Today the church honors a
most unusual group of martyrs from land-locked Uganda in central Africa.
In the 1870’s their king Mutesa welcomed the White Fathers into his kingdom.
Their first convert was Charles Lwanga, the second oldest of king
Mutesa’s pages; and Charles went on to instruct many of he king’s pages
in the faith. In four years time they had become a joyous Catholic family.
Then, disaster struck.
With the death of king Mutesa, his son Mwanga became Uganda’s absolute ruler,
and he soon made his evil intentions clear. He was converting the court’s
choir of pages into his harem, and he began by pointing to an older
page named Joseph Mukasa summoning him to his bed. When Joseph said his
religion would not allow him to join the king in bed, he was given the choice
of that or death. So, he made his choice, and king Mwanga had Joseph
On the night of that
beheading some of the younger pages who had been preparing for baptism
sneaked away to the White Fathers to receive Baptism.
King Mwanga then lined up
his pages, asking those who would not sleep with him to come forward. Led by
Charles Lwanga, fifteen of them stepped forward, and king Mwanga sentenced
them to an unusual death. He orderd the boys to be bound and put on a two day
forced march to Namugongo, a traditional place for executions.
As the others stood by
bound, the executioner first bound Charles to a stake where they burned his
body little by little, repeating offers of freedom until he was dead. The
other boys they then wrapped in hemp, throwing them alive into a huge
Charles Lwanga is the
patron saint of African youth movements.
One MY TAKE ON CHRISTIANITY
Our Eucharistic Prayers
Grew Out Of The Jewish Table Blessing
At the Last Supper, Jesus
took the bread, and then the wine, saying, “Take this and eat, this is my
body,“ and “Take this and drink, this is the cup of my blood.” Afterwards he
said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Those were such minimal instructions
that they leave us wondering how they could have developed into the elaborate
ritual of the Mass.
A dozen years ago I was
given an explanation of how our Mass rituals were developed from what Jesus
did and said at the Last Supper. Monsignor Joe James, a scholarly priest,
asked me to give a lecture on the Mass at a weekend retreat he was planning.
He then gave me a book with the explanation of the Mass that he wanted me to
follow. Father James has since died, and I can’t recall the name of the book;
but I am fond of its central theme.It held that our Mass prayers had developed right out of the table
prayer Jesus offered at the Last Supper.
The book said that the
table prayer was called the berakah, and
it consisted of three prayers in one. There was the anamnesis, the epiklesis,
and the eucharistia. In English
they would be: 1. The Calling to Mind Prayer, 2. The Calling Down Prayer, and
3. The Pleasing Gift Prayer.
The book said that at a
formal Jewish meal the host would ask all the diners to take full parts in
the prayers he offered as their spokesman. What’s more, rather than following
a set formula, he had to make up his own words for the three parts of the
blessing. So, he first asked the guests to join him in calling to mind God’s
many favors; next, he asked God to come down into their hearts; and finally,
he asked all to join him in one “pleasing gift” to God. (The Greek for “pleasing
gift” was Eu-Charis.)
The Apostles, from the
time of Our Lord’s Resurrection, took to following that framework for
repeating the Last Supper. At their Sundays Eucharist they were asking all:
1. To recall Christ’s gifts; 2. To call down his Holy Spirit; 3. To join
Jesus in one pleasing gift to God.
After embracing that
explanation a dozen years ago, I have noticed that our four Eucharistic
prayers, with their different wording, still follow along with those same
three parts. Each of them begins with recalling God’s favors, then, it calls
down his Spirit, and it ends up with our joining Christ as part of the
We can find Our Lord’s
Last Supper words over the bread and wine in Paul’s First Letter to the
Corinthians, and in the Gospels of Matthew, of Mark, and of Luke. Now, those
four Bible books were written in Greek, and it seems to me that our English
translations might not always express the meanings those writers intended.
Like, writing in Greek,
both St. Luke and St. Paul said that Jesus “took up the bread at the eucharistesas.” Our English
translation could have said, “Jesus took up the bread at the Eucharist, the
third part of the table blessing,” but it makes no such reference.
Tanslating Eu-charis literally, it could have
said, “Jesus took up the bread at the Pleasing Gift.” But instead of that,
our approved English versions of Paul and Lukeactually translate the same word, Eucharistesas, in two different ways. In Luke it’s “he said the
blessing.” In Paul it’s “after he had given thanks.”
Our Church rightly tells
us that Jesus became present at the words of consecration, but it ignores the
significance of his coming at the eucharistesas,
which was the time the host was asking the diners to join him as part of the
pleasing gift to God.
That book Monsignor James
gave me insisted that Jesus comes to us just then for the purpose of making
us physically as well as spiritually one with him in the Pleasing Gift.
We are mistaken if we
think it doesn’t matter when he comes to us as long as he made himself
available for Holy Communion and for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
In our translation from
the Greek, the Church makes another significant change in Luke’s wording. It
changes the tenses of the verbs. Where Luke quoted Jesus as saying “This is
my body which is given for you,” the Church changes that to, “This is my body
which will be given.”
If we do not change the
tense of his wording, we see that Luke was telling us that Jesus initiated
his sacrifice of himself as part of the Last Supper prayer. As well, it tells
us it is at that moment in our Mass attendance that we are meant to join
Jesus as part of his sacrifice.
That is the way First
Century Christians understood it. As a guide for conducting their services
they had a handbook called “The Teaching of the Apostles.” (It is known as
the Didache, which is Greek for
Let me quote a short
paragraph from Chapter 14 of the Didache.
And on the Lord’s Day, after you come together, break bread and
offer the Eucharist, having first confessed your offenses, so that
sacrifice will be pure. But let no one who has a quarrel with his
join you until he is reconciled, lest your sacrifice be defiled.
There is no mention there
of a dominant role for a priest. The rite is simply referred to as the
peoples’ sacrifice. They must be sinless to become one with Jesus as part of
the Pleasing Gift.
--At Mass should we follow
the Last Supper’s table prayer: calling to mind God’s
favors, calling down his presence with us, joining
Jesus as part of the Pleasing Gift?
--Does Jesus long to be
physically one with us the way we want to be one with him?
-- Is the Church right in
approving non-literal translations of Bible words?