The Eucharist — The font of the Holy Spirit

By Father Ryan Maher.

“I will be with until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). Our Blessed Lord spoke these words to his disciples before he ascended to his Father in heaven. Our Lord fulfills this promise through his Real Presence in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist. In the holy sacrifice of the Mass the Lord Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist as nourishment for our pilgrim journey and as a pledge of eternal life. Through the words of consecration spoken by the priest at Mass the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. But before these words are spoken, the priest says the prayer of epiclesis (from the ancient Greek meaning, “calling down from on high” or “invocation”). The epiclesis is essential to the Eucharistic sacrifice because it is the calling down of Holy Spirit upon the simple gifts of bread and wine so that they can be changed and transformed.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. The Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion.” (n. 1375) A work of the Holy Spirit is always the process of conversion.

At Mass the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine during the epiclesis and calls down the Holy Spirit upon them using the words provided for each one of the Eucharistic prayers. For example, the epiclesis for Eucharistic Prayer III reads, “Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration”. The priest then makes the sign of the cross over the bread and wine saying, “that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “In the epiclesis, the Church asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit (or the power of his blessing) on the bread and wine, so that by his power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit.” (n. 1553)

The priest implores the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine, to transform these simple elements into the Body and Blood of Christ. As revealed in sacred Scripture, the work of the Holy Spirit is to give new life by way of transformation, true change and conversion.

In the Nicene Creed the Church gives voice to belief in the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, with the words, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.” The Holy Spirit is in fact the giver of life! It was by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit that Mary conceived the Christ child in her womb (cf. Luke 1:35).

The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is received at baptism giving each person a share in the divine Life. In confirmation a person is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and given the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In baptism and confirmation a person is truly changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit and by the sacramental grace that is bestowed upon the person receiving the sacrament.

The Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles at Pentecost. After receiving the Holy Spirit they were changed and transformed. No longer were they afraid! Filled with the Holy Spirit in the upper room, they became different men who had the courage to preach the Gospel to all nations, to carry out the works of Jesus Christ in the world and to reconcile sinners.

The prayer of epiclesis and the prayer of consecration is an immersion into the life and love of the Blessed Trinity. The Son freely and willingly offered himself to the Father on the cross for our salvation. The Father and the Son sent the Spirit so that we would never be left abandoned.

We participate in Mass to give glory to God, to worship and praise the Blessed Trinity, and to be sanctified. Never should it happen that we participate in Mass and remain unchanged. In some way the graces of the Mass we receive should change us. Receiving the proclaimed Word of God into our hearts and receiving holy Communion into our very body — how can we not be changed in some way through our participation at Mass? This is a work of the Holy Spirit — to change us; to transform us; to give us life.

Let us lift up our minds and hearts to the Lord at Mass and call down the Holy Spirit in the many ordinary moments of our daily lives so that we can be changed and transformed and, with the help of God’s grace, become saints.

Father Ryan Maher is a vicar general for the Diocese of Covington and rector of the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.

Lifted out of time into eternity

By Msgr. William Cleves.

In his excellent book, “The Gates of the Forest,” Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, having told a story, remarked that God made us because God loves stories. The image has remained with me since I read that book decades ago. It must have been with me when I first paged through the translation of the Roman Missal that was promulgated in 2011. As I leafed through its pages, I was struck by the number of times that God was addressed or described as “author.” This word is derived from the Latin verb augeo, augere, auxi, auctus. It has a number of meanings in English: to increase, to promote, to honor, to exalt and to spread. The Latin word auctor, derived from the last principal part of the verb, refers to one who increases, promotes, exalts. It is from auctor that we have the English noun author. What follows is not an exhaustive list of the ways in which God is described as author. In the new missal God is described or addressed as:

  • author of our salvation
  • author of divine generation
  • author of all that is good
  • author of all life
  • author of our freedom and salvation
  • author of love and peace

Every story we write is a share in the aboriginal authorship that properly belongs to God. So let us consider the stories that we write, and begin with the language in which I am writing, namely English. With the exception of the infinitive, every English verb carries some marker of tense (e.g., I see, I saw, I will see). We tend to think in terms of past, present, future. But this view of time and history is not the only way of conceiving these matters. It is possible to regard stories as timeless objects, standing outside any particular temporal period. In such a view, to tell a story is to step outside our time, to let the timeless wisdom of the story lift us up. The ancient Hebrews believed that, if one told the sacred story and engaged in sacred ritual, one entered the story, making it flesh for the group of people gathered for the occasion.

