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.

 CATECHESIS ON THE HOLY EUCHARIST: PART TWO

In the summer of 2019, the Pew Research Center (PRC) published the results of a February survey conducted among 1,835 adult Catholics in the U.S. about their belief in the Eucharist. Numerous other studies have been done over the years by various research organizations about religion and the Catholic Church in particular.

This Pew study, however, was especially alarming because its subject matter concerned a central belief of the Catholic Church’s faith. Through responses to a variety of questions, PRC concluded, “Just one-third of U.S. Catholics (31%) agree with their Church that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ.” As a “headline,” that garnered much attention.

It is understandable that such a statistic is a grave cause for concern in the US Catholic Church, especially among American bishops, priests and those entrusted with the transmission of the Catholic faith. Before jumping to any dire conclusions prompted by startling headlines and sound bites, however, we must remember that this survey was conducted among a relatively small segment – 1,835 – of the total self-identifying U.S. Catholic population, numbering well over 70.5 million, about 21-22 percent of the entire U.S. population. Despite similar research surveys and consequent media projections to the contrary, the number of self-identifying U.S. Catholics has remained relatively stable since 2014.

We should also take note that “self-identifying Catholics” can be an elusive term. Recalling the phrase attributed to the Irish writer James Joyce in his 1939 novel “Finnegan’s Wake,” that “Catholicism means ‘here comes everybody’,” we need to recognize that the Catholic Church includes “self-identifying Catholics” in a variety of circumstances: baptized women and men, practicing and non-practicing people who “self-identify,” Catholics at various and different social-economic-educational levels; younger and older adult Catholics; fervent, devoted Catholics and “occasional” or sporadic yet self-identifying Catholics; Catholics dealing with personal issues at variance with traditional Catholic teaching, laws and practices, and so forth.  “Here comes everybody,” indeed!

Belief in the Eucharist may yield different understandings and expectations at different points in their faith experience of the “source and summit of the Christian life.” The Lord Jesus instituted the Eucharist, however, to be a means of unity in every experience and circumstance. “All of you, take this bread and eat of it for this is my Body, given for you.”

Eucharistic Faith

I must say that what the PRC published in its findings does not match what I regularly hear and encounter and experience among Catholics in the Diocese of Trenton whom I frequently meet. Although our churches may not be full and Mass attendance may have declined for any number of reasons – some known and others not – Catholics participating in Mass and Eucharistic devotions have a deep and abiding faith in the Eucharist.

Take the experience of the recent pandemic, for example. When our churches closed briefly and Catholics had to watch Mass via livestream and make a “spiritual communion,” the outpouring of desire among many Trenton Catholics for the Eucharist and other sacraments was nothing short of overwhelming!

When first confronted with the results of the Pew study, well-known Catholic apologist Bishop Robert Barron responded with alarm and anger “because it showed poor formation for generations in the Church” (“Survey on Catholic Belief in the Eucharist prompts Calls for Better Catechesis,” National Catholic Register, Aug. 19, 2019). “It’s hard to describe how angry I feel after reading what the latest PRC study reveals about understanding of the Eucharist among Catholics,” Bishop Barron wrote in his Aug. 6, 2019, blog. “This should be a wake-up call to all of us in the Church – priests, bishops, religious, lay people, catechists, parents – that we need to pick up our game when it comes to communicating even the most basic doctrines of the Church.” 

I agree with Bishop Barron when he states in a video commentary on the topic that “any Catholic worth his or her salt knows this is a central teaching, a basic tenet of Catholicism” (“Pew survey shows majority of Catholics don’t believe in ‘Real Presence’,” National Catholic Reporter, Aug. 9, 2019).

Somewhere along the way, we – all of us – somehow “dropped the ball.”

The experience of the pandemic and its resulting confusion and anxiety notwithstanding, the return of Catholics to Church, albeit it gradual but steady as reported by pastors, does raise questions about the underlying doubts or lack of understanding among those Catholics who have not or do not come to church for the celebration of the Eucharist. 

Keep in mind that the PRC study was conducted in 2019 among its targeted segment and selection of the U.S. Catholic population before COVID reared its ugly head!

What happened, and why, are certainly important questions to be studied. The more important questions now, I believe, are where do we go from here and what do we need to do?

