Loving the Eucharist

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2/1/2010

We must grow in understanding of and reverence for the gift of the holy Eucharist

by Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori

Bishop William E. Lori

Bishop William E. Lori

The 23rd installment of Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori’s faith formation program addresses questions 271-294 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Not long ago, a parishioner said to me that she just didn’t see the need to go to Mass every Sunday. “I go to Mass once in a while, when I think it will help me,” she said. Unfortunately, many people who consider themselves faithful Catholics share this attitude, an attitude that is not proportionate to the gift and mystery of the Eucharist.

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a brief summary of this great mystery of faith: “The Eucharist is the very sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus….” It is not merely a reminder that Christ offered his Body and Blood for our sake; rather, it is that offering. Jesus himself instituted the Eucharist “to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until his return in glory” (271). The Eucharist, the heart of the Church’s life, is the banquet and living memorial of Christ’s sacrifice. When we worthily partake of the Eucharist, we participate even now in God’s own life.

THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION

Gathered with his Apostles, Jesus entrusted the Eucharist to the Church at the Last Supper. At every Mass, the priest repeats and reenacts the words by which the Lord instituted the Eucharist: “Take this and eat it, all of you; this is my Body which will be given for you. … Take this and drink of this, all of you. This is the cup of my Blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me” (273).

We hear these words so often, but do we realize their significance?

Since the Eucharist re-presents (makes present again) the death and resurrection of Christ, it contains the entire spiritual wealth of the Church. It brings us into union (communion) with the Trinity and with one another. It puts us in touch with the great liturgy of heaven, that utterly joyous and eternal worship of God for which we were made and for which our hearts long (274, 287).

The more we think about what the Eucharist actually is, the less “optional” it seems! The very names used to describe the Eucharist remind us of its centrality. For example, the word “Eucharist” refers to the thanksgiving we owe to God. The phrase “Holy Mass” speaks to our mission to bring Christ into our daily lives. The Scriptures refer to the Eucharist as the “Breaking of Bread” — a sharing in the Body of the Lord that makes us one. Lastly, “Holy Communion” tells us that the Eucharist unites us to the Trinity, to the saints and angels in heaven, and to one another in the Church here on earth (275).

In this Year for Priests, let us remember that the Eucharist is at the very heart of the priesthood. Only a validly ordained priest or bishop who acts in the person of Christ and in the name of the Church can offer the Eucharist (278). Through ordination, the priest is conformed to Christ — the great high priest — so that he can reenact Christ’s words and deeds.

We also should not forget that the Eucharist was prefigured in the Passover. When Jesus gathered with his Apostles in the Upper Room, they celebrated a Passover meal that commemorated the deliverance of the people of Israel from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. This deliverance foreshadowed the great deliverance we experience at the Eucharist: from the slavery of sin to the freedom of the new life of grace that Christ won for us.

THE REAL PRESENCE

Each time the Eucharist is celebrated, Jesus’ sacrifice is truly made present: “The sacrifice of the cross and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one and the same sacrifice” (280). Christ is both the priest and the victim. While his sacrifice on the cross occurred in a bloody manner, the Eucharist is offered in an unbloody manner, through the signs of bread and wine (279).

Jesus makes his sacrifice of love available to us so we can offer our lives — our joys, sorrows and daily work — in union with him to the Father as an acceptable sacrifice of praise. It is the most perfect prayer that we can offer for our loved ones and for all the living and the dead.

We can understand our need for the Eucharist by focusing on how Christ is present “in a true, real, and substantial way, with his Body and his Blood, his Soul and his Divinity” (282). Indeed, the Church has coined a word to describe the complete transformation of bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood: “transubstantiation” (283).

This leads us to reflect on the respect we owe the eucharistic species, the bread and wine transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood. Christ is present whole and entire in each particle of the host and in each drop of the Precious Blood. The eucharistic species should therefore be treated with reverence and great care. Since Christ is truly and substantially present, we worship the Eucharist both during Mass and outside of Mass.

Given the beauty and centrality of this sublime gift, the Church rightly obliges us to take part in Mass each Sunday. While we are obliged to receive Communion at least once a year, during the Easter season, the Church encourages frequent reception (289, 290). To receive worthily, we must be members of the Catholic Church and be in the state of grace. If we are aware of any mortal sins we have committed, we should first receive the sacrament of penance. We should also prepare our hearts to receive our Lord in the Eucharist by prayerful recollection and by fasting one hour before Mass. Finally, we should show respect for the Eucharist by our prayerful demeanor and appropriate dress when attending Mass. In each of these ways, let us embrace in love this great mystery of faith.