Consider our celebration of the Eucharist. We gather in a sacred space to tell sacred stories. We reflect on our part in these stories, realizing that they are our story, becoming flesh among us. This is the Liturgy of the Word. We engage also in sacred ritual, presenting and then offering bread and wine to be transformed, so that we who eat and drink are ourselves transformed. We are then sent forth to announce the Gospel of the Lord or to glorify God in our lives. In the Eucharist, whose author is God, we are lifted up (is this not the meaning of the verb augeo?). God lifts us from this moment of time, to taste the gifts that are to come. We do, after all, refer to the Eucharistic celebration as the foretaste and promise of the paschal feast of heaven.

One of the stories in the final chapter of the Gospel according to Luke is what happened on the road to Emmaus. It is not merely a story of what happened then, but of what happens now. Two disciples walk on a road, sharing recent events. True to his promise (“where two or three are gathered in my name … “), Jesus appears and walks with them. He opens them to the understanding of the Scriptures. He then eats and drinks with them, and their eyes are opened in the breaking of bread.

Realizing whom they have seen, the disciples rush forth to tell everyone. This is our story. We bring to the Eucharistic celebration the events of our lives. Jesus joins us, true to his promise, and opens our eyes to the meaning of God’s Word. We eat and drink with him, and we are transformed; our eyes are opened, and we recognize him in the breaking of bread. We are then sent forth to tell everyone.

In writing the story of creation, God has exalted us, honored us, promoted us, and increased our faith. God made us because God loves stories.

 Msgr. William Cleves is pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, Newport.

The Cross and the Eucharist

By Msgr. Gerald Twaddell.

Day in and day out, from morning to evening, hundreds of people — some true pilgrims, others merely tourists — make their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City. They climb the steep stairway not far to the right inside the main door to reach Calvary. The line slowly moves past the altar commemorating the place where Jesus was stripped of his garments, then where he was nailed to the cross. At the altar in the Chapel of the Crucifixion they kneel, one by one, to reach under the altar to put a hand down into the shaft where the Cross once stood. Some are so moved that they remain there as time passes, delaying the opportunity for the next person who will follow their example; others, conscious of the crowd waiting behind them, move on more quickly. What is the attraction of this ritual?

Surely whatever else might have brought these people to the Holy City, at least one reason for them to be there is to connect with something very ancient, very sacred. How many other sites in the world offer such a tactile, intimate encounter as the one that can be experienced in this holiest of places? There are so many sites in the Holy Land where one is allowed to touch, with little or no barrier, a place where Jesus stood, or sat or knelt. How many more recent historical sites offer a visitor that? But here, the gentle, awed caress of the devout pilgrims is unlikely to wear down these millennial stones too rapidly. The monks who guard the sites watch mainly to ensure that decorum is preserved.

So the history of the place, its accessibility, its profound significance for the story of the human race, its salvation, all draw people. And yet, what they find is but a memory of a past event. All that remains are the relics of a distant past. The reality is not there, however sacred the artifacts may be. The Cross of Christ is gone, splintered among myriad relics spread across the world. What remains is what it once touched. And that, in the end, is all we can touch here at Calvary. So, however moving that experience, there could be something more.

What if we could have been there on the day of the Crucifixion? Perhaps we might have been part of the crowd on the road into Jerusalem just a few days earlier chanting, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” But that crowd didn’t follow him to Calvary. Do we think we would have been any different? Jesus knew how people, even his closest followers, would flee, leaving him to stand trial for sedition against the Roman Empire without a single witness on his side. On the very eve of all that, he warned them that all would be scandalized: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ ” (Mt 26:31) Maybe we would not have wanted to be there either, but if we had had the courage of John, of his Mother Mary, of his aunt and the other Mary we might have stood there with them at the foot of the Cross, risking not only the ridicule of the officials, but the danger of being accused of a crime ourselves.

What is more, had we known then what we know now about the Resurrection to come, we would not have been scandalized at all. We would have understood the ghastly scene as the price Jesus was willing to pay to redeem the whole human race. We would have known the truth of what St. Paul would write later: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Such thoughts, though, are sad “what ifs” aren’t they? None of that was possible, not least of all because we have come into the world twenty centuries too late.

If the sword of Mary’s sorrow beside her dying Son could prick our hard hearts though, would we not really want to be there? Not just at the place where it happened once so long ago in history, but right there, right then as it all unfolds, hearing Jesus pronounce his triumphant judgment on the sins of the world: “It is finished.” Yes, there could never be a better place, a better time to be than at that central moment in salvation history.

And the awe-inspiring truth is that we actually can do just that: be at the Cross, as Jesus redeems the world. How you ask? Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical “Mediator Dei” (§3) explains: “the Church prolongs the priestly mission of Jesus Christ mainly by means of the sacred liturgy. She does this in the first place at the altar, where constantly the sacrifice of the Cross is represented and, with a single difference in the manner of its offering, renewed.”

