Meal – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 9:11b-17, Solemnity of Corpus Christi


Let’s call them, “Tita Em” and “Fr. Sea.” Tita Em was the mom of Fr. Sea. She was very well loved and remembered not just by her own family, but also by her extended family—that is, Fr. Sea’s brothers in his religious community. When Tita Em was still alive, she often asked Fr. Sea to invite the brothers over to their home and she would cook for them. That was one of the best things Tita Em would be remembered for—her cooking. Lutongbahay, lutong-nanay, salted and peppered with motherly love. Before Tita Em died, she explicitly requested her children, that on the 40th day, Fr. Sea say mass for family, friends, and relatives, and that the family cook and& serve all the favorite food their mom used to cook for them when she was alive. “Pakainin ninyo ang mga bisita, ‘yung mga paborito nilang pagkaing niluluto ko.”

I was at that mass and wonderful dinner. I remember how different this dinner felt from many other receptions and collations I’ve attended. Different, because I knew, with attentive clarity, that all this was Tita Em’s dying wish. I knew ,with attentive clarity, that the food I was enjoying with everybody else was what Tita Em would have cooked for us were she still alive, because this was precisely the fare she spent hours in the kitchen over whenever she invited us to their home for a family meal. And yes, Tita Em made us feel we were family. She was mother to us all. So, on the evening of her 40th day, Tita Em’s memory came very easy—because all of us knew that from the Mass to the main course to the panghimagas, everything from start to finish was reminiscent of her living wish and her dying wish: “Pakainin ninyo ang mga bisita, ‘yung mga paborito nilang pagkaing niluluto ko.” In life and in death, Tita Em made sure we all came welcomed, that we prayed together, and that we shared and feasted as family on her labor of love.

In my life as a priest, I have seen two, let’s say, “schools of thought” or “attitudes” or “tendencies” regarding the Eucharist—not just among priests but also among lay Catholics. One school of thought or attitude is what I call the “hyper-liturgical.” Hyper-liturgical Catholics—both priests and lay—are those who tend to be overly-fastidious about the material details of the Mass; like how many candles should be burning; how many times the bell should be rung—and when, how long, and how loudly; what material and color the chalice and paten should be (i.e., only metal—not wood, not crystal, not ceramic; and colored only gold or silver); how strongly we must strike our chest in the I Confess; the right time to kneel and to stand; how the priest must gesture in the “Let us pray,” (is it this way, or that way?) etc., etc. In other words, when we become hyper-liturgical, both priests and lay, we tend to focus a little too much on the what and the how of the ritual, that we lose sense of the who, the why, and the with whom of the memorial meal. A Jesuit said once-upon-a-time, “As if the Holy Spirit will refuse to come down to transubstantiate the bread and the wine if someone forgot to light the candles.” Because, think of the memorial meal that the Eucharist is, sisters and brothers, and ask: when someone we love gathers us together for prayer, nourishment, and remembrance, do we nitpick about the silverware, the tablecloth, and the temperature of the wine?

On the other extreme are the “hypo-liturgical” Catholics, and I say again, both priests and lay. Hypo-liturgicals think that as long as we’re in church on a Sunday—whether we respond to the prayers or not, whether we come on time or get in late, whether we sing along or just let the choir do it for us, whether we’re agreeably dressed or look like we just got out of bed, and the worst that I often see—when we text and do social media during the mass, yes, both priests and lay—regardless of all of that, as long as we’re in church, bodily, then, we’re good! Hypo-liturgical—the bare minimum: warm body attendance. Well, again, think of the memorial meal that the Eucharist is, sisters and brothers: when someone we love gathers us together for prayer, nourishment, and remembrance, are we showing up merely for a loyalty check?

Thankfully, there are Catholics who belong between the two extremes, and I surely hope that most of us fall into this category. These are Catholics who have a good sense of what a Sacrament means, that is, a conscious and conscientious gathering of faithful people who know that they are drawn so by the Holy Spirit of Father and Son, so that they might participate actively in thanksgiving to Jesus. Why? Because he has offered himself as food and drink that have given us life and answered our prayers. Because of their good sense of Sacrament, they regard the Mass with indicative reverence. They try their best to come on time, again both priest and lay. They also leave on time. They read and listen and recite with sincere deliberateness. The priest behaves as a prayer-leader and not as a fussy demagogue or a half-hearted, shoddy substitute teacher. The people are audible in their responses and amicable with each other. And most of all, they do it all prayerfully and gratefully—not grudgingly, not out of bored obligation—but prayerfully and gratefully.

Ideally, sisters and brothers, ideally—our disposition towards the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood, should be similar to the way we feel and understand the memorial meal of anyone we love dearly, anyone who we know loves us dearly. When we come to the Sacrament of Jesus’ Body and Blood, in other words, we try our best that our imagination, our mindset, our disposition, our interpretation of everything said and done in the Mass should rhyme with what we think and how we feel in a memorial meal of someone we know loves us so, someone who gave his everything for our well-being, our peace, and our good pleasure. Tita Em’s love and self-giving in life was made present again in her memorial meal where she gathered all her beloved. How much more, then, is Jesus Christ’s powerful love and self-giving made present again, relived, reprised, commemorated every time we gather for the Mass. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Incidentally, dear sisters and brothers, the Mass is not our sacrifice, even if we often hear it said, “Hoy, Jesus asks but one hour of one day in a week from you. You should be willing to sacrifice for that.” Well, no, not quite. The Eucharist makes present again the Lord’s sacrifice, not ours. We show up for one hour of one day in a week to thank him for the Grace of himself—and for every good thing with which that divine Self comes. To thank him; which is what the word, Eucharist, means: thanksgiving.

All of you who have definitely given your total self to people you love, to your family, to your children especially; you who have poured out yourself, body and blood, for the well-being of your beloved—how would you like to be remembered when it’s your turn to be “memorialized”? Whom would you wish to come over? What disposition would you want them in, what attitude, what behavior would you wish they have when they accept your invitation and come over? But most of all, how would you want them to remember you, to remember your having loved them…to death?

*image from the Internet

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