By Father Michael Griffin
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), quoting canon law (para.1247), is explicit, “The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: ‘On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.’” (CCC 2180)
That is the “what” of the Church’s obligation and it is something most of us grew up with; we knew we were obligated to go to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation under penalty of sin. While this is important, equally important is to not stop at the “what” and forget the “why” of the Church’s obligation.
Why does the Church place such importance on the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist?
During this time when our usual celebrations of the Eucharist are disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are given an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the meaning of the Eucharist in our lives.
This year, on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, sent a letter to the bishops of the world in which he articulated the life and death significance of the Eucharist.
We cannot live, be Christians, fully realizing our humanity and the desires for good and happiness that dwell in our hearts without the Word of the Lord, which in the celebration of the liturgy takes shape and becomes a living word, spoken by God for those who today open their hearts to listen;
We cannot live as Christians without participating in the Sacrifice of the Cross in which the Lord Jesus gives himself unreservedly to save, by his death, humanity which had died because of sin; the Redeemer associates humanity with himself and leads it back to the Father; in the embrace of the Crucified One all human suffering finds light and comfort;
We cannot be without the banquet of the Eucharist, the table of the Lord to which we are invited as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters to receive the Risen Christ himself, present in body, blood, soul and divinity in that Bread of heaven which sustains us in the joys and labours of this earthly pilgrimage;
We cannot be without the Christian community, the family of the Lord: we need to meet our brothers and sisters who share the sonship of God, the fraternity of Christ, the vocation and the search for holiness and the salvation of their souls in the rich diversity of ages, personal histories, charisms and vocations;
We cannot be without the house of the Lord, which is our home, without the holy places where we were born to faith, where we discovered the provident presence of the Lord and discovered the merciful embrace that lifts up those who have fallen, where we consecrated our vocation to marriage or religious life, where we prayed and gave thanks, rejoiced and wept, where we entrusted to the Father our loved ones who had completed their earthly pilgrimage;
We cannot be without the Lord’s Day, without Sunday which gives light and meaning to the successions of days of work and to family and social responsibilities.
Coming to embrace the “why” of the Eucharist happens over the course of our lives, and is a grace-filled combination of religious formation, upbringing, examples in our lives and personal experience. This journey of growth is different for each of us, and can guide us through various paths in our lives, but we are led and nourished by the same eucharistic gift.
A shared love for the Eucharist
Zach and Anthony Andera are brothers, the sons of Sandy and Brad Andera. They were born in Aberdeen, and both were students/athletes who graduated from Aberdeen Roncalli. After graduation, both attended South Dakota State University.
Zach married his wife Alison in July 2019 and they currently live in Kansas City, Missouri. Anthony has participated in service trips to Peru and currently is a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). These two brothers, one married and making a home, the other traveling to share the Gospel at home and abroad, have a shared love for the meaning and gift of the Eucharist in their lives.
Their Christian lives began when their parents brought them to baptism and grew as their parents fulfilled their role as their children’s primary religious educators. Zach says, “Our parents were instrumental in leading us to the Eucharist since we were children.”
On this foundation, both Zach and Anthony continue to grow as Christians in the world. Each in his own way feels drawn to the Eucharist, but each also recognizes that it is Christ who is drawing and renewing them in this gift of himself.
“I think what draws me to the Eucharist is that I know it is Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity, truly present right before me, and he is meeting me where I am,” Anthony says.
The Christian vocation to holiness, given at baptism, is, at its heart, a relationship. It is within the gift of the Eucharist that one finds the Beloved giving Himself to us. It is within the Eucharist that Anthony discovers the love of Christ for him made visible, “the Eucharist is where Jesus wants to have such an intimate and present part in my life that He makes Himself visible and approachable to me.”
This gift deepens our relationship with Christ, and it also transforms the relationships we have with one another. Zach and Alison have come to understand the sacramental strength of their relationship, a gift that fills them, when they are at the Eucharist.
“Every day there are sacrifices that we each must make for one another, some harder than others,” Zach says. “Yet, keeping a perspective of the sacrifice that Jesus made out of love, keeps our sacrifices centered around love as well.”
It is within the Eucharist that the people of God are given the fullness of the love of the Holy Trinity. Inspired by this love, we go into the world to share freely what we have received. As Cardinal Sarah wrote, “The Christian community has never sought isolation and has never made the Church a city with closed doors. Formed in the value of community life and in the search of the common good, Christians have always sought insertion into society, while being aware of an otherness—to be in the world without belonging to it and without being reduced to it.”
For Zach and Alison, the Eucharist has led them to an understanding of the deepest meaning of marital love. “It teaches us about love and sacrifice. When we are present for the sacrament of communion, we truly see the sacrifice that Jesus made for us by laying down his life for ours.”
Through their participation in the Eucharist, Zach and Alison are connected to the source of the grace of the sacrament of marriage. As the catechism teaches us, “‘By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the People of God.’ This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity.” (CCC 1641)
By sharing in the sacrifice of Christ celebrated in the Eucharist, they find the grace to model in their own lives this sacrificial offering.
“He did that out of love for all human beings. It is an inspiration to us on how deep our love should be for one another,” Zach and Alison say.
Bring it to the world in mission
As the Eucharist teaches Zach and Alison how to more perfectly love each other and to share this love in the world, the same Eucharist teaches Anthony how to share that love with the world.
For Anthony, the union with Christ in the Eucharist has given him a desire to share the faith with others in service and mission. It has also challenged him to live the “prophetic office of Christ” given him in baptism. The catechism teaches, “Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, ‘that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life.’ For lay people, ‘this evangelization…acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world.’” (CCC 905)
Anthony felt the power of the Eucharist motivating him as he served on mission trips to Peru and today as he shares the faith with his peers. He says, “The Eucharist brings me to mission work because it gives me a purpose. Since God is giving fully of himself in the Eucharist, I know how to give of myself fully in mission.”
