By David Cooley.
Did you know that when you attend Mass you are present — actually present— to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross? Though you can’t see it, it’s as if you were standing right there at the foot of the cross during the crucifixion.
In his encyclical letter, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” (“On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church”), Pope St. John Paul II wrote: “When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and ‘the work of our redemption is carried out.’ This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits. … What more could Jesus have done for us? Truly, in the Eucharist, he shows us a love which goes ‘to the end’ (cf. Jn 13:1), a love which knows no measure.” (EE, n. 11; cf. LG, n. 3)
Each time we go to Mass, right before receiving Communion, we hear the words: “Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.” How often do we pause to contemplate how blessed we truly are to be receiving Jesus? I heard it said once that if the angels could be jealous of anything it would be of human beings’ ability to receive the Eucharist. To be sure, the angels worship constantly at the heavenly altar, and each time we go to Mass, whether we realize it or not, we are joining them in their praise. We are participating in the heavenly banquet!
As sojourners in this place of exile, the Eucharist is the strength and nourishment we need as we journey toward our heavenly home. The Church constantly draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist “not only through faith-filled remembrance, but also through a real contact …” (EE, n. 12). The Blessed Sacrament is the reason why, no matter how dark things get, our days are marked with confidence and hope. The Eucharist stands at the center of all that we do and through it we find meaning, mercy, healing and protection.
We learn from Scripture, that the devil’s work, demonic power, is always about division, scattering and separation — and then destruction. The first mark of the Church is that we are One. In the Eucharist we are in communion — union — with God and each other. It is the Eucharist that makes the Church one with Christ. The Eucharist unifies us all as members of the Mystical Body of Christ and unites us to Christ, the head.
Every offering of the Eucharist is simultaneously the sacrifice of those participating at that time, all those united to the Church throughout the world and all those who have entered heavenly glory. When we receive the Blessed Sacrament we become what we receive; we become “another Christ”— Jesus to others, his hands and his feet on earth.
Everlasting life is to be in “common union” with God, to be one with him. We are one with him by receiving his body and blood, just as he taught us: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (Jn 6:56)
God loves us and calls each of us to perfect and everlasting communion with him. He gives us our time on earth as an opportunity to either cooperate with him in achieving this goal or to reject his offer of salvation. In the center of the word “Eu-charis-t,” we find the word “charis,” which, in Greek, means “grace.” It is by the grace of God — a freely given gift — that participation in his divine life is possible and we are truly saved.
The Eucharist also commits us to others, especially the poor. Jesus sacrificed himself for us and we are to lay down our lives for others. At Mass we pray that he makes of us a sacrifice, a holy offering, to God and to others. We read in the first chapters of Genesis that the world was originally created to be in communion with the divine life. Now, through the sacraments, Jesus unites himself to us and makes us all temples of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the fallen world. The Church, the Body of the Christ, in union with Christ the Head, continues his incarnate presence on earth. We grow in sacramental living as Christ lives in us and through us. We are to let God’s love flow through us. We are conduits of his love, sharing it through our humanity.
David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.