28 Oct 2012

The Eucharist: The Source and Summit of the Christian Life

One of the recommendations for the Year of Faith is to study the documents of the Second Vatican Council.  The Council document on the Church described the Eucharist as the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11). This means everything we do should come from and lead to our celebration of our Sunday Mass. 

The Eucharist is the summit, the high-point, of the Christian life; because through our celebration of Mass we offer God the Father praise and thanksgiving through His Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1407).  When we come to celebrate Mass, we offer our whole lives to God.  During the preparation of the gifts, the priest adds a little drop of water to the wine.  When I’m helping to prepare the altar servers, I ask them to especially watch out for this moment of Mass.  This little drop of water represents all of us and all our daily lives – our joys, our worries, our concerns, our hopes, our dreams and our whole humanity.  As the priest adds the water, he prays: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”  In other words, we pray that, through the power of the Holy Spirit during this Mass, God will transform our lives and help us to become more Christ-like in everything we do and say and think. 

The Eucharist is the source of the Christian life.  During Mass we are nourished in a number of ways.  Firstly, by God’s Word through the First and Second Readings, the psalm, the Gospel and also the homily, where the priest helps us to better understand God’s Word and apply God’s Word to our lives.  We are nourished as a parish community, by coming together to support each other and pray for each other and the whole world.  In receiving Holy Communion we are nourished by the Body of Christ.  Holy Communion is not blessed bread or holy bread; it is the Body and Blood of Christ.  Normally when we eat food, the food is broken down so that our bodies can change the food into ourselves.  However, when we receive Holy Communion, we receive Christ Himself (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1324).  The process is reversed, because we don’t change Holy Communion into ourselves, the Lord changes us into Himself[1].  This doesn’t mean that we are suddenly perfect or sinless… our journey towards holiness takes a lifetime of co-operating with God’s grace!  Receiving Holy Communion strengthens our communion with God and with the parish community.  Receiving Holy Communion forgives our venial sins and strengthens us to resist the temptation to commit grave sins (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1416).  If we regularly attend Mass and receive Holy Communion it will have an effect on the way we live and love.

At the end of Mass each of us is given the mission to “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” or to “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”.  In the old translation, the priest used to say: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”.  How do we fulfil this mission?  We can only do this because we have received Jesus in Holy Communion.

We announce the Gospel as lay people by living the Gospel message.  St. Francis of Assisi was said to have commissioned his friars to “preach the Gospel always, and if necessary use words”, meaning that we primarily preach the Gospel by living by Gospel values. 

We can also announce the Gospel by standing up for Christian values in the public arena, by not being afraid to give a defence of our faith, what we believe in and why.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that we will have to stand up and preach in the middle of a market square or go house-to-house evangelising, but it means speaking honestly and openly about our faith and what our faith means to us when we are asked.

How do we love and serve the Lord?  Pope Benedict, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, described the Eucharist as a ‘Sacrament of Charity’ (Sacramentum Caritatis 1; cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III, q. 73, a. 3), a Sacrament of Love.  God loved the world so much that He gave Himself to save us (cf. Jn 3:16).  After receiving Jesus in Holy Communion we are asked to follow His example… to give ourselves to the love and service of others.  If we reflect on it, most of us are living this way already.  As parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, children, teachers, volunteers working in the community… we are already sharing our love with our families and members of the community.  We are already living eucharistically.  In receiving Holy Communion we are asked to go even further… we are challenged, as Pope Benedict says, “in God and with God… [to] love even the person whom I do not like or even know” (Deus Caritas Est 232; Sacramentum Caritatis 88). 

Loving strangers, in a sense, is easy.  I don’t know enough about them to dislike them, but to love the person who drives you nuts, you know that person that you duck down an aisle at the supermarket to avoid or cross the street so they don’t see you… or that person who is at home or at work or at school whom you find difficult to get on with… that takes the grace of God that we receive through the Eucharist.  Christian love is not about feelings.  We don’t have to like every person we meet, but we do have to love them.  We love these people especially, as Pope Benedict says, ‘in God and with God’.  In other words, God loves them through us, if we allow Him to and He helps us to love them with Him. 

On the odd occasion that I have missed Sunday Mass, I truly felt as if something was missing from my life.  You know the phrase: “There, but for the grace of God, go I”.  I need God’s grace to be a Christian.  I cannot do it without Him.  I am a worse version of myself when I neglect my prayer life or I miss going to Mass.  Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta said: “We cannot separate our lives from the Eucharist; the moment we do, something breaks.”  Our attendance at Sunday Mass is intimately related to every part of our daily lives.  Attending Sunday Mass is a precept of the Church, not because the Church likes burdening us with rules and regulations and obligations, but because regularly receiving Jesus and spending time listening to His Word brings us closer to the Holy Trinity.  Celebrating Mass together as a parish community each Sunday is a fountain of grace for us (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 10)… It makes us better people and better Christians.  It is a well spring where we are nourished and renewed so that we can go out again refreshed to love and serve the Lord during the coming week.

 In the Eucharist, Christ fulfils His promise to stay with us always (cf. Mt 28:20; Mane Nobiscum Domine 16), to give us His love and grace and help (cf. Mane Nobiscum Domine 15).  Perhaps during this Year of Faith one little promise we could make to ourselves is to spend a little time each week reflecting on the mystery of God’s love for us in the Eucharist and how we are called to live the Eucharist in our daily lives.  

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