Tag Archives: Eucharist

To Whom Shall We Go?

9 Apr

Eucharist2Next week my youngest child, Raymond, will make his First Communion. For the first time, my entire family will be able to receive the Eucharist at Mass!

A couple weeks before my daughter Virginia made her First Communion, I took her to lunch and talked with her about the Eucharist. To test her, I said, “Now Virginia, the Eucharist symbolizes Christ, right?” Virginia looked at me partly in horror and partly in surprise at my apparent ignorance. “Oh no, Daddy,” she said. “The Eucharist really is the body and blood of Jesus.”

I affirmed her response and told her that sometimes I go out to speak to groups of people about the Eucharist. So I asked for her “advice” as to what I should tell people. Reveling in her new role as theological consultant, Virginia replied, “Daddy, I would start by telling them about Jesus: Jesus is God. He can do anything. Of course He can make Himself present under the appearance of bread and wine.”

I am so grateful to God for Virginia’s child-like faith that has now continued into her college years. I pray that she continues to deepen her relationship with Our Eucharistic Lord as she matures into adulthood.

Sadly, though, many adults don’t have Virginia’s faith. It is said that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, so I have a healthy distrust of polls that attempt to quantify Eucharistic belief. Even so, despite the welcome resurgence of Eucharistic adoration and devotions and other positive signs of life in the Church, far too many Catholics have an inadequate understanding of the Eucharist.

And how can we love what we don’t know?

When we consider the various problems and scandals in the Church, we most typically point to secondary, external causes and effects. Yet, underlying these things is the perennial mystery of evil and sin. So why does sin seem to be having such a field day right now? I think the heart of the matter is a crisis of faith. And while faith in Christ identifies us as Christians, our belief in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and the authority entrusted to the successors of Peter and the other apostles is what identifies us more specifically as Catholics.

When Our Lord gave His great Eucharistic discourse in John 6, many of those who were already numbered among His disciples could not accept this teaching and returned to their former, pre-Christian lives (cf. Jn. 6:60, 66). No other recorded teaching of Christ had such an effect.

There are many today who do not believe in God, let alone His Incarnate Son. Then there are Christians whose rejection of the Eucharist sadly perpetuates divisions dating back to the 16th century. And there are those who consider themselves Catholic but who hold out for a different Christ and a different Church.

After many disciples left because of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn. 6:67). And Peter’s response, the response of the Church, was, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe . . .” (Jn. 6:68).

Our Lord’s question–which goes out to each of us–demands an act of faith, an adherence to revealed truth. Indifference about the Eucharist, ambivalence about the Church, is clearly not an acceptable response. Yet the actions of many baptized Catholics manifest such indifference and ambivalence. That’s why today–and always–the Church needs heroic witnesses, indeed martyrs, to the truth about Jesus Christ, to the truth about the Church, to the truth about the Eucharist.

Sacred Banquet

28 Jan

st_thomas_aquinasO Sacred Banquet,
in which Christ is received,
the memory of His Passion is recalled,
the soul is filled with grace,
and the pledge of future glory is given to us.

–St. Thomas Aquinas

For more on this beautiful antiphon by the Angelic Doctor, click here.

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

Why Do We Ring Bells at the Consecration?

8 Nov

The bells at the time of the consecration at Mass signify the coming of the Person of Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine at the consecration. It is interesting to note that bells are mentioned several times in Scripture, and in every instance it is in connection with liturgical worship (e.g., Ex. 28:31-35; Zech. 14:20; Sir. 45:9). In most instances, the bells draw attention to the coming of a sacred person.

When it comes to the use of bells during the Eucharistic Prayer, as the assembly anticipates and welcomes the coming of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (“GIRM”) provides:

“A little before the consecration, when appropriate, a server rings a bell as a signal to the faithful. According to local custom, the server also rings the bell as the priest shows the host and then the chalice” (no. 150).

By “a little before the consecration” is generally understood the epiclesis, when the priest put his hands over the gifts and calls down the Holy Spirit upon them. The priest “shows” the host and chalice immediately after the consecration by elevating them so that the faithful can see them.

