St. Charles Lwanga of Uganda

Homily for Tuesday, 6/3/14

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 publically beheaded.

 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 conflagration.

Charles Lwanga is the patron saint of African youth movements.




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 pleasing gift.

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 Luke  actually 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 “Teaching.”)

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 your
  sacrifice will be pure. But let no one who has a quarrel with his
  neighbor 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.


Your Thoughts

--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?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Father, I think absolutely we should The Last Supper Table Prayer. If it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us. One thing I have been thinking a lot about lately is, Jesus is always here and wants to be with us. I think as long as the spirit of the meaning is there, it is OK, Translators can only do so much. TCL

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