Catechesis, catechesis and more and better catechesis are the answers!

In a previous article, I wrote that “catechesis is nothing other than the process of transmitting the Gospel, as the Catholic Christian community has received it, understands it, celebrates it, lives it and communicates it in many ways.” Perhaps, as the PRC study reveals or suggests, our past “catechesis” has been found wanting, sadly. There is no time like the present to correct what is lacking there, especially regarding the Holy Eucharist.

The Presence of God

Our Catholic faith and teachings draw their inspiration from and rely upon the Word of God as the source of their truth. The Holy Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are filled with constant accounts of God’s presence among us.

Beginning with the Old Testament’s Book of Genesis, we read that after God’s creation, God could be “heard walking in the Garden” (Genesis 3:8). The Book of Exodus quotes God assuring Moses “my presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14). The Psalms proclaim that “the mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth” (Psalms 97:5). The list of ancient biblical citations and references to God’s presence among us goes on and on.

The New Testament Gospels, of course, center on the mystery of God’s incarnation in the Lord Jesus Christ. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). They tell the story of the Lord Jesus Christ, the very presence of God on earth. “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).

Again and again in the four Gospels and the other writings of the New Testament, the sacred authors reflect upon the meaning of the Lord Jesus Christ’s presence among us: who he is, why he came, what he has said and done and what his presence offers to us who believe in him.”

The whole of Holy Scriptures lead us to the moment at the Last Supper when the Lord Jesus took bread and wine only to become his very Body and Blood, blessed, broken and given to his disciples and, through them and their successors, to us throughout the rest of time. “Do this in memory of me,” he commanded. And then, out of love for those he came to redeem by what followed, he died and rose from the dead. “Observe all that I have commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

The Eucharist is the way the Lord Jesus Christ is “with us always.” It is the central belief of our Catholic faith: a mystery, a sacrament, the “source and summit of the Christian life.”

In the centuries that followed up to the present day, the Catholic Church and its theologians, teachers and preachers have reflected upon the Eucharist in the faith, catechesis and spiritual life of the Church. In Part Three of this series, we will consider many of those reflections and teachings.

 CATECHESIS ON THE HOLY EUCHARIST: PART THREE

The Lord Jesus Christ was a faithful Jew, and it should come as no surprise that he celebrated Passover with his Twelve Apostles, also faithful Jews.

We read in the Gospel of Luke 22:1-16:

Now the feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was drawing near … When the day of the feast of Unleavened Bread arrived, the day for sacrificing the Passover lamb, he sent out Peter and John, instructing them, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” … Then they went off and found everything exactly as he had told them, and there they prepared the Passover. When the hour came, he took his place at table with the apostles. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it [again] until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

The meal, which we call “the Last Supper,” when the Holy Eucharist was instituted and to which the Gospel of St. Luke refers was the traditional “Passover Seder” celebrated annually by the Jewish people. The Passover Seder commemorates the story of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt, taken from the Book of Exodus (12:1-30) in the Old Testament.

Catholics find the basis of our belief in the Lord Jesus Christ’s Last Supper institution of Holy Eucharist as his own Body and Blood (Holy Thursday) in the New Testament. 

Matthew 26:26-29

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark 14:22-24

While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

Luke 22:14-20

When the hour came, he took his place at table with the apostles. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it [again] until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I tell you [that] from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”  And, likewise, the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”

First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 10:16-17

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 11:23-25

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

After the Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, prior to the writing of these Scripture accounts, the Apostles and the early Christian community continued to celebrate the Eucharist, “the breaking of the bread,” in fulfillment of his command at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.”

The Acts of the Apostles bear witness to that ritual practice:

Acts of the Apostles 2:42-46

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. … Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart.

Acts of the Apostles 20:7

On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread …

Acts of the Apostles 20:11

Then he (Paul) returned upstairs, broke the bread, and ate; after a long conversation that lasted until daybreak, he departed.

Acts of the Apostles 27:35

When he (Paul) said this, he took bread, gave thanks to God in front of them all, broke it, and began to eat.

For the next several hundred years, the Church’s celebrations of the Eucharist became more formalized in rituals established and observed by the early Christian community. With that ritualization of “the breaking of the bread,” the Catholic Church’s theology and doctrine of the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ developed but the fundamental belief in the Eucharist did not and has not changed over the centuries.

