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At the Breaking of Bread – Homilies on the Eucharist

30 November, 1999

Fr Patrick Jones selected these homilies on the Eucharist as reflections on many of the scriptural themes contained in the Apostolic Letter Mane nobiscum Domine. It should be a source of inspiration for all engaged in pastoral ministry.

159 pp, Veritas 2005. To purchase this book online, go to www.veritas.ie



The Lord’s Day
Concentrate on Keeping the Faith Pádraig Walsh
A Rich Tradition Eoin Mangan
Knowing Our Hunger Martin Hogan
Go in Peace Niall Howard

Eucharist and the Human Condition
Solidarity Aidan Troy CP
Eucharistic Love Tom Clancy
Bread for the Hungry Frank Murray
The Glory of God Veiled in the Eucharist Aidan Troy CP

Saying Thanks Tony Flannery CSsR
Why Should We Stay? Tom Clancy
Thanksgiving Tony Flannery CSsR

Real Presence
Who Do You Say That I Am? Tom Clancy
The Real Presence Silvester O’Flynn OFMCap
Be Not Afraid Eamon Graham
Christ-Mass Tom Clancy

Word and Sacrifice
Servant of the Word John Watts
On Understanding Sacrifice Eamon Graham
Embracing Sacrifice Eamon Graham

Bread of Life, Cup of Salvation
An Invitation to the Feast Tony Flannery CSsR
They Collected the Scraps Frank Murray
Pearl of Great Price Ken O’Riordan
The Blood of the New Covenant Silvester O’Flynn OFMCap
Communion, Our Peace Ken O’Riordan

Eucharist – a Life of Service Dermot Lane
Eucharist Leads to Service John Watts
‘Give Them Something To Eat Yourselves’ Silvester O’Flynn OFMCap

Eucharist and Justice
The Eucharist and Justice Dermot Lane
Like Jesus Who Serves Martin Hogan
Strength to Serve John Watts
Blessed Are You Who Are Poor Dermot Lane

Eucharist and Mission
Receiving Eternal Life Aidan Troy CP
From East to West Martin Hogan
The Table of Inclusion Frank Murray
Communion and Ecumenism Ken O’Riordan
Mission Gerry French SSC


At the Breaking of Bread is made up of homilies on the Eucharist written by different authors reflecting on many of the scriptural themes contained in the Apostolic Letter Mane nobiscum Domine.

The image of the disciples who recognise Jesus ‘at the breaking of bread’ is central to this selection of homilies, which incorporates the three liturgical cycles and contains insights from priests working in dioceses in both Ireland and England.

Chapter One
Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Year C Concentrate on keeping Faith
Padraig Walsh CC, St John’s Tralee, Co Kerry

Taking part in the Mass, Sunday after Sunday, is essential nourishment on life’s journey. The scripture references below are scattered throughout the year. Ezekiel 36:28 is heard at the Easter Vigil and on Thursday, 20th Week, Year II; (Matthew 6:9) Our Father is read on Tuesday, 1st Week of Lent and Thursday, 11 th Week; Jesus in the synagogue at the Chrism Mass (Luke 4: 16) on Holy Thursday and on 10 January; I am the vine (John 15:5) is read on 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B and on the Wednesday of that week as well as on several feasts of saints; The passage about the healthy and the sick (Matthew 9: 12~ 13) is read on 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A and on Friday, 13th Week.

As a priest, I frequently meet people at occasions like weddings or funerals and often they talk about religion or their own faith. Generally people are very open and honest. Some have” reasons for going to Sunday Mass, while others have reasons for not attending!

One of the reasons people give for not attending is this: ‘I pray better on my own!’ Of course, nobody can argue with such a statement. On our own we have quietness and peace, with few distractions. We can reflect on life or the scriptures. We can pray for ourselves or the needs of others.