In 1972, the following question was posed to the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments: “Is a bell to be rung at Mass?” The Vatican’s authoritative reply provided this illuminating explanation:

“. . . From a long and attentive catechesis and education in liturgy, a particular liturgical assembly may be able to take part in the Mass with such attention and awareness that it has no need of this signal at the central part of the Mass. This may easily be the case, for example, with religious communities or with particular or small groups. The opposite may be presumed in a parish or public church, where there is a different level of liturgical and religious education and where often people who are visitors or are not regular churchgoers take part. In these cases the bell as a signal is entirely appropriate and is sometimes necessary. To conclude: usually a signal with the bell should be given, at least at the two elevations, in order to elicit joy and attention” (Notitiae 8 (1972), 195-196, as quoted in Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts, 1452, emphasis added).


Know the Lord!

9 Aug

I am sure many homilists today will focus on the Gospel, and rightly so, as we hear the critically important exchange between Our Lord and St. Peter in Matthew 16, where Our Lord refers to Peter as the “rock” on whom He will build His Church.

Here, however, I’d like to focus our attention on the first reading, from the prophet Jeremiah, in which he foretells a new covenant between God and His exiled people (Jer.31:31). God has been gradually forming His people throughout salvation history through a series of covenants, as with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Now Jeremiah foretells a new covenant unlike the others.

God’s law, in the form of the Ten Commandments, was written on stone tablets, instructing the people how to live in right relationship with God. Yet these commandments did not come with the grace to keep them. They were more like instructions for playing a new sport or musical instrument, containing many “thou shall nots.” They were imposed from the outside and the people had to adjust to them, often by trial and error. The commandments seemed burdensome to a stiff-necked people that was not always willing to be taught or led (sound familiar?). As Jeremiah notes, the people were not faithful to their covenant with God (cf. Jer. 31:32).

Jeremiah says that the new covenant will not be a law imposed from the outside, as on stone tablets, but a law on the “inside,” written on the human heart (Jer. 31:31). This new interior law will become part of who they are. They will no longer need “lessons” or tedious practice, as with a sport or an instrument, but rather God’s law will become second nature to them.

With Christ, we see the fulfillment of this prophecy. The law has taken flesh. The Holy Spirit now dwells within us, transforming us. And each time we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, we welcome Our Lord into our bodies and into our hearts, renewing and strengthening the grace we received at Baptism.

Jeremiah says that when the prophecy is fulfilled, the people will “know the Lord” (Jer. 31:34). How well do I know the Lord? Is it evident to those around me that I know the Lord? Do I joyfully welcome God’s law into my heart, or do I offer resistance, preferring my own way instead?

In the Church’s wisdom, we are called today to revisit these and similar questions, as we recommit ourselves to Christ and the Church He founded on the rock.

The Gift of the Eucharist

20 Jul

God loves us not because we’re good, but because He’s good. In fact, God in His goodness loved us so much that, despite our sinfulness, He became man in the fullness of time. He redeemed us by His own blood and opened for us the gates of heaven. We have received no greater gift, and we have no greater cause for thanksgiving, than Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for us.

Even more, through the Eucharist, Christ’s sacrifice is continually made present and effective in our lives. “Eucharist” literally means thanksgiving, as the gift of Christ to His Church elicits our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

We do need to recognize the fullness of the gift of the Eucharist–that Our Lord is truly present under the appearance of bread and wine, and that He gives us the grace and the power to live the Gospel when we partake of this Sacrament. To fully appreciate the gift of the Mass, our eyes must remain fixed on Jesus and this tremendous gift.

That should go without saying, but in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, our focus can be diverted to ourselves if we’re not careful. Many of the liturgical controversies that we’ve endured in recent decades would dissipate if we really believed and truly appreciated what is happening on the altar. We can’t feed ourselves, we can’t save ourselves. Thank God that He sent His Son to feed us, indeed, to save us.

The gift of faith in Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist, is inseparable from our faith in the Church. Scripture says that in marriage the two truly become one (cf. Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:5). Scripture also calls Jesus Christ the Bridegroom and the Church His Bride (cf. Eph. 5:21-33). If that were the case, it would take an act of violence–a spiritual divorce, if you will–to separate Christ from His Church.

The Church, after all, is the Body of Christ extended through space and time. Even more profoundly, she is the family of God and our true home. The Bible is our family album. All those who are alive in Christ are truly our brothers and sisters in the communion of saints. Christ is the one source of eternal life for the whole world, and this life flows through His family, the Church. We are grateful for the gift of the Church and for the witness and intercession of the company of saints.