The development of theology and doctrine refers to a growth in understanding and depth of clarity. In other words, the Catholic Church’s subjective grasp of doctrines and truths increased without doctrines or truths changing in an essential way.

The development of theology and doctrine is the principle of a living, breathing tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit and also the consciousness of the Church as a whole throughout time (“Development of Catholic Doctrine: A Primer,” National Catholic Register, Jan. 5, 2018). That is true of the Eucharist and all the teachings and beliefs of the Catholic Church.

The writings of the early Fathers of the Church, councils, and the great theologians and saints throughout the history of the Catholic Church bear that out, especially with regard to the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ.

St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 118) wrote in the second century AD in his Letter to the Philadelphians, 4:

Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God.

St. Justin Martyr (100-165) mentioned in this same regard in his First Apology, 65-67:

And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

St. Augustine (354-430) wrote in his Marginalia Contra Julianum:

What since the days of antiquity was preached and believed throughout the whole Church with true Catholic faith is true, even if it is proved by no argument, explained by no words.

These ancient texts are but three of the foundational theological understandings of the early Catholic Church’s belief in the Eucharist that endure to the present day. There are many more such passages found in the Catholic Church’s history and theology, unfortunately too many to quote and reference here. All affirm the Catholic Church’s belief that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, his “Real Presence” and the central act of Catholic prayer, worship and spirituality.

One of my favorite prayers about the Eucharist was composed by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), one of the greatest minds in the history of the Catholic Church:

O sacred banquet! in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory to us is given. Alleluia.

In Part Four of this series, we will consider contemporary Catholic teaching on the Eucharist and some of the themes that contribute to a deeper understanding of its significance and meaning in the Catholic Church.

 CATECHESIS ON THE HOLY EUCHARIST: PART FOUR

The papacy of Pope St. Pius X (1903-1914) had begun in the earliest years of the twentieth century. Among the things for which he is best known is his devotion to the Holy Eucharist and his encouragement to all faithful Catholics to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion frequently, even daily – which reception had not been the common practice up to that time. It was Pope St. Pius X who also lowered the age for reception of First Communion by children to 7.

The liturgical form of the Mass was changed several times in Church history and was changed again by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Theologically, however, Vatican II contributed little to how the Catholic Church actually understood or presented the Eucharist in its official teachings. The doctrine itself remained rather consistent through the centuries.

In their Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium (Dec. 4, 1963), the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote:
At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us (art. 47).

Here we see major “Eucharistic themes” that had accompanied – not changed – the development of the Catholic Church’s Eucharistic doctrine throughout much of its history: Eucharist as the “sacrifice” of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, continuing the sacrifice of his Cross; Eucharist as” sacrament” of love; Eucharist as “bond of unity and charity;” Eucharist as “paschal meal;” echoing the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas, Eucharist as pledge of future glory.  

We have noted earlier the often-quoted reference in Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium (Nov. 21, 1964):

Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the “fount and apex [source and summit]” of the whole Christian life, they offer the Divine Victim to God, and offer themselves along with It. Thus, both by reason of the offering and through Holy Communion all take part in this liturgical service, not indeed, all in the same way but each in that way which is proper to himself. Strengthened in Holy Communion by the Body of Christ, they then manifest in a concrete way that unity of the people of God which is suitably signified and wondrously brought about by this most august sacrament (11).

Shortly before the Second Vatican Council ended, Pope St. Paul VI published an encyclical on the Holy Eucharist entitled Mysterium Fidei (Sept. 3, 1965). There he reminded the Catholic Church of its consistent teaching on the Eucharist, quoting an oath prescribed by Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604):

I believe in my heart and openly profess that the bread and wine that are placed on the altar are, through the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of the Redeemer, substantially changed into the true and proper and lifegiving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that after the consecration they are the true body of Christ – which was born of the Virgin and which hung on the Cross as an offering for the salvation of the world – and the true blood of Christ – which flowed from His side – and not just as a sign and by reason of the power of the sacrament, but in the very truth and reality of their substance and in what is proper to their nature (52).

We have a wonderful example of the stability of the Catholic faith in the way in which these words meet with such complete agreement in the constant teaching of the Ecumenical Councils of the Lateran, Constance, Florence and Trent on the mystery of the Eucharistic conversion, whether it be contained in their explanations of the teaching of the Church or in their condemnations of error (53).