But Sunday Mass is different. Though we are all individuals, at Mass we gather as a Christian community. In the Old Testament, we read from the prophet Ezekiel, ‘You shall be my people and I will be your God.’ (Ezekiel 36: 28) In the New Testament Jesus taught us how to pray with the words ‘Our Father’ (Matthew 6:9), not ‘My Father’. Though Jesus went off to pray by himself he also went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. So while our faith is personal, it also has a communal dimension. Therefore while we can pray well on our own, it is important that we also gather and pray as a community. That is what we do at our Sunday Mass.

Another reason people give is: ‘Sure I can still be a good Catholic and not go to Mass!’ We all know that living by the commandments, living by the values of Jesus and following his example is the way Catholics are supposed to live. He invited us to be radical in the way we live, to turn the other cheek, to forgive our enemies and to do good to those who hate us. Likewise he said to us, ‘Do this in memory of me.’ Catholic living and Catholic worship are meant to go hand in hand. Daily living and our celebration of the Mass need not be seen as a choice between doing one or the other. The Mass is a celebration of the love and mercy of God for each one of us. It puts before us the standard of Catholic living, which comes from Jesus. The Mass is not seen as an optional extra, but essential nourishment for our journey through life. The unity of life and the Eucharist is best symbolised as, ‘I am the vine and you are the branches … cut off from me you can do nothing!’ (John 6:5)

Some people say they don’t go to Mass because our churches are filled with hypocrites! Whatever about hypocrites, they are filled with sinners – many people with faults and failings, people who sin despite their best intentions. But wasn’t that the ministry of Jesus? ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor but the sick… I did not come to call the virtuous but sinners’. (Matthew 9:12-13) This is best summed up in the phrase – ‘The Church is not a hotel for the saints but a hospital for the sinners!’

Others say they don’t go because they get nothing out of it. But is Mass one of those things that we are always supposed to get something from? We send a sympathy card to someone; what do we get out of that? We visit an elderly relative in a nursing home; what do we get out of that? We spend some time with our family on a Sunday; we don’t always get something from that. Many of these things we do because we are part of a family, or a community. Sometimes what we do, is thoughtful, or kind or good for the other person. To ask what is in it for me might be the wrong question to ask.

The Sunday Mass is not something that is always perfect or that we are bursting to attend every weekend, yet our presence is important because we belong to a Christian community. Together we acknowledge our doubts, our anxieties, our sinfulness and our pain, but we also celebrate the love and mercy of God for each one of us, and the hope that only Christ can bring to our lives.

Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B A Rich Tradition
Canon Eoin Mangan PP, Cahirciveeen, Co. Kerry

We have inherited a rich tradition. The Mass has had several names over the past two thousand years, each contributing to our understanding of this mystery. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that the first Christians met in their houses for ‘the breaking of bread’, the oldest name for the Eucharist. This reading, Acts 2:42~47 is read on 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A.

What’s in a name? The very mention of a certain name can arouse the deepest emotions in our hearts. We love to repeat the name of someone dear to us as a way of keeping their memory alive. Irish poets gave many names to the country they loved in order to inspire sentiments of patriotism and love. The Mass, too, has had many names down the centuries, and each name gives us a valuable insight into the meaning of the Mass.

The earliest name given to the Mass was ‘The Breaking of Bread’. At the Last Supper Jesus took bread, broke it and gave it to his disciples. Sharing a meal with someone is a sign of friendship, welcome and solidarity. Breaking bread with his disciples was Jesus’ way of uniting them with himself in the closest possible way. Later, the disciples at Emmaus recognised the Lord in the breaking of bread, and every time the early Christians gathered for the breaking of bread they were renewing their intimate connection with the Lord. An added meaning in this name for the Mass is the symbolism of the Body of Christ broken on the Cross for the sake of humankind. It is the Bread Broken for a New World, transforming our broken lives into the wholeness of the Risen Body of Christ. This name is closely linked with ‘The Lord’s Supper’ and ‘Sacred Meal’.

