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Back to Basics: Sunday, Baptism, and Eucharist

Posted : May-19-2024

This reflection based on the readings for Pentecost Sunday—Year B: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104; 1 Corinthians 3-7, 12-13; and John 20:19-23.

The reading from the Gospel of John for this Pentecost Sunday, the last day of the Easter Season, takes us back to Easter Sunday, the day on which this Season began. It begins with the words: “It was evening on the day Jesus rose from the dead, the first day of the week.” These words situate this scene, like so many of the Gospel stories that we have heard on the Sundays throughout the Easter Season on Sunday, on the day Jesus rose from the dead. Whether it was the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, or the story of Doubting Thomas, so many of the stories of Christ’s appearing to His disciples in the Easter Season, have focused our attention on the fact that Christ appeared to his disciples after His resurrection as they were gathered together on a Sunday. One of my favorite reminders of the importance of Sunday is actually that which we read in the story from the Gospel of Luke, with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Here, like today’s Gospel story, Jesus appears to His disciples on a Sunday and celebrates with them that memorial supper that He asked them to celebrate in memory of Him. This emphasis that we hear over and over again throughout the Easter Season on the importance of Sunday, is a powerful reminder to all of us that this is the day that Jesus rose from the dead. It is the day He invites us to celebrate together and be reminded of who we are as His people.

As we celebrate on this Pentecost Sunday the birth of the Church, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in order that they may be sent out into the world to share the Good News, I have to confess to being a little sad that among so many Christians, the importance of Sunday has been completely lost. These past few weeks, many of the priests of the Archdiocese of Toronto were on retreat with Archbishop Leo. There he spoke about the sad fact that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Sunday Mass attendance in so many communities is down significantly. I myself have wondered if it is good for our parish to continue to live-stream our liturgies. I am divided by the fact that there are some seniors who really cannot get to Mass and I know it is important for them. On the other hand, I also know that many people have come to believe that watching a Mass on-line is the same as attending Mass; and it is not. There is no replacement for gathering in the living community of the Church and receiving the Sacrament of Christ in the Eucharist. Like the disciples in today’s first reading, and the young people who are gathering today to celebrate their confirmation, we must gather in person to receive Christ and the Holy Spirit and be sent out into the world to make Him present.

One of the reasons that it is so important to gather in person to celebrate as a community is expressed in the words that St. Paul offers us in the second reading for this Pentecost Sunday. Paul reminds us that any faith we have is a gift of the Holy Spirit, as he writes: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” As we physically make our way to the parish Church on Sunday, we are opening our hearts to encounter Christ and making ourselves more docile to the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. This Spirit, Paul tells us, was given to each of us on the day of our baptism. By this gift of the Spirit, we were all of us made members of Christ’s body the Church. Paul’s words in this regard are so important that they are worth repeating. He writes: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” It is through the physical reception of the Eucharist, where possible, that we most perfectly open our hearts to this encounter with Christ and the Holy Spirit. These words remind us that the Church is not a building. The Church is the people of God and each one of us is a living member of the Church, sent out to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s resurrection.

We sometimes think that the “church” is a building and that it is not important if we gather as a community on Sunday. This conviction may have been strengthened during the Pandemic. Pentecost serves to remind you and I that while we are the Church, and each one of us as members of Christ’s Body, it is in our coming together as a community that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit that builds us up as Christ’s Body. We become the more fully built up into the Church in the world today by doing in these “church” buildings the things that Christ has asked us to do in memory of Him at the Eucharist. Many Christian scholars have said that there are three things that have always constituted the Church. These are: Sunday, Baptism and the Eucharist. Since the Eucharist depends upon an apostle to celebrate it, I would add a fourth element to what constitutes the Church, and that would be its apostolic nature that we profess in the creed. It is through the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist that the community comes together, hears God’s word, and is built up through the gift of the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood to be sent out into the world to proclaim Christ’s Good News. Saint Augustine used to say as he gave out the Eucharist on a Sunday, “Christian receive what you are to become, the Body of Christ.”

As we celebrate this Pentecost Sunday, at a time when so many have lost sight of the importance of Sunday and the physical reception of the Eucharist, I would just like to reflect a little upon the importance of Baptism, Sunday and the Eucharist in our own faith lives.