The Church teaches that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of Christian life,” and for Anthony, it is the source because his mission work is a response to the love he finds there.
“Turning to the Eucharist in mission…also helps me witness and receive love from God so that I can then go share that love from God with the people I encounter,” he says.
The love he receives is rooted in the Eucharist and becomes the summit of his ministry; the love found in the Eucharist becomes the gift he shares.
“Each encounter with the Eucharist is unique but it is always the same,” Anthony says. “Unique, because each time we come before the Eucharist, we are coming with a certain emotion, baggage, joy, happiness, something different in our lives. It is the same because it is always Jesus meeting us where we are, desiring to hear and know us.”
The Eucharist draws out vocation
The Eucharist, which supports and strengthens us throughout our lives, is also the place where we discern our vocation in life. Zach and Alison credit their religious upbringing for their ability to discover God’s call in their lives.
“Along the way, (our parents) provided us ideal examples on what marriage based around the Eucharist looks like. Although we were open to whatever vocation God led us to, we felt within ourselves that marriage was where we were being led.”
Once they met and began dating, they could use their connection to the grace of the Eucharist to discern their vocations together.
“The Eucharist gave us something we could talk about on a deeper, more spiritual level. There are a lot of important conversations to have while dating as you figure out if this person is who you want to spend the rest of your life with. We were able to have conversations that were free of judgement, with God at the center of it all.”
Once they were united in the sacrament of matrimony, this time of discernment became an ongoing source of grace. “This helped us grow in love by knowing that if we ever had a disagreement in one area, we could always return to what should be the center and most important aspect of our relationship.”
For Anthony, the Eucharist is the guide he embraces as he discerns his call in life. He says, “(The Eucharist) is helping me because I am putting Jesus at the front, listening and discerning what he is calling me to. It also keeps him at the center…by letting him enter into my heart and guide me, knowing that his path he is calling me towards (whatever that vocation may be) will bring me the most joy and happiness.”
Separated by a pandemic
In the spring of this year, a global pandemic hit. Cardinal Sarah wrote, “The pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus has produced upheavals not only in social, family, economic, educational, and work dynamics, but also in the life of the Christian community, including the liturgical dimension.” Across the world, bishops dispensed the faithful from the obligation to attend Sunday Eucharist, as Bishop DeGrood did for the Diocese of Sioux Falls in March.
As difficult as this time away from the Eucharist was (and still is for many), it is also an opportunity for growth in our eucharistic lives. Cardinal Sarah wrote, “Aware that God never abandons the humanity He has created, and that even the hardest trials can bear fruits of grace, we have accepted our distance from the Lord’s altar as a time of Eucharistic fasting, useful for us to rediscover its vital importance, beauty and immeasurable preciousness.”
Our time separated from the Eucharist challenged Anthony, and Zach and Alison, but gave each of them new insights into the meaning of this gift.
“During the weeks without the Eucharist, I learned that I took it for granted, out of my own pride, thinking that I deserved the Eucharist and I should have a right to get the Eucharist,” Anthony said. “That is why we ‘receive’ the Eucharist and we do not ‘get’ the Eucharist, because to receive we are given something…we are given Jesus Himself.”
He added, “I also missed the intimacy that one receives from the Eucharist.”
The diocese of Kansas City has not lifted the dispensation from the Sunday obligation, and so Zach and Alison are still living without the Eucharist and are using this time to renew their connection to the Eucharist.
“Since we live in Kansas City, dispensation from Mass has been in place since the middle of March. As a result, for the safety of ourselves and others, it has been difficult to receive the Eucharist,” Zach and Alison say. “One thing that we miss is the physical connection to God through the Eucharist. There is no substitute for being in person, and receiving the body and blood of Christ as a reminder of his love for us…it has been a reminder to us why we go to Mass, and the benefits that it provides. It can be easy to become complacent and attend Mass each week because it is what we do.”
During these strange and trying times, we have all become more aware of the “what” of our eucharistic lives, the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, but it also gives us the opportunity to reflect more deeply on the “why” of this obligation, and to embrace the deepest meaning of the gift given to us in love.
Although we are each different, with varying backgrounds and vocations, and we approach the Eucharist as unique individuals, we each receive the same gift that answers the “why” of our lives.
As Anthony says, “The Eucharist is Jesus.”
How do we know it’s really Jesus?
By Dr. Chris Burgwald
At some point most of us ask this question about the Eucharist. After all, the host looks, smells, feels and tastes like a piece of unleavened bread. But since the very beginning, the teaching of Scripture and the early Christians has clearly taught that the Eucharist is really, truly the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.
Consider what we read in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. Jesus repeatedly states that His followers must eat His flesh and drink His blood if they are to have eternal life. The people who heard it took Him literally, and when they were talking to each other about it, He only reiterated His teaching, even though it resulted in many of them leaving Him over it.
We find the same thing among the writings of early Church Fathers in the first centuries. Time and again, they affirmed that Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist isn’t symbolic, but is real. Consider these words of St. Ignatius of Antioch writing around 110 A.D. about those who hold false teachings: “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again.”
Or St. Justin Martyr, writing just 40 years later: “The food [bread and wine] which has been made into the Eucharist by the eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.”
Similar quotes can be multiplied. Among all the writings of the early Christians, everyone who held to the basics of the faith affirmed the same thing: the Eucharist is literally, really, truly Jesus Christ Himself.