Homily: Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Thursday 18 April 2019
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
Amongst the many reports and commentaries we’ve seen or read following the fire at Notre Dame de Paris, two statements stood out for me for their contradictory messages.
The first came from a report in The Times newspaper. It noted that the relic of the Crown of Thorns that Jesus wore had been saved by a priest, describing it as “the most precious and most venerated relic of the Cathedral.” The article then went on to state, and I quote: “He also saved the Blessed Sacrament, another of Notre Dame’s most important relics.”
The second statement was a brief comment made on the night of the fire by the Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit. To help people understand the significance of Notre Dame Cathedral, he said: "For what was this beauty built? What jewel was this case meant to contain? Not a crown of thorns, but a piece of bread that we believe is Christ’s body."
It would be quite unfair to be overly critical of a reporter from a secular newspaper to appreciate the difference in emphasis. Surely, an ancient artefact associated with a famous historical figure would register more highly than something that looks like what you can buy down at the local bakery any day of the week? What we register as precious will always depend on how we measure the value of things.
Look around our Cathedral. What are the treasures we value? Certainly, it would be a tragedy if our grand Mother were to burn to the ground, for much of historical worth and artistic value and religious significance would be lost. But as the Archbishop of Paris put it, for what is this particular beauty build? Does it exist to house our precious artefacts, like a museum, or does it stand on this site for another purpose that is measured by a different value? Does a simple piece of bread make all the difference for us?
When St Paul wanted to share with the Christians in Corinth his understanding of why the Church exists at all, these are the words he chose to use: On the same night that he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me.’ No mention of artefacts of the crucifixion, no offering of relics associated with the Resurrection. In fact, there was nothing of a material nature that Paul had received, to pass onto us.
Instead, to convey his understanding of the treasure of the Church, Paul had only an action to talk about, and a person associated with that action. Not a crown of thorns, but a piece of bread; not things associated with Jesus, but Jesus himself. On the night before he was betrayed, Jesus gave himself sacramentally to his friends, that the gift of his sacrificed body would be present for us always.
Yes, let us love this Church building of ours, but let us love more the Church that built it. For it is in the Body of Christ that the true treasure of the Church is to be found; not in its institutions or artefacts. Our true treasure is Christ’s Body, broken for us on a cross and hidden for us in a piece of bread. This is where we might find ourselves. For every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we are proclaiming his death, and participating in his resurrection.
Do this, said Jesus, as a memorial of me.