There is a famous episode (often cited by the Holy Father) illustrating the devotion to the Eucharist in the early Church. In the year 304, a group of Christians from the town of Abitinia in North Africa gathered on Sunday, in defiance of orders from Emperor Diocletian, for the celebration of Mass. They were “caught” and promptly hauled into court. When asked why they disobeyed, one of the worshippers, Emeritus, gave this simple and profound answer: “Sine Dominico non possumus” (“Without the Lord’s thing, we cannot …”). Emeritus and 48 others eventually died martyrs’ deaths because they simply could not live without the “Lord’s thing,” that is, without the Eucharist.
A question naturally emerges: How did the Abitene martyrs come to regard the Eucharist as something they could not live without? How did it become for them, not just an external duty, but an inner necessity? The answer, briefly stated, is that they came to view the Eucharist much as the liturgy presents it to us tonight. They came to see the Eucharist as 1) freedom to worship, and 2) as power to serve. Read the rest of this entry »