Tag Archives: Eucharist

The pelican and her chicks a symbol for the Eucharist

August 17, 2018

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There is an image of a mother pelican with her chicks carved into the capital at the top of a pillar that supports a stone canopy over a stairway at the Cenacle or the Coenaculum, the upper room on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the place that commemorates where Jesus shared the Last Supper with his apostles and instituted the Eucharist. It is the only artwork in the entire room, and it is singularly appropriate because it is a symbol for Jesus and the Eucharist.

A mother pelican lays its eggs in a nest, and after they hatch, the mother pelican leaves the nest to go hunting for food, and then returns and feeds the chicks. Many species of birds feed their young with worms. Pelicans usually live near the water, have webbed feet, and long beaks with pouches, and their usual prey is small fish or other aquatic animals such as frog tadpoles, crayfish, or even salamanders.

In times of drought the marshes and streams may dry up, or something may cause the fish in the lake to die, and the mother pelican is unable to find food. Her chicks are delicate, need to be fed daily, and without food are quickly in danger of starvation and death. Faced with this crisis, the mother pelican uses its beak to poke holes in its breast which causes blood to come out, and the chicks are nourished with their mother’s blood. The mother dies and the chicks survive.
Mother pelican
Christians see parallels between the mother pelican and her chicks and Jesus and his followers. The mother pelican represents Jesus, the chicks represent us. The chicks dwell in the safety of the nest, believers dwell in the safety of the Church. The mother is the head of the nest, and Jesus is the head of the Church (Eph 1:22). The mother has an intense concern for her chicks and it goes against her nature to allow any of them to perish, and Jesus has a great love for us and wants none of us to perish.

When food is in short supply, the pelican pierces its breast with its sharp, pointed beak, and the side of Jesus was pierced by a sharp, pointed lance (Jn 19:34a). Blood flowed from the pelican’s breast, and blood flowed from Jesus’ side (Jn 19:34b). The mother’s blood was drink for her chicks, and the blood of Jesus is “true drink” (Jn 6:55b). The mother gave her life that her chicks might live, and Jesus laid down his life that we might live (Jn 15:13). The mother’s blood saved the lives of the chicks, and the blood of Jesus is salvation and eternal life (Jn 6:54) to those who receive it. Because of these striking similarities, the mother pelican and her chicks have come to represent the Eucharist, as well as redemption and salvation.

A depiction of the mother pelican and her chicks is frequently on display in places associated with the Eucharist: the doors of the tabernacle, the front of the altar, a hanging in front of the lectern or ambo, a stained glass window in the sanctuary area, the decorative design on a chalice, chasuble or cope, or on the ends of pews.

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Thursday of the Lord’s Supper – Eucharist and Humble Service

March 23, 2018

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Last SupperThe Last Supper took place on the first Holy Thursday. It was that night that Jesus instituted the Eucharist, but curiously, the gospel for the Mass on Holy Thursday is not the Institution Narrative, it is the footwashing.

The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, No. 11). It is foremost among the other sacraments because it is received most often, unites a person to Jesus who is truly present, affords a special opportunity for a close personal conversation with Jesus, is spiritual sustenance and a fountain of grace for a lifetime, places a person in communion with the other members of the Body of Christ, forgives venial sins, and provides the companionship of Jesus on the journey through human life and the final journey to heaven and eternal life.

Important as the Eucharist is, it is not the gospel on Holy Thursday, it is the second reading (1 Cor 11:23-26). It is one of the four accounts of the Institution of the Eucharist in the New Testament (Mt 26:26-30; Mk 14:22-26; Lk 22:14-20). Why is an Institution Narrative not used for the gospel on Holy Thursday? And why take a passage from the Gospel of John, the only evangelist whose gospel does not have the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper?

Holy Thursday Foot Washing

It is not because John believes that the Eucharist is unimportant. He is the only evangelist to write a Bread of Life Discourse (Jn 6:22-71), an extended reflection on the importance of the Eucharist. John alone calls Jesus the bread of life, says that the Eucharist bread from heaven, and explains that his flesh is true food and his blood true drink, that Jesus will dwell within whoever receives the Eucharist, and that it leads to eternal life.

The footwashing is the gospel on Holy Thursday, and John is the only evangelist to report it. It took place at the Last Supper before the institution of the Eucharist and for John, the footwashing and the Eucharist are closely related. The footwashing prefigures the crucifixion. Jesus humbly gave of himself when he washed his disciples’ feet, and he humbly gave of himself when he gave his life on the Cross; and this parallels the Eucharist in which Jesus gave his body and blood under the form of bread and wine, and then gave his body and blood on the Cross.

