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How the Eucharistic mystery can help us better appreciate the Mass this Advent
During Advent, we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus at Christmas, an event that manifests God’s great love for us. His birth reminds us that the God-man really lived, loved and suffered as we do.
Advent offers us a special opportunity to understand more fully that Jesus still dwells with us in his glorified state, and that a special bond exists between Jesus’ incarnation and his continued presence with us in the Eucharist. This season encourages us to focus on this bond and to better appreciate Jesus’ Eucharistic presence.
An unfortunate slip of the tongue
While on vacation with four other priests, we attended Sunday Mass at a local parish. We did not identify ourselves as priests and sat near the front of the church.
As the parishioners assembled, they exhibited deep reverence for Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, even before the lector made announcements prior to Mass. When he began, he fumbled with a paper, looking for where to start. Then, he moved his finger over the page and said, “Welcome to today’s … .” After stopping briefly, he blurted out, “Welcome to today’s lethargy!”
When the lector said “lethargy” instead of “liturgy,” the congregation did not laugh. I immediately wondered if this is what we would experience. As Mass proceeded, the liturgical celebration was a mixed bag of lethargy and love.
An elderly pastor presided. Although he spoke in a monotone voice, I sensed that the parishioners loved him deeply and accepted him for who he was. He moved them to tears in his homily when he cried while telling the story of his ministering to a beloved parishioner, killed in a car accident that week.
If I had to grade the quality of the pastor’s formal liturgical style, he would receive a C. At the same time, I would give him an A+ for how he connected with the parishioners.
Imperfections abounded in the liturgical style on that day. The music was average, the pastor was hard to hear, and the lector left much to be desired. Nonetheless, the congregation showed great Eucharistic devotion, as they went beyond the externals of liturgical style to the heart of the Mass. Over many years, the pastor taught them its deeper meaning. For them, the Mass was, indeed, a liturgy of love.
This article goes deeper than the externals and asks, “Is liturgical style the main aspect of the Mass?” Some people who focus on the quality of the homily, the music, the style of the vestments and such may be inclined to answer “yes.” Not finding liturgical actions that move them to pray, some stop attending Mass. In contrast, other Catholics, who answer “no,” probe more deeply to focus on Christ’s Eucharistic presence and what the Mass really is. The style of the presider, the music and other externals are important, but they are not the real reason why the Mass is central to their lives. They realize that it is the unbloody renewal of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He is truly present in the Eucharist, regardless of the style of the liturgy.
The pastor mentioned above inspired parishioners through his teaching, holiness and kindness to love the Mass and see the Mass as the source and summit of the Christian life. This did not happen through his external gestures at Mass, but by his teaching them that every Mass celebrates the dying and rising of Jesus, made present on our altars.
At the same time, it is important to add that stressing the essential elements of the Mass does not minimize the importance of a well-prepared liturgy with good preaching, vibrant music, congregational singing, flowers, nice vestments and other liturgical gestures. These enhance the community’s awareness of the Real Presence of Christ.
The Mass: Beyond style and gestures
The above reflections set the foundation for considering Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist. They are directed at helping us appreciate the Eucharist at a time when some Catholics no longer understand the meaning of the Mass and others do not believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist.
The latter is of particular concern. Recent research data from a 2019 study done by the Pew Research Center indicates that among Catholics, belief in Christ’s real presence has steadily eroded. Fewer self-identified Catholics believe in Christ’s real presence, while an increasing number say that the bread and wine consecrated at Mass are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In addition, many do not know the Catholic teaching on what happens at Mass.
The data gathered challenges the Catholic Church to stress what really happens at Mass. With this in mind, we consider five aspects of the Eucharistic mystery to help Catholics better appreciate the Mass.
1. The sacrifice of Christ is made present to us
Since the seventh century in the Western Catholic Church, the Eucharist has been called “the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” Jesus sacrificed himself out of love by suffering and dying on the cross to atone for the sins of the world. His Good Friday sacrifice continues in an unbloody manner at every Mass. The liturgy, including bells, singing and silence, reminds the faithful that this awesome event that happened 2,000 years ago is made present on our altars, whenever Mass is celebrated.
Jesus’ Paschal Mystery sets the stage for the four ways that he is present at Mass. He is present in:
- the Scriptures proclaimed at Mass
- the congregation assembled
- the person of the presider
- and the consecrated bread and wine, his body and blood.
While all four ways enhance one another, particular focus rests on the consecrated Eucharist species, received by the faithful at Mass. Belief in the Mass as a sacrifice roots belief that the Eucharist is really Jesus’ body and blood. As we prepare to celebrate Jesus among us at Christmas, let Advent provide us with a wonderful opportunity to link the Incarnation with Jesus among us in the Eucharist.
