Ite, Missa Est
In the 1970s, a journalist visited Mother Teresa at her hospice in Kolkata to observe and join the Sisters of Charity in their ministry to the sick and dying of that community. After days of following her and noting how every day began with Mass and an hour of adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the reporter quietly said to her, “Mother, I can’t help noticing that you spent valuable time at Mass and more time in prayer. There is so much to do, so much suffering; wouldn’t your time be better spent with those to whom you are ministering?”
“Young man,” replied Mother, “don’t you understand that without beginning each day with Jesus in Communion, we could do nothing?”
Mother (now Saint) Teresa captured the hearts and imaginations of people throughout the world with her selfless, seemingly tireless work with the poorest of the poor. In that interview, she gave the secret to her success: the Eucharist.
In it, she highlighted the connection between the Eucharist and service that goes back to the Apostles, particularly St John. In his version of the Last Supper, the evangelist never recorded the actual breaking of the Bread, instead focusing on those aspects of the spiritual life that spring from the sacrament Jesus instituted there.
At the beginning of the Supper, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, taking on the task of the lowest household slave by cleansing others’ feet of the dirt and filth of first-century Palestinian byways. In doing so, He sent two important messages: first, He gave His mandatum--His command to minister to others in their need--and showed there is no act of service beneath the dignity of His followers (“I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, so you should also do” [Jn.13:15]). Second, He showed an unmistakable connection between being fed and feeding, of receiving the Eucharist and serving others.
To receive Communion, therefore, is to reach out in communion to the “least” of Jesus’s sisters and brothers.
This reality is enshrined in the term “Mass” itself. Latin students and more “seasoned” Catholics will recall that the term comes from the phrase Ite, missa est, announced by the priest at the end of the Tridentine Liturgy. Commonly translated as “the Mass is ended,” the words literally mean “Go, it is sent.” The “it” sent forth is the self-giving love of God we have received--in the Body and Blood of Christ and in the Word of God--and which we are compelled to share. The Eucharist, after all, is a gift we are meant to use to benefit others. As I’ve long told my students, one of the most important parts of the Mass is the ending, the time when we have become--in the spirituality of the Christian Action Team (C.A.T.)--the “face of Christ” to those we are called to serve.
That spirituality revolves around the acronym “P.E.R.S.O.N.” (Prayerful, Eucharistic, Relational, Sacramental, Open to all, and Neighborly), with the second characteristic, “Eucharistic,” being perhaps the most prophetic and powerful. One sees the inseparable connection between Eucharist and service when L’Arche members break bread with our sisters and brothers with developmental disabilities, where our students find themselves more ministered to than ministering, as their moderator, Amy Carroll, points out. The link is further highlighted by C.A.T moderator, John Gill ’97, on the first Saturday of Christmas break when hundreds pack the chapel to celebrate Mass before roaming the streets of Cleveland to “feed the hungry” during the Rini Family Christmas Food Drive. The relationship between “being fed and feeding” is made clear by Labre moderator Amanda Martin when she gathers the team before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament each week and connects the Mass readings of the day with the food and friendship they will share with our friends on the streets.
And I could go on.
If those with faith in the Real Presence of Jesus are able to see Him literally present in what St. Thomas called the “veil” of bread and wine, how much easier it is to see Him in those who are hungry, homeless, and dying? How important it is to see Him in those who are lonely, abandoned, and hopeless; to minister to them, to be with them.
This is what Holy Communion compels us to do.
Like Jesus, Who offered His Body and Blood on the cross for our salvation and Who offers the same Body and Blood in sacramental form for us today, those of us who eat from the altar of the Lord are called to do nothing less than give our lives away to others, especially those who are most in need. Mother Teresa once remarked that “[t]he Eucharist and the poor are inseparable...we can see it clearly in the Gospels. [For] the One Who said ‘This is My Body’ is the One Who said ‘I was hungry and you gave Me to eat.’”
So go… we’ve been sent.
A.M.D.G. / B.V.M.H.
In the spirit of being fed and feeding others, the St Benedict Joseph Labre Ministry to the Homeless is collecting items as part of their fall donation drive and is looking for help. Please consider donating any of the following to the cause:
- Size M-3X sweatshirts, sweatpants, jeans, short-sleeved and long-sleeved T-shirts (new or like new);
- TRAVEL SIZED: deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, lotion;
- Feminine hygiene products;
- Winter jackets and hand warmers.
Donations can be put in PLASTIC BAGS and left in the bin in the RADE DINING HALL.
(Contact maldrett@ignatius with any questions.)