Pope’s Intentions for July 2012

2 Jul

Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI for the month of July, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Work Security.  That everyone may have work in safe and secure conditions.
  • Christian Volunteers.  That Christian volunteers in mission territories may witness to the love of Christ.

July is also the month traditionally dedicated to the Precious Blood of Our Lord. Father Faber describes why we honor the Blood of Christ in The Precious Blood: The Price of our Salvation.

The Precious Blood of Jesus deserves special honor because of its close relation to Our Lord’s Passion. From the beginning the Apostles praised its redeeming power. Some biblical examples:

  • Romans 5:9 “we are justified by His blood”
  • Hebrews 13:12 “and so Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people by His blood, suffered outside the gate”
  • 1 John 1:7 “and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin”

Light of the Nations

31 May

The Church is the light to the nations. In fact, the central document of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), on the mystery of the Church, bears the Latin title Lumen Gentium, or “Light of the Nations.”

Indeed the mission of the Church is to shine the light of Christ to the world, to extend Christ through space and time. Christ’s explicit instructions to His Church before ascending to the Father amounted to a sacred commissioning: His Apostles were sent into the whole world in order to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:18-20; Mk 16:15). For this reason, the popes in recent decades have emphasized that the Church’s perennial mission is evangelization.

Pope John Paul II’s 2003 encyclical letter on the Eucharist focuses on the intimate connection between the Eucharist and the Church, as the latter draws her life from the former. This speaks volumes as to the desired life-giving effects of receiving our Lord in Holy Communion. Regardless of our state in life, our participation in the Eucharist is necessarily connected to the great work of evangelization.

In explaining this truth, the Holy Father draws an important parallel between the individual believer and the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Visitation. He writes that when the Blessed Mother “bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a ‘tabernacle’–the first ‘tabernacle’ in history–in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed Himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating His light as it were through the eyes and voice of Mary” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 55).

When we receive Christ in us, just as our Lady received Him in her womb, it’s not merely a private, “me and Jesus” matter. He does not desire to remain hidden within us. That would be like trying to put the light of Christ under a bushel basket (see Mt 5:15). So, when Christ comes to us in Communion, it’s not to diminish, impede, or conceal His light, but to multiply it! He uses each one of us as His lamps in the world. Lamps of themselves provide no light, but act as conduits of the light provided by an energy source. Similarly, we are not the “light of the world” except inasmuch as the Lord shines through us, as He did through she who was “full of grace.”

All generations call Mary blessed (see Lk 1:48) precisely because of the singular way she “magnified” the light of Christ through her cooperation with divine grace. The intensity of the light of Christ that we are able to bring to the world is dependent upon our own cooperation with divine grace. This again points to the need to be properly disposed to receive our Lord in Communion. The Church teaches that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion” (Catechism, no. 1385).

We further dispose ourselves by observing the required fast, by the way we dress, and the way we conduct ourselves at Mass (Catechism, no. 1387), and more generally through giving and receiving mercy.

In a spirit of praise, gratitude, and wonderment, we recognize that Holy Communion is the moment when our Lord comes to us most intimately and completely. After Communion, we should take ample time in prayer and thanksgiving, fostering an interior awareness of Christ in us. We must not allow the “busy-ness” of our daily lives to obscure the light of Christ. Rather, we must strive in humility to become increasingly transparent, so that the Mystery of Light can shine in us and through us.

Genuflection 101

12 Apr

Not long ago someone posed this question to me:

I know we are always to genuflect when entering and leaving the church for Mass. But are we supposed to genuflect when coming for non-Masses, such as parent meetings for Confirmation?

This is a very good question for all of us to consider, even if we automatically genuflect whenever we enter a church. “Automatically” could mean a virtue, a godly habit. But it could also mean a mindless act that we do without considering why we do it. So, let’s look at this issue a little more closely.

Genuflection is the bending of the right knee to the floor and then rising again to a standing position as an act of reverence toward Our Lord, who is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the most Blessed Sacrament. As St. Paul wrote, even at the name of Jesus, every knee must bend (Phil. 2:10). Even more, we should bend the knee before the Lord Himself!

We genuflect upon entering a church not strictly because it’s a church building, but because Our Lord is present there in the tabernacle. Typically the tabernacle is in the center of the church, or in some other prominent place indicated by a sanctuary lamp that is kept burning. It is to this Presence that we genuflect.

