“The more we devote ourselves to the Eucharist, the more we will understand what it means to be a Knight,” Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly affirmed in his first annual report, Aug. 3, at the 139th Supreme Convention. “Christ in the Eucharist is the source of true charity, the author of true unity, the builder of perfect fraternity.”
The supreme knight called on members to become “Knights of the Eucharist” by deepening their devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and helping to restore an understanding of the Real Presence. (EDITOR’S NOTE: The complete text of the Annual Report of the Supreme Knight will be printed in the October issue of Columbia.)
Columbia staff recently spoke with Dr. Edward Sri, senior vice president of apostolic outreach for FOCUS and a theology professor at the Augustine Institute in Denver, about how Scripture can help us better understand the Mass and the gift of the Eucharist. A member of St. Thomas More Council 10205 in Centennial, Colo., Sri is the author of many popular books helping Catholics to grow in their faith, including the 10th anniversary edition of A Biblical Walk through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy (Ascension, 2021).
COLUMBIA: It can be easy to fall into a mindset in which Mass is an obligation. If we could see “with the eyes of the angels,” as you put it in your book, how would we approach Mass?
EDWARD SRI: We would not be approaching Mass as something that we merely have to do: “Oh, it’s a holy day of obligation so I have to show up.” If we understood what is happening in the liturgy, our hearts would be longing to go to the most amazing event in the universe taking place right there my little parish church. We would realize this is where Jesus’ loving sacrifice on Calvary is made mystically present. It is the number one place of encounter with our God, where we receive the very body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.
The God of the universe wants to dwell inside of us — what an amazing gift of love. As we say in response to the invitation to holy Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy.”
COLUMBIA: How can Scripture and an understanding of the biblical context of Mass help us to appreciate the liturgy?
EDWARD SRI: Some people see the Mass as a bunch of rituals and feel like they’re just going through the motions — making the sign of the cross, standing up, sitting down, saying “Thanks be to God.” Yet all of these words and rituals are rooted in Scripture. The more we understand the biblical background of the liturgy, the more we understand what God is saying to us and, in turn, how we’re responding to his love through these words and actions.
When my Italian cousin, Stefano, came to visit the United States for the first time, we wanted to give him a great American experience, so we took him to watch the Chicago Bears. Stefano loves football, but his football is what we call soccer. When we were all standing up and cheering at certain moments, he’d stand up and cheer and ask, “Did we score?” “No, it was just a good play.” We’d boo, and so would he. “Did we lose?” “No, the ref just made a bad call.” So, he went through the motions with everyone else, but he didn’t understand what’s going on.
I think that’s how some Catholics experience going to Mass. If we understood the beauty of the prayers and the rituals, we would get more out of Mass. And we’d also be able to give more to Jesus in the prayers and the rituals in the liturgy.
The same Jesus who walked the streets of Galilee ― giving sight to the blind, raising the dead, healing those that were paralyzed ― that same Jesus is truly and uniquely present in the Eucharist.
COLUMBIA: Can you give examples of moments or prayers in the Mass that are illuminated by this biblical perspective?
EDWARD SRI: Take the simple line at the beginning of Mass when the priest says, “The Lord be with you.” I think many Catholics think of that as a throwaway line, like, “Oh, good morning, congregation.” But those words are used over and over again in Scripture to address people whom God was calling on an important mission.
What does God say to Moses at the burning bush? “I will be with you” — to help you do what you can’t do on your own. David heard those words at the beginning of his kingship. And of course, Mary heard those words at the Annunciation.
So, when the priest says to us, “The Lord be with you,” we should realize we are being sent on an important mission in the context of the liturgy. It’s as if the priest is announcing to us, “Get ready. Prepare your soul for this most holy encounter with Jesus in his Word and in the Eucharist.”
Another example: When we look at the Eucharist itself in light of Old Testament practices, it’s clear why the early Christians believed in the Real Presence. The sacrifices of old, like Passover, culminated in a communion meal, in which the people ate the animal being sacrificed. It wasn’t enough to sacrifice the Passover lamb. You had to eat the lamb. That’s what sealed the covenant. If Jesus is the true Lamb of God, who was sacrificed for our sins, then it makes sense there would be a communion meal in which we partake of the Lamb — not a symbol of the Lamb, but Jesus’ body — so that our covenant union with God is deepened.
COLUMBIA: A 2019 Pew Research study that found 69% of self-identified Catholics said they believed the consecrated bread and wine at Mass are “symbols of the body and blood” of Christ. To what do you attribute this lack of faith in the Real Presence?
EDWARD SRI: Part of the problem is that our secular culture values what we can see and touch more than the invisible spiritual realm. So when you say this bread and wine has been changed to the body and blood of Christ, people say to themselves, “I don’t see it.”
But the real crisis is within the Church. Whether it’s parents, teachers or Church leaders, we have not done a good job of passing on the faith of the Eucharist. And that’s on us. Are we passionately proclaiming the truth of the Real Presence? Are we really modeling eucharistic faith for our children and grandchildren? For our coworkers, our fellow parishioners? Do we center our lives on the Eucharist? Because if we did, I think those numbers would be much better.
COLUMBIA: How can Knights foster a better understanding of, and reverence for, the Blessed Sacrament in their families and parishes?
EDWARD SRI: The same Jesus who walked the streets of Galilee — giving sight to the blind, raising the dead, healing those that were paralyzed — that same Jesus is truly and uniquely present in the Eucharist. And he wants to work miracles in our lives today. If I am really convinced of that truth, the way I live my life is going to be centered on the Eucharist.
So, I ask Catholic men: Do you make it a priority to visit Jesus? Not just on Sunday. Can you stop by your church on the way home? Or get up 10 minutes earlier and make a quick visit before the Blessed Sacrament? Can you go to Mass a couple times during the week even? Fathers, do you talk to your children about how much the Eucharist makes a difference for your life? Do you take them with you to the chapel, show them how to genuflect, pray with them? Do you watch the kids so your wife can go visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament?
If we’re really convinced that the God of the universe is right there, these are the kind of things we would do.
Knights of Columbus councils should also do all they can to build a vibrant community around the Eucharist. Since restrictions were lifted in May, there’s a parish near my home that has come out of the gates firing. Every Sunday they have something fun and social after Mass, trying to create an environment for people to want to come back.
COLUMBIA: Supreme Knight Kelly has pledged the Order’s support of the U.S. bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival, set to launch next year. What are your hopes for such an initiative, and how do you recommend the Church prepare for it?
EDWARD SRI: I’m thrilled that the U.S. bishops identified this as a top priority. We need a revival.
I’m going to address the priests and deacons out there: Preach passionately on the Eucharist. Share from your experience how much the Eucharist makes a difference in your life. Teach clearly the truth of Jesus’ real presence. Cultivate in people a eucharistic spirituality, giving them concrete examples about how to make a thanksgiving after receiving holy Communion or making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament during the week.
Most of all, people also need to have personal encounters with the Blessed Sacrament, whether it’s a eucharistic procession or time in adoration.
When I went to Catholic grade school, adoration left a deep impression on me. Many times, the pastor would say, “OK, I want everyone to stay after Mass. We’re going to have adoration and Benediction.” He’d be holding up “this big yellow sun thing”; I didn’t know that it was called a monstrance. He couldn’t touch it. There was smoke. The altar servers had to put a big golden robe around him. It was all so awe-inspiring, a profoundly sacred encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist. I couldn’t explain transubstantiation as an eighth grader, but I knew God was there.
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