We sang an old-time hymn at Mass this morning, and much to my amazement, it almost brought a tear to my eye.
I’ve been singing the hymn since my youth – ‘Lord, Who At Thy First Eucharist’. And it’s apparently been part of Catholic liturgies since the mid-1880s.
No doubt, those two circumstances help to explain why the verses had never made much of an impact on my consciousness before. For one thing, I’ve been mouthing the words since before my consciousness was even formed. And because the tune is old, I’m inclined to consider the message a bit old-fashioned – a bit too ‘pre-Vatican II’ for my taste.
Still, for some reason, this morning I noticed – as if for the first time – that the lyrics are based on one of my favorite scripture passages: The prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper, recounted in John 17:
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word – so that they may all be one…
I love this passage, because it assures me that I am in Jesus’ heart and on his mind – just as you are, and all believers are. He prayed for us then…and that’s a pretty good sign that He remembers us now.
It’s an incredible gift, to feel that love…that oneness with the Lord. But it’s not really what touched my heart this morning. Rather, I was moved by the lyrics that referred to the Church, the often-broken Body of Christ:
Lord, who at thy first Eucharist did pray
That all thy Church might be forever one…
For all thy Church, O Lord, we intercede;
Make thou our sad divisions soon to cease…
As I sang the words, I realized just how much we need Jesus’ prayer today. Just how sad our divisions – as Christians – have become. Just how far we have wandered from living the oneness that Jesus so deeply desired to pour out on us.
The source and summit of our oneness – Jesus, in the Eucharist – has in fact become a point of division among us. As a Christian community, we no longer break bread together. And that ought to make us sad. It ought to make us wonder, at times, why we insist on fighting each other – rather than loving each other – and through our love, to make Christ’s Real Presence known to a world that’s badly in need of the Holy One.
It’s a start, perhaps, to sing this hymn with a deeper sense of purpose and attentiveness:
O may we all one bread, one body be…
And to ask ourselves – each one of us – how we might become at least part of the answer to the prayer that Jesus made for the Church at that first Eucharist.