… the Catholic Church has held firm to this belief in the presence of Christ's Body and Blood in the Eucharist not only in her teaching but in her life as well, since she has at all times paid this great Sacrament the worship known as "latria," which may be given to God alone. As St. Augustine says: "It was in His flesh that Christ walked among us and it is His flesh that He has given us to eat for our salvation; but no one eats of this flesh without having first adored it … and not only do we not sin in thus adoring it, but we would be sinning if we did not do so (55).

… The Catholic Church has always displayed and still displays this latria that ought to be paid to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, both during Mass and outside of it, by taking the greatest possible care of consecrated Hosts, by exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and by carrying them about in processions to the joy of great numbers of the people (56).

In 1980, Pope St. John Paul II issued an apostolic letter “The Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist Dominicae cenae” (Feb. 24, 1980) where he wrote:

Thanks to the Council we have realized with renewed force the following truth: Just as the Church "makes the Eucharist" so "the Eucharist builds up" the Church (16); and this truth is closely bound up with the mystery of Holy Thursday. The Church was founded, as the new community of the People of God, in the apostolic community of those Twelve who, at the Last Supper, became partakers of the body and blood of the Lord under the species of bread and wine. Christ had said to them: "Take and eat.... Take and drink." And carrying out this command of His, they entered for the first time into sacramental communion with the Son of God, a communion that is a pledge of eternal life. From that moment until the end of time, the Church is being built up through that same communion with the Son of God, a communion which is a pledge of the eternal Passover (4).

The doctrine of the Eucharist, sign of unity and bond of charity, taught by St. Paul, has been in subsequent times deepened by the writings of very many saints who are living examples for us of Eucharistic worship. We must always have this reality before our eyes, and at the same time we must continually try to bring it about that our own generation too may add new examples to those marvelous examples of the past, new examples no less living and eloquent, that will reflect the age to which we belong (5).

Beginning with the Upper Room and Holy Thursday, the celebration of the Eucharist has a long history, a history as long as that of the Church (8).

We cannot, even for a moment, forget that the Eucharist is a special possession belonging to the whole Church. It is the greatest gift in the order of grace and of sacrament that the divine Spouse has offered and unceasingly offers to His spouse. And precisely because it is such a gift, all of us should in a spirit of profound faith let ourselves be guided by a sense of truly Christian responsibility. A gift obliges us ever more profoundly because it speaks to us not so much with the force of a strict right as with the force of personal confidence, and thus – without legal obligations – it calls for trust and gratitude. The Eucharist is just such a gift and such a possession. We should remain faithful in every detail to what it expresses in itself and to what it asks of us, namely, thanksgiving (12).

Pope St. John Paul II promulgated the revised Code of Canon Law three years later in 1983. Canon law addressed the Holy Eucharist in the fourth book of the Code’s treatment of the Sacraments, canons 897-958.  

Can. 897 The most August sacrament is the Most Holy Eucharist in which Christ the Lord himself is contained, offered, and received and by which the Church continually lives and grows. The eucharistic sacrifice, the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord, in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated through the ages is the summit and source of all worship and Christian life, which signifies and effects the unity of the People of God and brings about the building up of the body of Christ. Indeed, the other sacraments and all the ecclesiastical works of the apostolate are closely connected with the Most Holy Eucharist and ordered to it.

Can. 898 The Christian faithful are to hold the Most Holy Eucharist in highest honor, taking an active part in the celebration of the most august sacrifice, receiving this sacrament most devoutly and frequently, and worshiping it with the highest adoration. In explaining the doctrine about this sacrament, pastors of souls are to teach the faithful diligently about this obligation.

Can. 899 §1. The eucharistic celebration is the action of Christ himself and the Church. In it, Christ the Lord, through the ministry of the priest, offers himself, substantially present under the species of bread and wine, to God the Father and gives himself as spiritual food to the faithful united with his offering.

The Church’s legislation presented here treats in detail the Eucharistic celebration, the minister of the Eucharist, participation in and reception of the Eucharist, the rituals and ceremonies surrounding the celebration of the Eucharist, the time and place for Eucharistic celebration, the reservation and veneration of the Eucharist and offerings made in its regard.  Other norms related to the Eucharist are also found in the instructions and rubrics contained in the 1970 and 2011 official editions of the Roman Missal approved and published by the Holy See.