A couple points. Obviously we reverence the Eucharist during Mass. You will notice, for example, that the priest genuflects immediately after the bread and wine are consecrated, as he acknowledges that Our Lord is now present on the altar.

Christ’s presence in the Eucharist doesn’t end when Mass is over. Hosts remaining after Mass are kept in the tabernacle, both for adoration of Our Lord outside of Mass, and also to give to the sick and dying as needed. Sometimes a large host is exposed in a monstrance for adoration, but even when the Eucharist is simply reserved in the tabernacle we should adore Him there, and one way we do that is by genuflecting when we come into His presence.

It follows, then, that we would genuflect upon entering the presence of the Lord when we walk into a church, regardless of whether we’re there for Mass, for private prayer before Our Lord, or for some other parish event.

The only exception to that would be in the unusual case of the Blessed Sacrament not being reserved in the church. For example, sometimes the Sacrament is removed when the church is being cleaned or renovated, or when the church building is being used for a special (non-liturgical) event such as a concert.

And of course the tabernacle is empty on Good Friday, so this past Friday if we attended Good Friday services we simply bowed to the altar as we entered the church. Whenever the Sacrament is not present in the tabernacle, the sanctuary lamp will not be burning.

Genuflecting may seem like a small thing, but this act of reverence is a building block that will leads to an ever more profound awareness of God’s presence in our midst!

Memories That Come Alive

1 Feb

I’m a diehard sports fan, so I will be in my glory this coming “Super Bowl weekend,” even though my beloved Chiefs aren’t playing for the 42nd consecutive time–but who’s counting. I’ve never been to a Super Bowl, which would be awesome, but I’ve been to plenty of major sporting events in my life. If I had to single out one sporting event above all the others, hands down it would be the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles. More specifically, it was being present to witness the USA’s Edwin Moses’ gold medal performance in the 400 meter hurdles.

The race didn’t begin until dusk. As the runners got situated in the starting blocks, the 100,000 spectators in the Los Angeles Coliseum became deafeningly quiet. As the race began, all eyes were on the runners. The stadium was aglow with lighters, lit matches, and the flashing of cameras. The silence at the start of the race quickly gave way to a rumble that crescendoed into a roar as Moses triumphantly thundered down the stretch on his way to Olympic glory. Everyone knew that we had just witnessed something very special.

As exciting as Edwin Moses’s gold medal performance was, it was just a sporting event. Yet this experience illustrates that we’re very capable of focusing our attention when we think something is truly important, despite the many distractions in our lives. Our hearts can be found close to what we treasure (cf. Mt. 6:19-21). Where does our treasure–our “gold medal”–truly lie?

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the memorial of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, the most significant event in the history of the world, occurring in the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4). This event not only has left its indelible mark on world history, but even defines who we are today. This event preeminently merits our attention.

Given the fundamental importance of the Mass, we must ask why more people do not fervently enter into the sacred mysteries. Even among the evangelized–those who believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead–there are those who don’t consider the Mass all that important, and perhaps don’t even believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. While this is a complex issue, I think much of the problem comes down to a misunderstanding of what a “memorial” is. Continue reading

Dual Citizenship

30 Jan

Even though it’s written on our souls rather than our passports, our true home is heaven. As God’s children by adoption (cf. Gal. 4:4-7), we are citizens of both the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom.

There is one significant difference between our earthly citizenship and our heavenly citizenship. As citizens of this world, we strive to change the world for the better through our participation in human endeavors, great or small. We must be thermostats, not thermometers as we seek a cultural “climate change.”

Rather than conform to the world and simply reflect the secular mindset of the status quo, we are called to be counter-cultural agents of renewal and reconciliation (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17-20) as we strive to build a civilization of life and love. Our Lord calls us to be leaven in the world; just “fitting in” doesn’t quite cut it.

After all, as Catholics we have the advantage of the fullness of revealed truth. We also have a rich corpus of social teaching and a developed sense of the natural law that the Magisterium preserves from error–or social engineering. The Church’s urgent call to Catholic laity today is that we use these blessings to help transform the temporal order, including social, political, and economic realities, especially in the upcoming Year of Faith.

As citizens of heaven, though, we strive to allow the Lord to change us through our participation in the communion of saints. Continue reading