Was ever another command so obeyed? To do this in memory of Him? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp; gorgeously, for the canonisation of St. Joan of Arc……… One could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.
We find ourselves this weekend with the Green Sundays of Ordinary Time stretching away from us towards Christ the King. We see the signs, miracles and teaching of Jesus, doing what He intended they should, drawing a community of disciples around Him personally, attaching them to His own person and thus to each other. We shall see Him establishing the ministry of the Twelve to guard and guide His community when His work is done and He has sent the Holy Spirit. This community of faith is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in which we say we believe Sunday by Sunday.
Yet truthfully, what many of us actually believe in is the bricks and mortar, the stained glass and the pews of our own buildings. The buildings have an importance, but it is entirely based on the community that makes its home in it and upon the Eucharist they celebrate in it. Catholics in this country have been dispossessed of their churches in the past and survived for several centuries on secret celebrations of Mass in unusual and un-consecrated places. The attachment was as it should be the person of Christ Himself in the Mass.
We live in times where it is becoming ever more important to maintain that attachment to Christ and His community of faithful disciples, not to the buildings. They have come and gone and they will continue to do so, and yet the nature of the Church itself will not change. Much as we love and invest emotionally in our church buildings and sacred spaces, they are nothing without us, the Holy Common People of God, gathered with our pastors to celebrate Mass and the other sacraments.
As some churches close and parishes band together under one priest, we must focus afresh on what we have always been, Eucharistic communities, rather than canonical entities or piles of stones and brick. May we be centred on Christ, the raiser of the dead and healer of souls, the Father’s beloved Son, the Word made Flesh.