As we have heard throughout this Easter Season, the disciples encountered the risen Christ on the first day of the week—Sunday. All of His appearances take place on this day. At the heart of being a Christian is the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. This He did on a Sunday and we are called by Him to remember His resurrection on this day. So often we think that being a Christian is simply about being a loving person. So many people, regardless of their religions, are loving. The Christian is a person who believes that Jesus rose from the dead and celebrates this on the day that He did so—Sunday. Today’s Gospel reminds us that the day for Christians to gather and encounter Christ as a community is “the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead.” Sunday is the day that makes us Christian. Let us pray that all Christians may once again recognize the importance of Sunday as the Day of the Lord.

Paul reminds us that it was through Baptism that we received the Spirit and were made members of Christ’s Body—the Church. Like the Eucharist, baptism is a very physical Sacrament, in which we must be physically touched by the water. The Holy Spirit is given to us in every sacrament. When the apostles baptized and physically laid hands on adults, they initiated them with both the sacramental effects of Baptism and Confirmation. In our Latin rite, it was discerned that this laying on of hands should remain with the bishops in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Baptism and Confirmation became two sacraments often celebrated firstly when a person is a child, and then the latter a little later on in life. In Confirmation, we are given that gift of the Spirit that calls us to witness to Christ and His presence in our lives. I believe this Pentecost gives us a wonderful opportunity to think about how we can witness in our own lives to Christ’s victory over death. To be a Christian is not just to speak lovingly to people. A Christian is called to witness to Christ and the power of His resurrection. We do this by belonging to the community of believers and continuing Christ’s work in our daily lives. Sometimes I think the best witness we can give to our neighbours is by just going to Mass and speaking of the place that Christ has in our lives.  In order that we might witness to others, perhaps we can witness by simply speaking about attending Mass, or perhaps we might resolve to bring a friend to Church and share with them why this is important to our faith lives.

Because the Eucharist is Christ, it is the source and summit of the Church and our life as Christians. As Jesus appears to His disciples in today’s Gospel, He says to them “Peace be with you.” This is the same peace that He shares with us before we receive Him in the Eucharist at every Mass. The Eucharist is the sacrifice that Jesus has told us to make “in memory of me” in order that we might be His people and know His presence in our lives. He has promised us: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day…Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” As we recount the day of Pentecost, when the Church received the gift of the Holy Spirit, we recall how we too receive this same gift of the Spirit in Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist whenever we celebrate them in the parish community that we belong to as members of the Church. Because He has made us members of His Body through these sacraments, we know that Jesus abides with each whenever we open our hearts to Him by receiving the Eucharist. Through the Holy Spirit, we know the peace of Christ and are certain that He is with us. Whenever we gather with our parish community on a Sunday, we open our hearts to receive Christ in the Eucharist and know the peace that He desires us to know by allowing him to abide in us.

This Pentecost, as we celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation with some of the young members of our community, we are of reminded of some of the graces that the Lord desires us to know when we gather as His Church every Sunday. As the Apostles did not receive the gifts of the Spirit on Pentecost by staying alone at home, so too our young people had to gather here with their family, and our community, to physically receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and the graces which come with it. This is the same for the Eucharist. We must be present on Sunday to receive its graces. This is so because of the manner in which Jesus has determined to make Himself present in the sacraments that we celebrate in the community of believers, which is the Church, Christ’s Body on earth. Pentecost celebrates the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Church and reminds us that we, the members, are the living Church on earth. It also focuses us on the reality that we are only the Church because of what Christ did for us on Easter Sunday and that we are called to live and celebrate that gift through our baptisms on Sunday at the Eucharist with our community, the Church.

On this Pentecost Sunday, let us pray for the grace to be reminded about what has saved us and made us God’s children. Christ’s Easter victory over death is what our faith is all about. By rising from the dead on the First day of the Week—Sunday, Christ saved us. Through baptism and confirmation, we came to share in this victory and are called as His people to celebrate each Sunday what He has done for us, by doing what He has asked us to do in memory of Him on the Day of the Resurrection. This means being physically present at Church on Sunday, to receive His Body and Blood, know His abiding peace, and be sent out into the world as His Church today.

Let us also pray for the young people confirmed in our community this weekend and make our parish a community where they are all welcome.

Happy Pentecost!

Fr. Michael McGourty is Pastor of St. Peter’s Church in downtown Toronto.