Eucharist is about True Presence. Jesus is present under the forms of bread and wine, and with the footwashing, John is conveying another perspective on True Presence. Jesus is present in the form of humble service. Jesus was present to his disciples when he took off his outer garments and knelt down at their feet, a touching demonstration of humility, and then washed and dried their feet, a tender expression of love in menial service. When a disciple offers humble service to anyone, particularly in lowly ordinary tasks, and does so out of love, Jesus is made present.

And the Eucharist is ordered to service. Once a person receives the Eucharist at Mass and leaves the church, the person has been energized to serve others in the name of Jesus. The communicant humbly and cheerfully gives humble service, particularly in the little things, giving freely, without seeking repayment or notice. Service drains energy, and once depleted, the communicant needs to go to Mass to receive Holy Communion again to be reenergized for the next round of service. The Eucharist leads to service, and service leads to the Eucharist.

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Four Glorious Realities to Encourage Disciples

February 23, 2018

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TransfigurationThere is a second altar in the Basilica of the Transfiguration called the Grotto of Christ or the Lower Chapel. It is located beneath the high altar in the location of the first Christian church built on Mount Tabor during the Byzantine Period. The chapel has a barrel-vaulted ceiling decorated with a magnificent blue mosaic designed by A. Villani. The mosaic depicts four scenes, two on each side, and unexpectedly, they do not portray anything related to the Transfiguration of Jesus, but rather, portray four glorious realities that pertain to the life of Jesus. The purpose of the first Transfiguration was to encourage Jesus as he made his journey to Jerusalem, and the objective of the four scenes is to encourage the people of today as they make their pilgrim journey through life.

The Nativity. The first scene depicts the newborn Jesus with a golden halo around his head lying in a manger of straw at the feet of three angels, all looking down at him. The center angel has hands extended as if to present the infant to a waiting world, and the angels standing on each side have their hands raised in the orans position to praise God for the glorious birth of his beloved Son. Jesus is holding a globe with a Cross on the top because he was born to save the world which he accomplished through his triumphant Cross. With his birth comes the promise of salvation which provides immeasurable encouragement to all who place their hope in him.

The Eucharist. The next scene has three more angels. The center angel, with eyes gazing upward to heaven, is holding a consecrated host, the Body of Christ, in his right hand, above a golden chalice which contains the Precious Blood in his left hand. Jesus promised his disciples at the Last Supper, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Jn 14:18), and Jesus fulfills this promise every time that he comes to person in the Eucharist. Jesus explained that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56). It also carries the pledge of a share in his Resurrection, as Jesus also declared “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn 6:54).

The Crucifixion. On the opposite side of the chapel is the third scene with three angels standing above a lamb with a halo above its head, neck slit and bleeding, lying dead upon an open book. The book symbolizes the fact that Jesus is “the word made flesh” (Jn 1:14) and that he has “the words of everlasting life” (Jn 6:68). Jesus is also “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29,36), “the Lamb that was slain” (Rv 5:12) and “pierced for our offenses” (Is 53:5; see Jn 19:34). The glorious news of the crucifixion is that by the precious blood of Christ, the unblemished lamb (1 Pt 1:19), we are cleansed of all sin (1 Jn 1:7; see Rv 1:5) and our redemption and salvation accomplished.

The Resurrection. The fourth mosaic shows three more angels. The center angel has his hands crossed over his chest, the symbol of obedience, representing Jesus who obediently said, “not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42), and who was “obedient to death, even death on the cross” (Phil 2:8). The angel is standing above an open sarcophagus, an uncovered coffin or casket, which symbolizes the tomb of Jesus that no longer contains his body. It is empty. Jesus is risen. The glorious good news is that “if we have grown into a union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom 6:5), and we are encouraged with the assurance that “if we have died with Christ … we shall also live with him” (Rom 6:8).

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Give thanks to God!

October 7, 2016

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thanksgiving

One of the greatest miracles that Jesus performed was to cure ten lepers of their disease (Lk 17:11-19), and after having received such a tremendous gift from Jesus, only one of the ten came back to thank him.  In disappointment Jesus asked, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (Lk 17:18).

St. Paul tells us that we should “be thankful” (Col 3:15b).  Every Mass at the Preface Dialogue we say that it is right and just to give thanks to the Lord our God.  Yet Jesus rarely received any thanks.  In fact, when the Samaritan fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him (Lk 17:16), it is the only time in all four gospels that someone thanked him.

