Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

The meaning of the Eucharist

September 15, 2021

You may recall that a couple of years ago we received a new translation of the Mass. A major change that needed some explanation was the text prayed at the time of the consecration of the chalice.

Instead of saying, “take and drink the cup of my blood … which will be poured out for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins,” the presider now says, “which will be poured out for you and for many.” People rightly asked: Does this mean that Jesus’ sacrifice doesn’t save everyone?

The reason for the change is that many scholars came to think that these are the words of Isaiah’s suffering servant, which Jesus makes his own at the Last Supper. In doing so, he is saying that he saves the world by making himself vulnerable, by suffering.

So the issue is not who is being saved, but who is doing the saving. In using those words, Jesus wants us to know how he is bringing about salvation, as the suffering servant.

This past week at Mass we heard the passage from Mark’s Gospel in which Jesus makes clear in his dialogue with Peter that as the Messiah he is not a superhero who brings about a decisive victory by an act of human power over those who would harm us. Rather, he is the Messiah who saves us by making himself vulnerable so that God can save us by divine power: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and rise after three days.”

That has enormous consequences for us simply because it means that our suffering or risk-taking on behalf of others, the moments in which we allow ourselves to become vulnerable to help, save, love, forgive others has so much value that we join with Jesus in his saving mission.

Those moments of risk-taking and even suffering have meaning because they contribute to God’s saving work. Jesus tells us in that same Gospel: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.”

The message is clear: while we do not invite suffering, we should not be afraid of it when it comes, thinking it is meaningless.

Every day we see people who allow themselves to be vulnerable to save others. People who live authentic lives, who show us true heroism and who embrace a dignity of allowing themselves to be poured out for others.

I think of health care workers who are saving the lives of others, even though it means risking being infected; I think of first responders who enter situations every day that are not safe and yet do so to keep others safe; I think of parents and spouses who pour out their lives for their families at great cost, and I think of the times in our lives when we take the risk of forgiving someone who has hurt us, even if it means leaving us exposed to being hurt again.

This is the very meaning of the Eucharist we celebrate. For when we come forward to receive Communion and say amen, what we are really doing is saying yes, I am willing to be broken like the consecrated bread and poured out like the cup because I know that God will take my offering as he took the offering of Jesus on the cross. In my suffering God will bring about the salvation of the world and at the same time raise me up to new life, yes in eternity but even now as we grow in understanding about the meaning of our lives.

I would invite you to keep this in mind as you hear the words of consecration at Mass, “This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Remember that Jesus says those words to tell us he is saving us as the suffering servant of Isaiah, not a hero with superhuman power. And then pay attention to what is said next: “Do this in memory of me.”

These words are nothing less than an invitation for each of us to renew ourselves as a disciple of Jesus who takes up our cross and joins him in bringing about the salvation of the world.



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