WITH EACH MONTH, our hope grows stronger that the COVID-19 pandemic will pass into the history books. Parish priests would like nothing better than to fill their churches — every row — with their parishioners. At the same time, many priests worry that some parishioners, no longer in the habit of attending Mass in person, may not return. This is a valid concern, but it did not start with COVID. For decades, the percentage of Catholics who participate weekly in Sunday Mass has been dropping. So too, the percentage of Catholics who understand and accept the Church’s eucharistic faith has declined.
Each June, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi, is an opportunity for us to revive our faith in the Eucharist. It is an opportunity to test the soundness of our eucharistic faith, to assess how devoted we are to this mystery and how ready we are to share it with others.
Naturally, I cannot do justice to the breadth, depth and beauty of the Church’s eucharistic faith in a short column, but I would like to share some highlights. For example, what place does Sunday Mass occupy in our life of faith? Sunday Mass is more than an obligation; it should be the heart of our faith. From the Mass, we draw grace and strength to live as followers of Christ and as members of the Church. And we return to Mass each Sunday, bringing to the Lord all that we have experienced in the previous days — our successes and failures in living the Gospel and sharing it with others. Just as bread and wine are offered to the Lord, so too we offer him our lives, asking that they be purified and made acceptable in his sight.
‘Sunday Mass is more than an obligation; it should be the heart of our faith. From the Mass, we draw grace and strength to live as followers of Christ and as members of the Church.’
Do we understand what is happening at holy Mass? Sometimes, even lifelong Catholics tell me that they really do not understand the Mass. When the prayers of the Mass refer to the “banquet of Christ’s sacrifice” or to the Paschal Mystery, many participants are bewildered, as if the priest is speaking a foreign language. There is a massive need for sound catechesis, for instruction, about the Mass — about what unfolds before our eyes of faith as holy Mass is celebrated. I am convinced that many have walked away from the Eucharist without really knowing what it is.
Yet, accurate teaching about the Blessed Sacrament is not sufficient. The Church’s eucharistic faith “sinks in” only when one’s heart has been opened in faith to the person of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God — to his teaching and miracles, and to his saving death and resurrection. For in the Mass, we celebrate and encounter the very heart of our faith. In the Liturgy of the Word, Christ himself speaks words “of spirit and life.” In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we enter into the very sacrifice that Jesus offered to the Father to redeem us from our sins. Jesus, who gave his life on the Cross, gives himself to us — his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity — under the appearances of bread and wine.
What takes place at every Mass should fill us with amazement, so much so that we should be willing to witness to our eucharistic faith among those who no longer attend Mass or practice their faith. When we truly grasp the immensity of the Lord’s eucharistic gift of self, we can never again take the Eucharist for granted or approach the table of the Lord casually or unworthily.
Let me make a final recommendation. I warmly encourage you to spend time in eucharistic adoration whenever possible. After Mass has concluded, the risen Lord remains present in the eucharistic species (bread) reserved in the tabernacle. In this way, the eucharistic Lord remains with us and invites us to spend time with him. During those moments in the Lord’s presence, his heart speaks to ours and our relationship deepens and grows in love.
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