There may have been other occasions when someone received something from Jesus and then came back to offer their praise or express their gratitude, but none of the four evangelists records one other instance, and as memorable as such an event would have been, it would have been worthy of inclusion.  It seems that Jesus was rarely thanked, not by his apostles, not by those who were cured, not by those who were forgiven, and not by those who were taught by him.  Jesus’ ministry was a thankless task.  He was grossly underappreciated.

The twelve apostles were among the worst offenders when it came to ingratitude.  When Jesus called them to be his disciples (Lk 6:13), they did not thank him for choosing them.  When Jesus invited them to accompany him (Lk 8:1), they did not thank him for making them his partners.  When Jesus took them aside and gave them private explanations (e.g., Lk 8:9-15), they did not thank his for his extra time and attention.  When Jesus commissioned the Twelve and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases (Lk 9:1), they did not thank him for their special appointments or exceptional powers.

The apostles’ lack of gratitude seems more reprehensible during their final days with Jesus.  No one thanked him for the Eucharist at the Last Supper.  Worse yet, no one thanked Jesus’ for his death on the Cross and his gifts of redemption and salvation.  When Jesus appeared to them after his Resurrection and greeted them with the words “Peace be with you,” no one thanked him for his mercy and forgiveness.  It took until after Jesus had ascended to heaven until the apostles did him homage and praised God (Lk 24:52,53).

The disciples had many reasons to be thankful and so do we.  The process begins with our ability to recognize what we have been given.  For starters, we need to set aside time to reflect and count our blessings.  Next, with our blessings in mind, we should thank God and with our prayers of praise, both personal prayers of gratitude said alone and prayers at Mass said with others.  St. Paul specifically mentions singing as a particularly good way to express our thanks:  “Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).  Another excellent way to express our gratitude is to put our gifts to good use, to place them at the service of others, and to do so in ways that give glory to God.

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Transubstantiation: A fundamental Catholic belief about the Eucharist

June 3, 2016

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EucharistWheatTable

Transubstantiation is a theological term derived from two Latin roots, trans (prefix), a preposition that means “over” or “across,” and substantia (root), a noun that means “substance.”  To transubstantiate is to change one substance into another.  The initial substance is bread and wine, and it changes into a new and different substance, the Body and Blood of Christ.  It is no longer bread, but the Body of Christ under the appearance of bread; and no longer wine, but the Blood of Christ under the appearance of wine.  The physical appearance and chemical composition remain unchanged, but the substance is entirely changed.

This belief is firmly grounded in Sacred Scripture, particularly the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.  “Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’  Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood’” (Mt 26:26-28; see also Mk 14:22-24 and Lk 22:19-20).  During the Bread of Life Discourse (Jn 6:22-59), Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven … and the bread that I will give is my flesh” (Jn 6:51).

St. Paul further reflected on the words of Jesus.  He asked, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16).   He also provided the earliest written account of the Institution of the Eucharist (1 Cor 11:23-26), written around 56 AD, well before the gospels written sometime between 68 and 100 AD.

This transformation happens by the power of God to whom the Eucharistic Prayer is addressed and through the action of the Holy Spirit who is called down over the offerings at the Epiclesis before the Words of Institution.  The Consecration is the moment when this takes place, yet the entire Eucharistic Prayer is consecratory.

EucharistWheatTransubstantiation only occurs within the context of a valid Mass with a properly ordained priest who is serving in persona Christi, in the person of Christ.  The priest must be in union with the Church and in line with Apostolic Succession.  The priest pronounces the words, but their power and grace are God’s (St. John Chrysostom).

Historically, transubstantiation was first taught by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, and reaffirmed, clarified, and strengthened at the Council of Constance in 1415 and the Council of Trent in 1551.  Trent was the Catholic Counterreformation in response to Protestant reformers such as Calvin and Zwingli who denied transubstantiation entirely and Luther who proposed consubstantiation.  Trent declared that in the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist, “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” (Trent, 1551; Catechism, No. 1374).

There are several things that transubstantiation is expressly not.  It is not consubstantiation, the Reformation teaching that the bread and wine are simultaneously both bread and wine and the Body and Blood of Christ.  Transubstantiation is also not “transsymbolization,” that the bread and wine are symbols or reminders of the Body and Blood of Christ, or “transignification,” that the consecrated bread and wine come to have new significance or meaning.

The fullness of the true presence of Christ is in each form of the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament alone, the Precious Blood alone, or both together.