‘Eucharist’ is arguably the name used most to describe the Mass over the years. Eucharist is based on a Greek word, meaning to give thanks. The whole celebration is a thanksgiving sacrifice. We have so much to give thanks for: from the beginning of Mass when we receive forgiveness for our sins, through the Liturgy of the Word telling us of all the wonderful deeds of God on our behalf, to the gift of the Lord’s presence and on to the final blessing giving us strength and grace for the coming week.

The Irish word for the Mass is ‘Aifreann’ from the Latin word for offering. We offer the sacrifice of the Mass, which is the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. As Christ offered himself to the Father we unite ourselves with that offering. Of course, to make this really fruitful in our lives we must sacrifice something of ourselves. We are not silent spectators at the Mass. We bring our whole lives, our troubles, our hopes, our fears, our successes, our failures, our joys and our sorrows, and we offer them sincerely along with the offering of Christ. Aifreann, then, holds a great depth of meaning.

The word Mass itself comes from the final words of the Mass in Latin: ‘Ite Missa est.’ These words were the words of mission to the people sending them out in peace to love and serve the Lord. They summed up everything that had gone before, begging those who had celebrated the Mass to put into practice in their lives everything they had learned: God’s love in sending His Son, the Death and Resurrection of Christ, his communion with us in the Real Presence, and the desire to imitate him in daily living.

The early Church kept the meaning of the Eucharist a secret from outsiders for fear of Roman persecution. When we proclaim the Mystery of Faith we make bold public proclamation of what we believe. We proclaim that the Eucharist is truly our ‘Lord and God’. We proclaim the Death, Resurrection and Second Coming of Christ. We proclaim that Christ has destroyed death, restored life and will come again in glory. We proclaim that Christ is the Saviour of the World. In the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist the whole mystery of our Christian Faith is renewed and made active in our lives.

‘Agape’ is another Greek word meaning ‘love’. At the Last Supper Jesus showed the depth of his love. In the first place he washed the disciples’ feet as sign of his love for them and as an example to them. The Mass is not for ourselves alone: it is to be an incentive to us to ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’, especially through loving and serving our neighbours and those in need. Eucharistic devotion, therefore, is both inward-looking (adoration of the real presence of the Lord) and outward-looking (puttiIlg into practice the example of love given to us by the Lord). The words ‘Do this in memory of me’ can be applied not only to the celebration of the Mass, but to every good and living deed done by the Lord.
Though the essential elements have remained the same, the structure of the Mass has changed and evolved during the centuries. Therefore, there are different rites of the Mass, for example, the Roman rite, the Greek rite, the Syrian rite. The Mass has been celebrated in different languages. At first it was celebrated in Aramaic, then in Greek and later in Latin. It is now celebrated in more than a thousand languages.

During the centuries the Mass has been celebrated in different places: in the homes of Christians, in the catacombs, in simple parish churches, in great cathedrals and basilicas, in concentration camps and in prison cells. It has been celebrated at times with great simplicity and at times with magnificent ceremony.

These differences as regards terms of description, places of celebration, language and rite do not affect the essence of the Mass or imply infidelity to the instruction of Jesus. Rather, they have enriched the Mass and underline the esteem in which Christians have held the Mass from the beginning. For they show that Christians have desired to implement Jesus’ instruction in their own circumstances and in accordance with their own cultural traditions.

When we examine our own heritage of faith we find that the Mass has always been at the centre of the faith of the people. Many of our traditional prayers stress the importance of the Mass and the esteem in which it was held. This love for the Mass and fidelity to it were maintained even in penal times. Mass was celebrated in private houses or in secluded places in the country where shelters were erected and the ‘Mass rock’ served as an altar.

Body and Blood of Christ( Corpus Christi): Year A Knowing our Hunger
Martin Hogan PC, Lecturer in Scripture, Mater Dei Institute, Dublin

Having realised that we do not live on physical bread alone, we attend to deeper hungers and thirsts. In communion with Jesus in the Eucharist we are urged to a communion with his values. Though this refkction was prepared for the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), Year A, the serious implications of communion are true for every Mass.