The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church (1322-1415) approved by Pope St. Paul II and the subsequently approved and published 2005 Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1322-1405) reflect in catechetical fashion much of what has already been written here. The “Catechism” and the “Compendium” both describe the Holy Eucharist as “the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”

In 2003, Pope St. John Paul II published an encyclical on the Holy Eucharist in relationship to/with the Church, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (April 17, 2003), reminding the Church that:

Every commitment to holiness, every activity aimed at carrying out the Church's mission, every work of pastoral planning, must draw the strength it needs from the Eucharistic mystery and in turn be directed to that mystery as its culmination. In the Eucharist we have Jesus, we have his redemptive sacrifice, we have his resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have adoration, obedience and love of the Father. Were we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency (60).

On the year before he died, Pope St. John Paul II announced a “Year of the Eucharist 2004-2005,” dedicating the entire liturgical year to a special time for reflection on the Holy Eucharist to culminate with the Ordinary Synod of Bishops in October 2005.  Pope St. John Paul II died on April 2, 2005.  His successor Pope Benedict XVI presided at the Synod and issued his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis on Feb. 22, 2007. He wrote:
The Eucharist is at the root of every form of holiness, and each of us is called to the fullness of life in the Holy Spirit. How many saints have advanced along the way of perfection thanks to their eucharistic devotion! From Saint Ignatius of Antioch to Saint Augustine, from Saint Anthony Abbot to Saint Benedict, from Saint Francis of Assisi to Saint Thomas Aquinas, from Saint Clare of Assisi to Saint Catherine of Siena, from Saint Paschal Baylon to Saint Peter Julian Eymard, from Saint Alphonsus Liguori to Blessed Charles de Foucauld, from Saint John Mary Vianney to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, from Saint Pius of Pietrelcina to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, from Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati to Blessed Ivan Merz, to name only a few, holiness has always found its center in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

This most holy mystery thus needs to be firmly believed, devoutly celebrated and intensely lived in the Church. Jesus' gift of himself in the sacrament which is the memorial of his passion tells us that the success of our lives is found in our participation in the trinitarian life offered to us truly and definitively in him. The celebration and worship of the Eucharist enable us to draw near to God's love and to persevere in that love until we are united with the Lord whom we love. The offering of our lives, our fellowship with the whole community of believers and our solidarity with all men and women are essential aspects of that spiritual worship, holy and pleasing to God (cf. Rom 12:1), which transforms every aspect of our human existence, to the glory of God. I therefore ask all pastors to spare no effort in promoting an authentically eucharistic Christian spirituality. Priests, deacons and all those who carry out a eucharistic ministry should always be able to find in this service, exercised with care and constant preparation, the strength and inspiration needed for their personal and communal path of sanctification. I exhort the lay faithful, and families in particular, to find ever anew in the sacrament of Christ's love the energy needed to make their lives an authentic sign of the presence of the risen Lord. I ask all consecrated men and women to show by their eucharistic lives the splendor and the beauty of belonging totally to the Lord (94).

The purpose of referencing all these citations is to demonstrate the continuity and constancy of the Catholic Church’s Eucharistic doctrine throughout its history until the present day, despite some heretical attempts in history by “reformers” to establish the contrary. The Catholic Church’s belief in the Holy Eucharist as the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ has never wavered.

On Nov. 14, 2006, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published a document on the Holy Eucharist, “Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper.”  There, the bishops wrote:

As bishops and shepherds of the Catholic faithful in the United States of America, we recognize our responsibility to nurture the faith of our Catholic brothers and sisters in this most wondrous mystery – Jesus’ Real Presence in Holy Communion. … we wish to affirm clearly what the Church believes and teaches concerning the Eucharist and the reception of Holy Communion. We also wish to provide a clear affirmation as to who may receive Holy Communion within a Eucharistic celebration. Finally, we want to recommend some practices that every Catholic can use for preparing to receive Holy Communion in a more worthy fashion.