There are many other forms of the presence of Christ, particularly in the Word, the people, and the priest, all which are “real,” “but because it is presence in the fullest sense:  that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present” (Pope Paul VI, Mysterium fidei, No. 39).

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Ready for Christmas? How about for Jesus’ coming this Sunday?

December 17, 2012

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As we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ coming at Christmas, it’s good to remember His coming in every Eucharist. Photo/khrawlings. Licensed under Creative Commons.

As the holiday storm hits me again, I’ve been wondering if I spend more time getting ready for Christmas than I do all year preparing for Jesus’ coming at each Eucharist.

I’m afraid Christmas probably wins.

We know Advent is about preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem on Christmas. And in the pre-Advent readings we’ve reflected on His coming again at the end of time.  But the Church also reminds us that the Lord is coming today and tomorrow and next Sunday at Mass.

Thinking about Jesus the baby born in a stable surrounded by angels or Jesus the king coming on a cloud to save us is more exciting than reflecting on Jesus as we’re most used to seeing Him: in the form of a humble piece of bread.

For “so great and so holy a moment”

The Catechism tells us that in order to respond to Christ’s invitation to the Eucharist “we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment.” (CCC1385)  The Church requires preparation for receiving the Lord and there are a number of other ways we can make ourselves ready both before and during Mass.

The most basic preparation for communion is living the Christian life well. In the early Church, St. Justin wrote about the Eucharist, “… no one may take part in it unless he believes that what we teach is true, has received baptism for the forgiveness of sins and new birth, and lives in keeping with what Christ taught.” (CCC1355)

The sacrament of Reconciliation is necessary preparation for communion for anyone who is conscious of having committed grave or mortal sin. Regular confession is also good preparation in general for the Eucharist because it “strengthens us against temptation and sin and helps us cultivate a life of virtue,” the U.S. Bishops state in their 2006 document, “Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper:” On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist.”

Fasting from food and drink (except water) for one hour before receiving the Eucharist is another requirement. Canon law states that the elderly, the sick and their caregivers do not have to observe this fast.

Preparing every day and right before Communion

The Bishops offer guidelines for preparing for the Eucharist before coming to Mass, as well as right before receiving the sacrament.

In daily life we can prepare by:

  • Reading scripture and spending time in prayer;
  • Being faithful to our state in life; and
  • Seeking forgiveness daily for our sins and going regularly to confession.

When we arrive at Mass we should:

  • Be dressed modestly in respect for the dignity of the liturgy and one another;
  • Spend time in silence and prayerful recollection or read the Mass readings;
  • Participate actively in the liturgy; and
  • Approach “the altar with reverence, love, and awe as part of the Eucharistic procession of the faithful.”

Jesus made the Apostles aware of the “simplicity and solemnity” of the Eucharist when He told them to prepare carefully the “large upper room” for the Last Supper, Bl. John Paul II wrote in an encyclical on the Eucharist.

Preparation is thinking of the Lord and making “fervent acts of faith, hope, love and contrition,” according to EWTN television. It’s also important to approach the sacrament each time as devoutly and fervently as if it were our only communion.

I’m sure Christmas wouldn’t be the same this year if we knew it was our last one. How differently would Jesus’ coming in the Eucharist this Sunday be if we considered it the same way?

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20 takeaways from a pastoral letter aimed to help Catholics get more out of Mass

November 15, 2011

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Snippets of meaning from Archbishop John Nienstedt’s pastoral letter “Do This In Memory of Me”

With my highlighter in hand as usual, I read the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ first pastoral letter on the Sacred Liturgy. Here’s what caught my eye or touched me as worth remembering — or at least giving more thought to:

