April 9, 2021
While I was still a seminarian, my family walked with my Grandpa in his final days of this life. For me and my siblings, he was at that time the closest person to us who had passed away. There was great sadness throughout the days after his death, but three things were particularly helpful in getting through that time: sharing memories with family, having a last supper with Grandpa, and ritual.
That last meal, in particular, was very special. Grandpa had been on dialysis for three years, and had very little energy for our visits. However, he had made the difficult decision to stop his treatment and prepare for his death. When we arrived for the meal (a feast, really), he was his old self. Granted, we didn’t stay overly long, but it provided an experience and lasting memory that still makes me smile today. What makes this memory even stronger is that it is intertwined with innumerable other meals that we shared together as a family. I know that Grandpa suffered in his final years, but I also know that we shared experiences that strengthened our bonds in mind, body and soul.
Our sharing in the Eucharist—the fruit of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection—strengthens our bonds as members of the family of God. Right about the same time that my Grandfather’s health was diminishing, I was studying a book called Models of the Eucharist by Fr. Kevin Irwin. Of the ten models, or viewpoints, from which to understand this Sacrament, one that stood out to me was “Bread for the Journey.” As members of the family of God, the Church, we join together on the journey of faith and are sustained by the Eucharist.
Jesus gives us his body and blood in order to strengthen us through this journey of life. The journey, however, does not end here. We have a special set of prayers for the final reception of the Eucharist before death, called Viaticum (which means “on the way”). Like my experience with Grandpa, many people find this reception of the Eucharist so special not only because it may be the last time they receive Communion, but because of the memories of receiving the Eucharist so many times throughout their lives. We receive Jesus in the Eucharist in this life so that we can be with Jesus for eternal life.
We tend to be more aware of the gift of Jesus, who nourishes us on this journey, at key points in our lives: First Communion, weddings, funerals, on retreats. If we are honest with ourselves, there are times when we are less aware of how amazing the Eucharist and the celebration of Mass truly is. Jesus, however, is no less near to us in the week in, week out reception of the Eucharist. But isn’t that the same for any meal we share with our family? What makes the difference is a commitment to sharing life together and breaking bread together.
Jesus gives himself to us in many ways, and we can experience his presence in many ways. However, it is in the Eucharist that we receive his very self. It is a blessing that we can bring Communion to the homebound and the dying, and these are special moments to receive our Eucharistic Lord. I pray that we will all have the opportunity to be nourished with this Bread for the Journey at the end of our lives. At the same time, we don’t want to underestimate the powerful grace of receiving this nourishment every Sunday. Welcome (back) to Mass!
Father William Thompson, Vicar General
My Jesus, I believe that you are present
in the most Blessed Sacrament.
I love You above all things and I desire
to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there,
and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.