What a joy it was to join our Catholic charismatic prayer group for their Saturday morning holy hour of prayer recently. A special thanks to each participant and especially to Bob Garvey who has coordinated the Catholic charismatic movement in the Archdiocese for many years as well as to Maureen Larison, who has provided such good staff support.
During the time of prayer, I was invited to give a reflection on the Holy Eucharist. The bishops of the United States have embarked on a three-year Eucharistic revival, and I will join the bishops in reviewing a draft of a teaching document on the Holy Eucharist at this November’s meeting to guide this direction. You will be hearing more about it in the days to come. Be sure to read The Record so that you have an accurate understanding of this important revival. Your participation will be so necessary.
With Saturday’s prayer group, I reflected on the Holy Eucharist as both a gift and a mystery. I recalled the essay by St. John Paul in 1997 in which he reflected upon the gift of his vocation as he celebrated his 50th anniversary as a priest. How timely to consider the Eucharist as the gift and as a mystery from which springs forth each of our vocations. In baptism, we are joined to the one body of Christ that is most clearly expressed when we gather for the Holy Eucharist.
The Holy Eucharist is a mystery and gift to be believed, to be celebrated and to be lived. These weeks the Sunday Gospel is drawn from the discourse of Jesus in the Gospel according to John, chapter 6. How apt it is to consider the great gift of Jesus when at the Last Supper and at each Holy Eucharist, He says, “Take and eat; this is my body. Take and drink. This is my blood poured out for you.”
Years ago in order to make the reality of the crucifixion come home, a retreat master invited us to imagine removing the corpus of Jesus from the cross and placing a loved one on the cross as a way for us to be moved by another’s willingness to sacrifice and die for us. I placed my mother on that cross symbolically, and I have never again looked at a crucifix in the same way. It is the supreme gift of love for someone to lay down his life for one he loves, and this is precisely what Jesus does in the Eucharist.
We truly believe that the bread and the wine become the body and blood of Christ and make present the one sacrifice of Christ for our salvation. The word of God prepares us for that great sacrificial gift and our reception of communion when we utter “amen” joins us to Christ’s Paschal Mystery.
Recent opinion polls among Catholics show a decrease in the number of people who understand and believe in the true presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. In light of this development, a Eucharistic revival is very important because without a strong belief our celebration of the Holy Eucharist will be very shallow and flat.
The Eucharist is a mystery also to be celebrated. Shortly we will return to the Sunday obligation for all who are physically able. I picture a grand procession in which not only you and I participate, but we invite another to join and walk with us. That procession leads us to the altar of the Lord where together we once again encounter the one sacrifice of Christ and are drawn to Him and through Him to one another.
Finally, the Holy Eucharist is a mystery to be lived. Sacred scripture is not silent on the importance of seeking to receive our Lord in Holy Communion worthily. Sadly, recent news reports have distorted what the deep tradition of the Church means in the practice of receiving Christ worthily. In truth, the gift of the Eucharist is nothing that we will ever deserve fully, but unfortunately, it is a gift that we can too frequently take for granted and that we can trivialize. The Church as far back as St. Paul (1 Corinthians 11 and 12) calls forth the need to be properly prepared and to live the gift we have received. The dignity of a Christian baptized into Christ Jesus is a gift that we will never lose, but we can live a life that is beneath its great dignity.
In the coming days we will seek ways to renew the gift in the mystery of the Holy Eucharistic. Gabriel Marcel the philosopher said that life is not so much a problem to be solved as a mystery to be lived. This is no more clearly true than in our being a Eucharistic people. We come to the Eucharist not simply as consumers looking for good music or good homilies or good church architecture or good social interactions. We come to be transformed into the mystery of Christ. Paul would say later in his life: “I live; no, not I, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) We thank God for the gift of the Holy Eucharist.