2. God dwells with us
As a boy, awe and mystery pervaded our parish church when we assembled for Mass. Since Jesus was present in the tabernacle, we owed him worship and respect even before Mass began. The church environment, muted tones, sunlight streaming through stained-glass windows, and reverent parishioners attested to the community’s belief in Jesus’ real Eucharistic presence.
All the ritual activities surrounding the Eucharist reflected this belief. We genuflected before entering our pews out of reverence to Jesus in the tabernacle. We visited the Blessed Sacrament, participated in Eucharistic adoration, received holy Communion on the tongue and experienced the power of a believing community.
After Vatican II, the environment surrounding the Eucharistic liturgy shifted from a focus on God’s transcendence — the awe and reverence shown to the divine Son of God beyond us — to his immanence — Jesus’ humanity and his presence with us in the Church, the community of the People of God. Liturgically speaking, this shift led to a clearer focus on the four ways that Jesus is present (mentioned above) and to a new appreciation of Jesus’ humanity, bringing it into balance with his divinity.
This awareness of Jesus’ humanity helps us realize that he became one like us in all things, except sin. As we identify with him in his humanity, we recognize our own challenges, joys, and sorrows in happy and sad times.
It’s a great consolation to relate to Jesus in his divinity and humanity. In so doing, we get a clearer picture of his presence in the Eucharist, recognizing him as true God and true man. This is the same God-made-man whose coming we celebrate during Advent.
|Prayer by St. Faustina|
“I adore you, Lord and Creator, hidden in the Most Blessed Sacrament. I adore you for all the works of your hands, that reveal to me so much wisdom, goodness and mercy, O Lord. You have spread so much beauty over the earth and it tells me about your beauty, even though these beautiful things are but a faint reflection of you, incomprehensible Beauty. And although you have hidden yourself and concealed your beauty, my eye, enlightened by faith, reaches you and my soul recognizes its Creator, its highest good, and my heart is completely immersed in prayer of adoration.
“My Lord and Creator, your goodness encourages me to converse with you. Your mercy abolishes the chasm which separates the Creator from the creature. To converse with you, O Lord, is the delight of my heart. In you I find everything that my heart could desire. Here your light illumines my mind, enabling it to know you more and more deeply. Here streams of grace flow down upon my heart. Here my soul draws eternal life. O my Lord and Creator, you alone, beyond all these gifts, give your own self to me and unite yourself intimately with your miserable creature.
“O Christ, let my greatest delight be to see you loved and your praise and glory proclaimed, especially the honor of your mercy. O Christ, let me glorify your goodness and mercy to the last moment of my life, with every drop of my blood and every beat of my heart. Would that I be transformed into a hymn of adoration of you. When I find myself on my deathbed, may the last beat of my heart be a loving hymn glorifying your unfathomable mercy. Amen.”
— St. Faustina
3. True God and true man
The Second Vatican Council brought into better balance belief in Jesus as true God and true man by moving away from a stress on the divinity of Christ to an appreciation of both his divinity and humanity.
Jesus is true God, but he is also one of us. We better appreciate his role as savior of the world by relating to him as human and divine. Unfortunately, over-stressing Jesus’ humanity has led some Catholics to minimize his divinity, especially, in regard to the reverence due to him in the Eucharist. It also has led others to question, deny or fail to appreciate Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist. When people no longer see Jesus as true God and true man, they miss the real meaning of the Mass and its value in helping them to grow in love and keep on the narrow path to salvation by uniting their sacrifices to those of Christ.
In reflecting on Jesus’ real presence, we recall the scholastic teaching on transubstantiation. This term explains that at the consecration, the substances of the bread and wine are changed into the substances of the body and blood of Christ, while the accidents of bread and wine (color, size, taste, etc.) remain the same.
4. The Eucharistic mystery in a problem-solving world
In our problem-solving world, science and technology intensify our craving to discover more about the world. In this quest, the internet fills us with superficial information, distracting us from life’s great mysteries. In this secular environment, many people have little time for God, and the Eucharist is not appreciated. And yet, a gaping hole exists at the heart of those who long for more and realize that material achievements alone do not satisfy them.
As we search for deeper meaning, often not knowing where to begin, we open the door for an appreciation of the Eucharist. Opening it, we discover that the Eucharist is love incarnate — Jesus himself, the source and summit of human love. The “more” we seek is found here, where we experience his presence with wonder and awe and realize that human love springs from God who is love.
To try to fathom divine love, we begin with human love. If we love someone, our relationship with that person sets the stage for loving feelings, thoughts and actions. Something similar happens with God. A loving relationship with Jesus leads us to the Eucharist and is climaxed in our union with him in holy Communion. In turn, this union intensifies our love for him and grounds the love we have for one another.
We enter a unique union with Jesus, as we receive the host and become one with him. For a few precious moments, we experience his great love for us and admit our unworthiness.