In 2021, no doubt prompted by contemporary misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the nature of the Catholic Church’s doctrines of transubstantiation, Holy Communion and Real Presence that seemed to have crept into expressed beliefs among some of the Catholic faithful as well as controversies that had arisen about the worthy reception of Holy Communion by some Catholic public officials who had adopted positions contrary to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops revisited the Catholic Church’s Eucharistic doctrines and issued another document entitled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church” (Nov. 17, 2021).  

Conscious of the effects of the devastating pandemic from which the world was emerging, the bishops wrote:

The words of the liturgy on the night the Church commemorates the institution of the Eucharist speaks to us of the Mass as the representation of Christ’s unique sacrifice on the Cross, the reception of Christ truly present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and the marvelous effects of communion in those who receive this gift (8).

That same November meeting established the idea for a “Eucharistic Revival” throughout the United States to take place over the next three years, first in the country’s dioceses (2022-2023), next in parishes of the various dioceses (2023-2024) and, finally, on a national level (2024-2025), with a National Eucharistic Congress to be held in Indianapolis July 17-21, 2024. 

Here in the Diocese of Trenton, the diocesan phase of the “Eucharistic Revival” began on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), June 19, 2022.

The Holy Eucharist is the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ instituted and given to us by him at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, the night before he died for us on the Cross. We continue to celebrate the Holy Eucharist as he commanded us to do in his memory. He is fully and really present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in Holy Communion we receive at holy Mass and wherever we might be, and “In all the tabernacles of the world, even to the end of time. Amen” (The Divine Praises).

 CATECHESIS ON THE HOLY EUCHARIST: PART FIVE

 

EUCHARISTIC LEXICON

 

Part Five of this “Catechesis on the Holy Eucharist” presents some of the words, terms and expressions used in the Catholic Church to describe or refer to the Holy Eucharist or things associated with its celebration. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list by any means.  There is ample literature published or online that can be consulted to supplement this list.

Bread and wine. The physical elements of the Holy Eucharist under whose appearance at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass become the Body and Blood of Christ, as instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ at the Last Supper.  The bread must be “unleavened” with nothing added and the wine, “true fruit of the vine.”

The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, not merely a sign or symbol or remembrance, first given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ at the Last Supper.

Eucharist is a term that comes from Greek term “eucharistia,”and means “to give thanks,” the action of the Lord Jesus Christ at the Last Supper’s Passover Meal as recounted in the Gospels.

Transubstantiation is the Catholic Church’s term for the doctrine of faith that explains the Holy Eucharist as the complete substance of bread and wine converted by the power of the Holy Spirit at the words of a priest during the consecration (within the Eucharistic Prayer) of the Holy Mass into the complete substance of Christ’s Body and Blood.

Real Presence is the Catholic Church’s doctrine of faith that the Lord Jesus Christ is fully and entirely present in his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity under the appearances of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist.  The Lord Jesus Christ is fully and entirely present at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in Holy Communion whenever and wherever it is distributed, and reserved in the tabernacle of a church or chapel.

Eucharist as Mystery of Faith.  A mystery is something that cannot be fully or scientifically explained by human reason alone. The Eucharist as understood and believed in the Catholic Church cannot be fully or scientifically explained but it is fully accessible to faith, hence the Eucharist is a “mystery of faith.”

Eucharist as Sacrifice. "The Eucharist is the very sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus which he instituted to perpetuate the Sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages until his return in glory” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 271). The Eucharist makes present the Sacrifice of the Cross. The Sacrifice of the Cross and the Sacrifice of the Eucharist are one Sacrifice.

Eucharist as Sacrament. A sacrament is a sacred reality instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ to give "grace," which is the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, partakers in the divine nature and of eternal life. Grace is a participation in the life of God, which is poured unearned into human beings, whom it heals of sin and sanctifies (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1996-1999).

We recognize that the sacraments have a visible and invisible reality. The visible reality we see in the sacraments is their outward expression, the form they take, and the way in which they are administered and received. The invisible reality we cannot "see" is God's grace, his gracious initiative in redeeming us through the death and Resurrection of his Son (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Sacraments and Sacramentals”). The “visible reality” of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is bread and wine. The “invisible reality” of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is the “Real Presence” of the Lord Jesus Christ, whole and entire.

Eucharist as “Sign of Unity and Charity.” The Holy Eucharist unites the Catholic faithful with the Lord Jesus Christ and, through this union, with one another. In receiving the Holy Eucharist, this unity is not only symbolized but also accomplished in charity. St. Paul writes, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).

