“We easily think of the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist as something holy, as something filled with God’s life – and rightly so. The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Yet, in the Eucharist, God the Father likes to start with something that comes from us – with something human.
“[In the same way, during our Eucharistic celebration], God the Father starts with the human – the bread and wine on the altar, and the bread and wine of our human lives – and brings out the beyond-the-human, the divine, in them. Bread and wine, the work of human hands, become the Body and Blood of Christ. But the change doesn’t end there: by sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ, we become what we receive! St. Augustine, the fifth-century bishop of Hippo in North Africa, preached about this marvel often, and had a yearly opportunity to explain it to those newly baptized at Easter: ‘ Because He [the Lord] suffered for us, He left us in this Sacrament His Body and Blood, which He made even as He made us, also. For we have become His Body, and through His mercy we are what we receive.’ To become a member of the Body of Christ through baptism is to take one’s place in the intimate circle of God’s worshippers.
“[Like so many saints,] St. Augustine believed that our sharing in the Eucharist changes us. Augustine repeated this belief often lest his congregation forget that their sharing in the Body of Christ really formed them into the Body of Christ. ‘Behold what you have received!’ he told them. ‘Therefore, just as you see that the bread which was made is one mass, so may you also be one Body by loving one another, by having one faith, one hope, and an undivided charity.’ Such is the great dignity and responsibility of us who share in the Body and Blood of Christ: our lives are to affirm that the Body of Christ is one in faith, hope, and love, even though it has many members. And just in case there might be some people in Augustine’s congregation who still hadn’t got the point, he made a declaration that may startle us by its simple truthfulness: ‘There you are on the table, and there you are in the chalice.’
“For extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, there is another dignity and responsibility: you must become what you give. You must become and live as the Body of Christ that you give to your brothers and sisters. In you, as in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, God the Father starts with the human and brings out the beyond-the-human.
“Your service as ministers inside the liturgy should only make visible the faith and love you are seen to manifest outside the liturgy. Generous self-giving, conformed to the pattern of Christ’s self-giving unto death, must mark both your interior and exterior life, both inside and outside the liturgy.
“Your life as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion must be one of both being and giving the Body of Christ. Let your ‘Amen’ to that life of service be real and complete. Then you will find great joy in the Lord who chooses to be present in you, in those you serve, and in the Eucharist that forms you into his Body.”
-Fr. Michael Kwatera, O.S.B.
Fr. Michael Kwatera, O.S.B., Ph.D., a monk of Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville, MN, has been a teacher of liturgy on the undergraduate and graduate levels and a practitioner of liturgy in parishes and religious communities. He has authored numerous articles and several prayer books. Besides teaching, he conducts workshops on liturgical ministries.
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