Our celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy draws us into the depths of the Mystery of Christ, the mystery of salvation. When we enter the liturgy we step out of time and into the reality of eternity. Time fades away, leaving us standing about the Altar of the Lamb where we share in the Heavenly Liturgy. As the Second Council of the Vatican taught: “In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God.” (“Sacrosanctum Concilium,” §8)

Our liturgy and the liturgy of heaven are made one: we are made present at the eternal offering of the sacrifice of Calvary to the heavenly Father and joined with all the saints at the banquet of heaven. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: “By the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.” (CCC 1326) This is as close to heaven as we can get and still be in this world. Just think: we are really present in the heavenly liturgy. As the Catechism teaches, reaching back to the words of the Council of Trent (Cf. DS 1743): “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: the victim is one and the same: the same now offered through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different. In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the Cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner.” (CCC 1367)

The sacrifice of Christ on Calvary is what the Eucharist simply is. Jesus is really present in all his reality, dying to redeem us, rising to bring us eternal life. To participate in the celebration of Mass transports us really and truly to the altar of the Cross. To understand this truth should thrill us to our depths. Heaven joined with earth, and we can be there! How could we ever imagine a substitute for that? Could an hour in nature compare? Could sitting at home reading the newspaper, sipping coffee, have anything near the value of this encounter with Christ Crucified? Shouldn’t we all burst into a joyful song of Christ’s victory (and ours): “Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim till all the world adore His sacred name” ? (“Lift High the Cross” © 1978, Hope Publishing Co.)

Msgr. Gerald E. Twaddell, KHS, is prior of the Covington section of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem; chaplain of the Monastery of the Sacred Passion, Erlanger; professor of philosophy and rector of Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel at Thomas More University.

A gift of presence and unifying love

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.

Out of shadows and into truth

Msgr. William Neuhaus.

I enjoyed watching recently an interesting and even somewhat charming British documentary in which Queen Elizabeth II (who even managed a rare joke) handled, examined and talked about the St. Edward Crown, with which she was crowned over sixty-five years ago and which she apparently has not seen since (I suppose she doesn’t keep these things in a dresser drawer), and the newer Imperial State Crown, which she dons on a regular basis to open the British Parliament. She spoke with some knowledge of the history of the great Cullinan “Star of Africa” diamond which adorns the latter crown, and the program featured commentary on the circumstances of its discovery, cutting and placement in the crown (the priceless gem was sent years ago from South Africa to London by regular mail!), as well as a lengthy discussion on the stone’s characteristics, colors, flaws and so forth, which was all news to me and rather beyond anything I know (which is more or less nothing) about diamonds.

Yet, in teaching about the Eucharist, I have often found myself mentioning diamonds — they are proverbial for being (pun intended) multi-faceted, a term which comes to mind when one reads this beautiful quote on the Eucharist from the Second Vatican Council, to be found (n. 1323) in the wonderfully comprehensible and accessible “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” which should have a place in the home of every committed Catholic:

“At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages 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 consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.’”

Sacrifice, memorial, sacrament, bond, banquet … how wonderfully bright is this shining “source and summit,” as the Council calls it, of the Christian life.

The Catechism with great clarity references the centuries of scriptural and Church teaching on the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, including that “summary” which was presented in the sixteenth century by the Council of Trent:

“Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God … that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” (n. 1376)

It sometimes happens that faithful Catholics encounter people objecting to what we believe about the Real Presence by claiming that the Church’s use of that medieval, philosophical term, “transubstantiation,” as well as the development over the centuries of how the Church has sought to honor that Presence, means that what we believe about the Real Presence is some kind of a medieval innovation or exaggeration remote from what the early Church believed about how Christ is present in the Eucharist.

In 1968, in his beautiful yet relatively brief “Credo of the People of God,” and like his successors in many subsequent papal teaching documents, Pope St. Paul VI tried to address that and other modern errors concerning the Eucharist, and perhaps especially concerning adoration of the Eucharist, by describing the use of “transubstantiation” as appropriate while, at the same time, emphasizing that whatever kind of language we may use in describing the change which occurs on the altar, we must always understand that “in the reality itself, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the Consecration, so that it is the adorable body and blood of the Lord Jesus that from then on are really before us under the sacramental species of bread and wine, as the Lord willed it, in order to give Himself to us as food and to associate us with the unity of His Mystical Body. … And this existence remains present, after the sacrifice, in the Blessed Sacrament, which is, in the tabernacle, the living heart of each of our churches. And it is our very sweet duty to honor and adore in the blessed Host which our eyes see, the Incarnate Word whom they cannot see, and who, without leaving heaven, is made present before us.”