The issue of obesity has been in the news in recent weeks. A lot of concern is being expressed in particular about children who are overweight. Measures are being looked at to encourage children to eat more healthily. There is a growing recognition that children need to be helped to choose well when it comes to what they eat and how often they eat. In past generations people ate because they were hungry. Nowadays there can be a tendency to eat for the sake of eating. This is one of the downsides of our age of relative plenty and prosperity. In the course of our history as a people we have known much leaner times, when obesity, especially in children, was the least of our problems.
In today’s first reading, Moses calls on the people to remember the time in the wilderness when they were hungry. They had left Egypt, a land of plenty thanks to the life-giving presence of the river Nile, and entered a wilderness where food was scarce. Moses reminded them that in those scarce and lean times, the Lord provided for them. Moses wants the people to remember that when their own resources had run out in the wilderness, it was the Lord who kept them going. What kept them alive during those lean years was not so much the physical food that was miraculously provided, but rather the Lord who provided that food. There was a lesson here that the people needed to remember when the time of plenty came round again, as it would when they entered the promised land. That lesson is summed up in the statement in today’s first reading, ‘We do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ .

In times of plenty, it is easy to forget that we do not live on bread alone. When there are so many opportunities to satisfy our physical appetites, we can easily lose touch with the deeper appetites in our lives. In times when we have the resources to make great material progress, our spiritual progress can suffer. The Book of Deuteronomy presents Moses as being very aware of this danger and as wanting to warn the people about it. Jesus was very aware of it too. In commenting on the seed that is choked by thorns, he refers to how the lure of wealth and the desire for other things can come in and choke the word. However, neither Moses nor Jesus advocated going back to the wilderness in response to this danger. Neither of them led a movement into the desert as a way of dealing with the downside of plenty. Both of them, however, stressed that in the midst of plenty we need to remember that we do not live on physical bread alone. In such times we need to attend to the deeper hungers and thirsts in our lives.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus presents himself as the one who can ultimately satisfy those deeper hungers and thirsts. He speaks of himself as the living bread come down from heaven. It is above all in the Eucharist that Jesus offers himself to us as food and drink for the satisfying of those deeper hungers and thirsts. In coming to the Eucharist we are opening our hearts to the one who declares that he is the Bread of Life and who invites us to take and eat. If someone were to ask us why we go to Mass, we would have to say that we go to Mass because Jesus as Bread of Life has called on us to take and eat. We go to Mass because, in the words of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus has said to us, ‘If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you’.

It was at the last supper that Jesus first called on his disciples to take and eat, to take and drink, having identified the bread as his body given for them and the wine as his blood poured out for them. At the last supper Jesus gave himself to his disciples as food and drink. At every Eucharist Jesus does the same for subsequent generations of disciples. The feast of Corpus Christi reminds us that the Lord’s invitation to take and eat is as strong today as it was two thousand years ago. We come to Mass because we recognise Jesus as the Bread of Life who alone can respond to the deepest longings of our hearts, because, in the words of St Paul in today’s second reading, we want to be in communion with the body and blood of Christ, our real food and real drink.

To be in communion with Jesus in the Eucharist is to be in communion with the values that he lived by and died for. When Jesus said to his disciples at the last supper, ‘take and eat’, he was at the same time calling on them to stand where he stood, to live the communion they shared at the table when they left the room and headed out to face Jesus’ enemies. However, the communion the disciples shared with Jesus at table was almost immediately shattered as they abandoned him at the moment of his arrest. When we take the bread and the cup of the Eucharist we too are declaring that we want to imbibe all Jesus stood for. We are committing ourselves to live by his values, to walk in his way, to be shaped by his Spirit. We come to Mass not only to receive from Jesus, but also to give to him. In that sense, coming to Mass is a serious business. It is making a statement that we will stand with the Lord in all our comings and goings.


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