As we commit ourselves to follow him, we enter the depths of this mystery and become one with Jesus, who was born into this world, died for us and rose from the dead. Aware of his presence within us, we pledge to follow him, atone for our sins, and live the life he modeled for us.
In our world, where a problem-solving environment holds sway over how we think and act, it is sometimes difficult to appreciate the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. This happens, when we address our deepest needs to love and be loved and open ourselves to God’s answers found in the Eucharistic mystery.
Yes, the Eucharist is more than a symbol reminding us of Jesus, for at Mass the bread and wine become Jesus himself. To appreciate this great mystery requires faith and is greatly enhanced by the style of our lives. Living a good life is our best preparation for receiving the Eucharist.
Advent can be a special time to grow in appreciation of Christ’s Eucharistic presence. To do so, we face a challenge, similar to the one that we experience in celebrating the season of Advent itself. Since Advent occurs right before Christmas, our materialistic world overshadows it with the secularization of this pre-Christmas time. Unless we make an intentional decision to focus on growing spiritually during Advent, this season, preoccupied with worldly events, will be over before we realize it.
Something similar often happens with our appreciation of the Eucharist. Inundated with worldly affairs, we can easily lose focus on matters of faith and gradually grow tepid about the Eucharist. Advent offers us a great opportunity to recognize the challenges that we face in the secular world that takes us away from spiritual affairs. In so doing, we can recommit ourselves to matters of faith by celebrating a deliberate and reflective Advent of a spiritual nature and to do the same by reflecting on the mystery of Christ’s Eucharistic presence.
5. Creating a Eucharistic climate
Some time ago, while celebrating Mass, I frequently noticed a young woman and her small daughter. Her reverence for the Eucharist impressed me, and I imagined that her daily activities must be motivated by God’s presence.
I pictured her whole day as one where she lives in a Eucharistic climate. This climate can be described as an environment of permanent awareness of Christ’s presence. This includes caring for her baby, honoring her husband, working at her job, being kind to neighbors and reaching out to the poor. As she lives her life in union with Christ, she, no doubt, intentionally connects her daily activities with Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist.
Such an environment of intentional Eucharistic presence embraces the following:
- Joining an awareness Christ’s presence in our daily activities in and beyond the family with receiving him in the Eucharist
- Celebrating Mass and receiving the Eucharist regularly
- Connecting daily prayer, especially at mealtime, with receiving the Eucharist
- And attending, when possible, Eucharistic devotions.
A greater appreciation of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, and linking it with life, goes a long way to help us appreciate Jesus’ great love for us.
|Inspiration from a millennial saint|
|The story of Carlo Acutis has taken the Catholic world by storm. Not only did this teen show remarkable love for Christ through attending daily Mass and frequent Eucharistic adoration, but his unwavering devotion to the Eucharist inspired him to tell the story of Eucharistic miracles through a website he created just for fun.
Since his death at the age of 15 in 2006 from a sudden and violent illness, his story has spread from his native Italy to Catholics all around the world, leading up to his beatification in Assisi on Oct. 10, 2020.
In an age where devotion to and understanding of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is waning, we need to be inspired by the holy men and women who have gone before us.
His story is told in “Carlo Acutis: The First Millennial Saint” (OSV, $14.95), where you can read more about this young man, who made the Word of God and the Eucharist the center of his life.
Let us make the most of this year’s Advent season by dedicating it to a deeper realization of how Jesus is present with us. This began in ancient times, as the Old Testament prophets foretold his coming. It continued in his incarnation and life on earth, and is brought to fruition through Jesus’ ongoing presence in our families and in the Church, especially in his Eucharistic presence.
During Advent, as we revitalize our spiritual life, let us focus on a greater awareness of the wonderful gift of the Eucharist. It’s important to personally reinvigorate this central belief of Catholicism and to prioritize it in our activities. When we realize the depths of the Eucharistic mystery, our lives take on a different focus. Then, we know that Jesus is truly with us. What more can we ask of our loving God?
Father Robert J. Hater, Ph.D., is a priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and a professor emeritus of the University of Dayton.
|Get to know Jesus in adoration|
|Advent is a great time to renew our devotion to Christ in the Eucharist, and what better way is there to do so than by physically spending time with him in Eucharistic adoration? Here are two books to help guide your time before Jesus.
“Praying in the Presence of Our Lord: Eucharistic Adoration” by Father Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR ($8.95)
Combining traditional prayers with modern ones, this compact prayer book is ideal for Perpetual Adoration, as well as private meditation and personal reflection.
“The Handy Little Guide to Adoration” by Michelle Jones Schroeder ($5.95)
In this book, you will not only explore the nuts and bolts of Eucharistic adoration but also discover great reasons and times to enter into the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, including when you need focus in prayer and when you just feel the need to be with Jesus.
Find these and more at osvcatholicbookstore.com.