In today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah hears the angels praising God at the temple with words like those we proclaim at every Mass: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!”
What do these words mean? First, the Jews did not have adverbs for “very,” “most,” or “infinitely” in Hebrew, so if they wanted to say something was very heavy they would call it “heavy, heavy.” If they wanted to say something was most heavy or (if it were possible) infinitely heavy they would call it “heavy, heavy, heavy.” So when Isaiah hears the angels call God “holy, holy, holy,” they are praising His perfection, transcendence, and goodness to the highest degree.
Why is God called “the LORD of hosts?” A host is an army, or a large group of persons. In this case, God’s army of angelic persons is referred to. Our God is holy and wields unsurpassed power. The earth is filled with his glory.
Isaiah behold this sight and becomes very afraid. “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” In the Old Testament people thought that no human being could look upon God and live.
Then an angel, one of the seraphim, fly down, takes an ember with tongs from the altar (for the Jews sacrificed animals as burnt-offerings at the temple) and touches Isaiah’s mouth. “See,” the angel says, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” God asks whom He can send to be His prophet, and now Isaiah has the courage to say “Here I am, send me!”
Imagine if, at communion time, people would line up and come before the priest to have a red hot coal touched to their lips or tongue? Priest: “The holiness of God.” Communicant: “Amen… Ou!” I imagine the communion line would be much shorter.
This is the bread that we will be offering at this Mass to become the real body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. It’s flat because it unleavened, just like the bread at the Jewish Passover meal and as at Jesus’ Last Supper. Leaven, or yeast, is bacteria which grows and makes our bread fluffy. The Jews were to keep leaven, which symbolized sin, out of their Passover bread.
Like all of the other sacraments, the Lord’s choice to use bread has symbolic meaning. Take baptism, for example: water cleanses us and gives us life. Similarly, bread gives us life and becomes one with us. No wonder Jesus chose it to be his symbol for the Eucharist. The very use of bread invites us to receive him. The symbol of bread speaks, “Come, do not be afraid. I am here to be received by you and to become one with you.” We tend to forget what an unprecedented privilege this is.
In the Old Covenant, Jews could always pray to God, for ‘all the earth was filled with his glory,’ but they you wanted to go where the Lord was most present on earth they had to go to one place, the temple in Jerusalem. And even when they got there they did not enter in where the Lord was most present, the Holy of Holies, where only the high priest would go, and only once a year at that. The faithful would worship in the courts outside the temple. It would be like us coming to church today to stand and pray from the parking lot. Instead, we have the privilege to stand and worship the Lord here in His sanctuary, and not only do we see the Most Holy Lord with our own eyes, but we actually receive Him in the Most Holy Sacrament.
The wonder and the privilege and the awe of this new intimacy with God at the Eucharist could not have been lost upon the early Christians, who were converts from Judaism. Do we approach the Lord with a healthy fear of the Lord, which is called the beginning to wisdom? This fear is not terror, which would cause us to hide ourselves from the Lord. It is a reverence which honors the Giver who is the Gift.
We all sin from week to week, but if our sins are minor, or venial, then Jesus wants us to approach Him in the Eucharist. Receiving this sacrament with contrition forgives our venial sins. On the other hand, if we are aware of serious, or grave sins on our souls, then Jesus wants us to approach Him in another sacrament first, the sacrament of confession, or reconciliation.
In the second reading we heard St. Paul’s words to the church at Corinth, reminding them of what he ‘handed on to them as of first importance as he had also received it.’ Later in the letter he reminds them of something else in a similar way:
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment…”
Before we approach the Eucharist let us examine ourselves first, and if we have serious unconfessed sins, from even years ago, let us present ourselves for Jesus’ needed forgiveness in confession first. Ask yourself, do I care more about others’ opinions of me, or about the opinion of the Lord (who sees all things)?
Whenever we come to Christ in the Eucharist let us approach Him as the earliest Christians did, with wonder, awe, and holy fear. Let us have that reverence which honors the Giver who gives Himself as a Gift to us.