  1. “The words of the priest gave voice to the unspoken prayers of those gathered in faith.”
  2. “The words obviously are important, but their true importance lies in the mystery by which those words are animated, inspired and inflamed.”
  3. “…with the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal . . . we have the marvelous opportunity to stop and reconsider the important role that the Mass plays in our lives as individuals, as parish communities and as an Archdiocese.”
  4. “…the purpose of the Church is to call her members to holiness.”
  5. “…sanctity for the Christian is not a solitary activity.”
  6. “In the community of believers, our own hearts’ hopes and sorrows, joys and disappointments find reception, affirmation, and transformation as they are offered as one with Christ to the Father in prayer.”
  7. “The Liturgy . . . finds its origin in Christ’s call to be ‘gathered’ . . . . He calls us to holiness, but always in and through the church and her Liturgy . . . . this is the reason for the Church’s existence: to bring the baptized into a closer relationship with Christ as members of His one Body who pray the Liturgy together with Christ for the glory of God and the good of all.”
  8. “Our corporate prayer is thus a prayer that what has been accomplished in Christ might be accomplished in us, and that like Christ we might be sent to bear fruit for the life of the world.”
  9. “Unity does not mean ‘going along to get along.’ That would be a false unity, and one that cannot endure.”
  10. “As we are gathered around the one bread and the one cup, we are strengthened and summoned to form an ever greater unity of mind and heart with Christ Himself, so that we might be joined more closely to one another. Our unity with each other comes from this unity in Christ.”
  11. “Fundamentally, the Church’s Liturgy is not the expression of local customs or the particular interests of a parish or a priest. True enough, an assembly or a presider often do bring with them gifts and talents that should be shared with all, including at the offering of praise that is the celebrations of the Mass. But at its heart, the unity of the Roman Rite, reflective as it is of the Church’s universality, is meant to shine through our liturgical celebrations as an expression of our unity through one common expression of faith.”
  12. “How we pray together manifests what we believe.”
  13. “The new texts of the Church’s prayer provide a grace-filled moment to re-examine our liturgical practices, and to ensure that the liturgical life of our parishes, religious communities, and various apostolates are in conforming to the liturgical norms of the Church.”
  14. “Of course, it is not enough that we simply follow the liturgical law of the Church . . . we must strive to understand more fully just what it is that we are doing when we assemble. “
  15. “. . . take the time simply to listen to the Liturgy itself. We all must strive, clergy and laity alike, to hear with true docility the words the Church has given us, and the memories she cultivates within us as her prayers are proclaimed in our midst.”
  16. “When we stop to listen to the words of the Mass . . . we discover anew the mysteries of faith and enkindle the sense of wonder which marked the disciples on the road to Emmaus when they discovered the Living Christ, present to them.”
  17. “(Author Matthew) Kelly suggests that every Catholic ought to bring a journal to Mass which has inscribed on the cover, ‘What’s the one thing I need to do today to be a better person?’ He guarantees that if we have that single focus in mind as Mass begins, we will discover the joy and meaning that lies at the heart of the Eucharist. I think he’s right. I suggest we try it out.”
  18. “For many, even good Catholics, Sunday Mass can become just one more activity to fit into the schedule, rather than the culmination of the past week and the beginning of a new period of time.”
  19. “For human beings caught up in a whirlwind of activity, Sunday is meant to be a call to a contemplative re-examination of where our lives have been and where they are going. Sunday is meant to give meaning to the other six days of the week.”
  20. “We listen to the words of the Liturgy so that we may truly speak them in our daily lives.”
Care to read the pastoral letter in its entirety: Click here and you’ll have the option of reading it as it appeared as a special section in The Catholic Spirit or downloading a PDF.
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Eucharistic flash mobs

August 25, 2011

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When it comes to bringing up the gifts at Mass, there’s no place like — well, anywhere BUT home

July 22, 2011

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It happened to me again, this time in England, of all places.

On vacation this summer (my treat to myself for my 60th birthday), the closest church to the apartment we rented in the Camden neighborhood of London was Our Lady of Hal (named for a miracle in the Belgian town of Halle). My wife and brother- and sister-in-law and I joined maybe 3-4 dozen worshipers for the 8:30 Mass on Sunday morning.

Of course I was asked to help bring up the gifts.

My wife, Barb, just shook her head.

She shook her head first, because when we were out of town one weekend last year and caught the Sunday evening Mass as St. Peter in North St. Paul, we were asked to bring up the gifts there.

She shook her head, secondly, because we NEVER get asked to bring up the gifts in our own parish. Well, that’s not exactly true; we were asked — once in 28 years — the one weekend where we scurried to get to the 5:30 Saturday evening Mass — which we never go to — and Barb rushed out of the house in sweat pants. She tastefully declined to walk down the aisle with the Eucharistic bread and wine dressed as she was.

Of course it’s not like there’s a badge of honor one gets for  bring up the gifts or any special graces, and it is not a sign of one’s holiness or anything else, but you would think that the odds are pretty good that at more than 1,000 Masses at your parish you might be asked a handful of times to participate in the liturgy in this way.

I keep reminding Barb about how biblical it is that we two “prophets” are not regarded in our own country, so to speak.

(Don’t tell her that when I went to Mass at the St. Paul Seminary recently guess who brought up the hosts!) — BZ

 

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