Eucharist as “Pledge of Future Glory.” The Eucharist is described as “a pledge of future glory” because it fills us with every grace and heavenly blessing. It fortifies us for our pilgrimage in this life and makes us long for eternal life. It unites us already to Christ seated at the right hand of the Father, to the Church in heaven and to the Blessed Virgin and all the saints (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 294).

Blessed Sacrament. Another term for the “Real Presence” of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. It is “blessed” because it brings us into direct contact with the holiness of God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Altar. The altar is a table – the table of the Lord – on which the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered and celebrated (altar of sacrifice) or upon which the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament rests (altar of repose or reservation). The altar of sacrifice is the symbol of Christ himself who is present both as sacrificial victim and as food from heaven which is given to us.

Tabernacle. The tabernacle is the “fixed, locked box” in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a church or chapel.

Sanctuary Lamp. The sanctuary lamp is the wax candle near the tabernacle that remains lit indicating the “Real Presence” of the Lord Jesus Christ within the tabernacle.

Chalice and paten. These are sacred vessels used only at the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Ordinarily blessed or consecrated by a bishop, the paten holds the bread which will become the Body of Christ and the chalice holds the wine which will become the Blood of Christ.

Ciborium, pyx, monstrance. These are sacred vessels used to contain the Blessed Sacrament in rites of Catholic worship and devotion. The ciborium is the sacred vessel from which Holy Communion is usually distributed at Mass. The pyx is the sacred vessel which holds the Blessed Sacrament for distribution to the Catholic faithful outside of Mass or which is inserted into the monstrance, the sacred vessel which holds the Blessed Sacrament when it is exposed for the worship and adoration of the Catholic faithful.

Genuflection. This is the act of respect, reverence, and worship of the “Real Presence” of the Lord Jesus Christ present on the altar during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or present in the tabernacle of a church or chapel. Upon entering a church or chapel, the genuflection involves the bending of the right knee briefly touching the floor, in the direction of the altar or tabernacle. In certain circumstances, a reverent bow of the head may substitute for a genuflection.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. This is the act of worship of the “Real Presence” of Lord Jesus Christ either within the tabernacle of a church or chapel or when exposed on the altar for devotion.

Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. This is the Catholic ritual of worship of the Blessed Sacrament, composed of exposition of the sacred host accompanied by hymns and prayers and concluding with the blessing with the Blessed Sacrament.

Viaticum. The administration of the Eucharist to the dying, often accompanied by the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

Ministers of the Eucharist. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass may only be celebrated by a validly ordained Catholic bishop or priest who distributes the Eucharist to the Catholic faithful as its “ordinary minister.” A validly ordained deacon may assist in the distribution of the Eucharist, within or outside of Mass. In virtue of his ordination, he is also considered an “ordinary minister.” Baptized Catholic members of the laity may also be commissioned or authorized to distribute the Eucharist within or outside of Mass as “extraordinary ministers.”

Worthy reception of the Eucharist.  Aware that the Holy Eucharist is the very Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, baptized members of the Catholic Church are invited to receive the Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) if they are in the “state of grace,” that is, not conscious of having committed serious or mortal sin prior to Eucharistic reception without the benefit of first receiving the Sacrament of Penance by confessing their sins to a priest with a firm purpose or intention of amendment and receiving sacramental absolution. 

St. Paul writes, “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). To receive the Eucharist worthily, baptized members of the Catholic Church should believe in the Eucharist as the Catholic Church teaches, should prepare themselves spiritually to receive the Eucharist, and should observe the proper Eucharistic fast (no solid food or beverages other than water or medicine for one hour prior to receiving Holy Communion). Illness excuses an individual from the Eucharistic fast.

Eucharistic miracles. A miracle is any event that cannot be explained by the laws of nature or science. For Catholics, miracles are usually attributed to the intervention of God. “Eucharistic miracles” are those phenomena that involve the Eucharist.

TLM (“The Latin Mass”) also referred to as usus antiquior or “extraordinary form of the Mass” describes the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin according to the 1962 Roman Missal.

Novus Ordo (“New Order”) refers to the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin or vernacular languages according to the 1970 Roman Missal, revised in 2011.

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