The enduring gift of the Eucharist
We are almost 10 months into this pandemic. Some relief may be around the corner. To what shall we return? During the recent Bishops’ Conference (virtual), we discussed how to bring back so many who have not been able to attend Mass this year. What many bishops said was that they sensed a deep hunger out there for the Eucharist. This is definitely the key for the regathering of the flock of the Lord.
Some surveys have shown a declining belief in the real presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. That really does sadden me. Our Lord went to great lengths to leave us this lasting gift of his presence in which, “the Body and Blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained,” as the Council of Trent proclaimed. It can be disheartening when our fellow believers do not value his presence more highly.
I have already written to you about the importance of gathering on Sundays to worship God, to give him our due. Here, I merely wish to invite all of us to reawaken ourselves to the great sacrifice of Jesus who offered himself up for our salvation. We believe that this sacrifice is made present for us each time Mass is celebrated. We stand at the foot of the cross; we sit at the table of the Lord; we kneel before the presence of our God.
We are already into the Bishop’s Year of the Bible (BYOB!). During this year, we are invited to encounter Jesus in the Word of God because Jesus is the Word of God. He is really present in that Word. But the real presence in the Eucharist is something more, as St. Pope Paul VI said: “This presence is ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.” In fact, our celebration of the Eucharist and the Bible should lead us to see Christ everywhere and in everyone. Our eyes and ears and hearts need to be open to his abiding and loving presence to us.
Besides the Last Supper accounts in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the account in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (11:23-32), we have that beautiful discourse of Jesus in John’s Gospel, chapter 6. There, Jesus told a crowd which was beginning to turn away from him because they could not believe what he was saying, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (Jn 6:53-56) When Jesus asked the Twelve if they, too, would leave him, Peter replied, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68)
We anticipate this Advent the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ among us. This was only the beginning of his saving work, a mission which would take him to Calvary, the Cross, and the Resurrection. This was all a long work of love for us. But what a marvel that he left us an enduring gift, the legacy of his presence in our midst in the Eucharist. Let us all pray for a strengthening of belief in this wonderful sacrament, both for ourselves and for our loved ones.