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 | By Bishop Earl Boyea

The sweet and the sour: Why is the Mass such a sacrifice?

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the stalwart one who takes refuge in him.” (Ps 34:9) The first part of this verse has become a frequent Communion hymn. I have often wondered, as I have received Holy Communion, what exactly the Lord is supposed to taste like. In this third and last reflection on Communion, allow me to muse on this a bit.

The entire Mass has been about Jesus’ sacrifice of himself to the Father for us. Jesus has taken the bitterness of my sins, of our sins, and changed them into the sweetness of love. And the fantastic thing is that I did not deserve such a transformation. Nor do any of us. But there is an irony here. There is something about sin that always seems sweet. That is what makes sin attractive. 

This is clearly seen as a lie once we are on the receiving end of someone else’s sinfulness. Then, the true bitterness of sin manifests itself to us. Unfortunately, this can sometimes take a long time for us to understand. So, what seems sweet becomes bitter, and Jesus makes bitterness turn sweet. 

This is not the only thing that becomes topsy-turvy. Sure, if someone loves us by dying for us or sacrificing for us, that is sweet. But if we turn that around and seek to love in the same way, it is clear that sacrificial love, at first, does not seem so sweet. At first, the taste of sacrificing ourselves out of love for God or our neighbor seems sad and painful. However, a frank conversation with any married couple who have indeed sacrificed for one another reveals the incredible banquet that love can be. For them, the bitterness of dying to ourselves out of love for another has become sweetness.

This change in taste happens as we consume the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and return to our pews each Sunday. This reminds me of three Bible texts. Jeremiah records how his challenging ministry began: “When I found your words, I devoured them; your words were my joy, the happiness of my heart.” (Jer 15:16) He then experienced a lot of unhappiness. Ezekiel recalled God’s command, “Son of man … feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll I am giving you. I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey.” (Ez 3:3) He, too, encountered difficulties in his preaching. The book of Revelation gives a similar, but probably more realistic, direction: “I took the small scroll from the angel’s hand and swallowed it. In my mouth, it was like sweet honey, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.” (Rv 10:10)

As we taste the Lord in Holy Communion, being fully aware that Jesus himself has entered us, there will no doubt be some bitterness because of the kind of love that has been shown to us and is now expected of us. However, the Lord is indeed good! So, the final taste will always be sweet, sweet as honey.