PREFACE

As we continue our diocesan participation in this first year of the “Eucharistic Revival” announced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for our country, I thought it appropriate, as Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, to prayerfully compose some reflections on the Holy Eucharist and share them with the clergy and faithful of the Diocese. 

Often enough in the course of our Diocesan Synod, participants expressed concern about the lack of good catechesis among many of the faithful on any number of aspects of our Catholic faith and teaching, the Holy Eucharist included. The purpose of the Synod, as declared by our Holy Father, was “to listen” to one another as we “journey together” in faith.  Now may be a most opportune time, by means of follow-up to that “listening,” to consider the gift and mystery of the Holy Eucharist that is the focus of our current “Eucharistic Revival” through a series of catechetical presentations.

At the onset, I want to note that this catechetical series on the Holy Eucharist that follows is, by no means, an exhaustive treatment of its subject.  How could it be?  I have tried to highlight many aspects of the inexhaustible gift and mystery of the Holy Eucharist as the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, drawn from scripture and tradition, that are particularly meaningful to me and, hopefully, will be to the reader.  So much more could be reflected upon, written and said.

I do not take up here the topic of the clergy and faithful’s preferences for either the 1962 or the 1970/2011 Roman Missal or recent pronouncements of the Holy See about either. Neither do I go into detail about the various liturgical parts of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Similarly, the polemical question of the worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist by Catholic public officials who espouse moral positions contrary to the Church’s teaching is not addressed here.  Bishops and pastors have the responsibility to discuss such matters with the individuals themselves, challenging them to a conversion of heart and conscience.

My purpose is writing this catechetical series is simple: to re-present the Catholic Church’s understanding of the Holy Eucharist as the Lord Jesus Christ’s own Body and Blood, his “gift for the life of the world (John 6: 51).”

CATECHESIS ON THE HOLY EUCHARIST: PART ONE

Every day I spend some time in the small chapel in my home. It is a quiet time for prayer and reflection before the Blessed Sacrament. When I wake up in the morning and come downstairs, I stop first in my chapel to pray as I begin the day. I say the same prayer, the same version of the “morning offering” I learned from the sisters and recited daily in Catholic school as a boy:

Dear Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You all my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with your Sacred Heart, in reparation for all my sins, for the intentions of all my associates and, in particular, for the intentions of the Holy Father.

As I look around the chapel, I see the tabernacle and the flickering sanctuary lamp beside it, reminding me of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ there. I see the altar where I celebrate Holy Mass before heading to the Chancery. And I see the large crucifix behind the altar. I thank the Lord Jesus for giving me another day of life to love and serve him.

I offer him my prayer for special intentions recommended to me as Bishop, for the people I will meet and for the things I will do in the day ahead. I thank him for my parents and family and for those I love and who love me. And I pray for the Diocese of Trenton and all my priests. This is the way I begin my day, asking the Lord Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament, to remain with me.

I know that not everybody is fortunate enough to have the Blessed Sacrament reserved in their homes. But everyone should begin the day with prayer.

Growing up, trained in several Vincentian seminaries, I became accustomed to the spiritual practice of St. Vincent de Paul, visiting the chapel before leaving the house and upon returning. It was something important to him and, therefore, important to his sons. The Eucharist was the center of his life.

For Catholics living in the Church after the Second Vatican Council, the notion proclaimed at the Council, that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 11), has become familiar, not only for priests but also for all the baptized faithful. Quite simply, that conciliar declaration describes the heart of our faith and spirituality as Catholics.  

Mystery and Reality

All that we are and believe as baptized Catholics is rooted in Christ’s presence in the Holy Eucharist and is directed toward Christ’s presence there. To affirm that belief throughout our Christian lives shapes, informs and guides our Catholic teachings through the ages and our Catholic faith here and now. It is both a mystery and a reality that requires our understanding, our conviction, and our way of life.  

As a “mystery,” the Holy Eucharist defies any scientific explanation. At the same time, as a “reality,” it does not need one. It is both. The Eucharistic hymn, “Tantum ergo,” attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas that we learned and have sung from our earliest years, describes our belief in the Holy Eucharist so very well: “What our senses fail to fathom, let us grasp through faith’s consent.”

The Holy Eucharist is the “Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity” of the Lord Jesus Christ, Catholics are accustomed to say. It is not a “sign” or “symbol.”  The Holy Eucharist IS the Lord Jesus Christ: real, true, entire, and substantial. The bread and wine placed on the altar at every celebration of Holy Mass becomes the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ “through the power of the Holy Spirit and the instrumentality of the priest.”

The Church refers to this action as “transubstantiation.” Though the appearance of bread and wine remain, the whole Christ, crucified and risen from the dead in glory, is truly and really present. The Holy Eucharist is his “Real Presence,” a “mystery and a reality” that is the “source and summit” of the Catholic faith and of all Christian spirituality.

The Gift of Faith

Faith is not an intrinsic element of human nature although its possibility is. Aided by human reason, faith grows and develops in the human person through an openness to what is possible and real in human existence and experience. That “openness” becomes trust and confidence in someone or something, affirmed by experience and shared with and by others. For Catholics, faith is considered a “gift from God” who inspires and places that openness, trust, and confidence in God as Creator.

For Catholics, religious faith is a “supernatural gift” from God that deepens and grows in the believer, supported by the Word of God and the teachings of the Catholic Church experienced as Truth. Catholics share their faith. The biblical understanding of faith is expressed in the Letter to the Hebrews as “confident assurance concerning things hoped for and conviction about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1).

The Holy Eucharist is a central element of the Catholic faith, rooted in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who, the Gospels recorded, on the night before he died, shared one last meal with his disciples during which he took bread, blessed and broke it saying, “Take and eat: this is my Body, this is my Blood given for you”(Mark 14:22-26; Matthew 26:26-30; Luke 22:14-20; John 6:22-59). In so doing, the Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist which Catholics continue to celebrate as the heart of their life in the Church.

Notice the Lord Jesus did not say this is a “sign” or “symbol” of his Body and Blood. He said that the bread and wine of the Last Supper IS his Body and Blood. And Catholics have always believed that, continuing to obey his command that night, “Do this in memory of me.”

Over the centuries since that Last Supper much has been preached, written, and taught in the Catholic Church about the Holy Eucharist. In the series that follows, intended as a catechesis to help our understanding, we will explore several aspects of the Holy Eucharist that support our Catholic faith, our Catholic prayer, and our Catholic life.