The readings today are concerned with observing the law, and holding to sacred traditions; and that prompts me to suggest we return to making the Eucharist what it was at the Last Supper. In going strong for adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we are missing out on why he comes to us in the form of bread.
Up until the year four hundred, we celebrated the Eucharist as we had at the Last Supper. Christians avoided calling our table an altar, since that was a word tied to pagan worship. We lay on the floor, imagining Jesus beside us, asking us to become part of his sacrifice.
When Emperor Constantine died in 337 his sons split the Empire, with the one in the east ruling from Constantinople, the one in the west ruling from Milan in Italy. In that century Christianity was threatened by a take-over by the Arians who insisted that Jesus was a good man, but not the Son of God. In 350 the emperor in Milan appointed an Arian named Auxentius an Arian bishop.
After twenty-four years Auxentius died, and Gratian, the new emperor, ordered the governor of northern Italy to assemble the Christians and Arians for choosing a new bishop both sides could live with. At the assembly, a child called out, “Let the governor be our bishop.” The governor was our St. Ambrose, and he saw that in twenty-four years under the Arian bishop the people had lost respect for Jesus.
Ambrose hit on a plan for getting the people to honor Jesus properly. In his daily attendance on Emperor Gratian, Ambrose had learned how to kneel and bow to him, and how to allow only gold and fine linen touch the emperor’s person. To get the people to honor Jesus, Ambrose ordered them to treat Jesus in the Eucharist the way they had to treat the emperor.
Ambrose turned our churches into audience halls for the King of Kings with ushers commanding the people to “Bow, Bow, bow!”