgotten the atmosphere of that night. I have lost count of the number of times I have brought to mind the scene of the Last Supper, and imagined the emotions within Jesus as he looked at his little group and contemplated the next few hours. I can sense the fear, the doubt, the anxiety, even the desperation as he searched for that final offering that would save them as a group. I can sense his commitment to the words, "Do this, and I am here."

Perhaps you can understand why the Eucharist has never been the same for me, since that night.

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