“Our very sweet duty.” Pope Paul appreciated and loved the Catholic impulse quietly and reverently to express our wonder and gratitude for what happens before us at Mass, and for what — for whom — we receive in holy Communion. And so we have, among many other hopeful things in the life of the Church, and shiningly standing out in a troubled and confused world, the phenomenon of parish programs of Eucharistic adoration, including here in our own diocese. It’s always a great and often a moving pleasure, and a reaffirming one, to see how such expressions of our belief in the Real Presence strike converts to our faith.

Msgr. Ronald Knox (preacher, apologist, Bible translator and mystery writer) was a 20th-century English convert, and in a powerful Corpus Christi homily recalled the epitaph of St. John Cardinal Henry Newman, the great 19th-century convert (himself very frequently cited in the Catechism), “Out of Shadows and Appearances into the Truth”:

“When death brings us into another world, the experience will not be that of one who falls asleep and dreams, but that of one who wakes from a dream into the full light of day. Here, we are so surrounded by the things of sense that we take them for the full reality. Only sometimes we have a glimpse which corrects that wrong perspective. And above all when we see the Blessed Sacrament enthroned we should look up towards that white disc which shines in the monstrance as towards a [crack] through which, just for a moment, the light of the other world shines through.” (“Pastoral and Occasional Sermons,” 304)

Msgr. William Neuhaus is a retired priest in the Diocese of Covington.

The Eucharist and our longing for God

Father Michael Hennigen

One of my favorite places to go ever since I was young is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. My family and I would always stay in Gatlinburg, and we still go down as a family every year in the summer.

Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains is spiritually uplifting, a kind of retreat for me. Every morning we go to Mass at St. Mary’s in town and then spend the day out in nature. Nature is God’s “first word” to us, showing us that he created us, he loves us and he sustains us. In the Gospels it is mentioned many times that Jesus would go off alone to pray, to be with his Father, out in the wilderness, up on the mountain alone to pray. Mountains in Scripture are often the place of encounter with God. Psalm 144:5 says, “Lord, incline your heavens and come down; touch the mountains and make them smoke.”

It was about 10 years ago on one of our family trips to the “Smokies” we decided to buy huge inner tubes called River Rats at the Walmart in Pigeon Forge. We went tubing in the Greenbriar and Elkmont areas of the park. We fell in love with this activity and now do it every year. I notice the beautiful mountain streams — the cool, clear, crystal water — and how they keep flowing, they never dry up. The water is refreshing to see, to listen to, and to get in to. It always reminds me of the verse in Scripture, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God.” (Psalm 42:1)

We long for God, we thirst for God, we are made for God. We long for his life — eternal life — to be one with him. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Our Lord thirsts for us. Jesus’ words on the cross, “I thirst,” demonstrate that he wants to share his life with us. Only in God is our soul — our thirst — quenched, so that we will never run dry.

In the book of Ezekiel, chapter 47, the prophet speaks of water flowing from the temple giving life to the earth. Jesus is the “New Temple,” as he speaks of himself, his body as the Temple — God with us — and from his side came forth blood and water, the sacramental life of the Church. Water and blood are signs of life.

From the side of Christ came forth his bride, the Church, just as from the side of Adam came forth Eve. He gave us his divine life, his body and blood, the Eucharist. The word Eucharist means “thanksgiving,” and we are thankful for the gift of his divine life, which is everlasting life, salvation from sin and death. We long for salvation like a deer longing for flowing streams; our souls thirsts for God.

 Father Michael Hennigen is pastor at Holy Cross Parish, Covington.

Sacred treasure, sacred space

By Father Britton Hennessey.

To me, one of the most moving aspects of the Easter Triduum that accompanies and accentuates the sublime celebration of the Paschal Mystery has always been the dramatic changes that happen in the interior of the church. After the conclusion of the Holy Thursday liturgy, the Blessed Sacrament is reposed in a different location, leaving the main tabernacle empty. Quite often thereafter, linens, candles and other items are removed. When entering the church for the Liturgy of Good Friday and seeing the dark, empty tabernacle, I always experience a deep sense of emptiness that drives home the emphasis of the Lord’s death for our salvation. But shortly thereafter, on Holy Saturday, the Light of the World re-enters our darkened world after rising from the domain of death. The tabernacle remains empty until after Communion when the Risen Lord is once again reposed and is present for his people. If you’ve ever been able to attend the dedication of a new church building or chapel, a similar experience occurs when the tabernacle remains empty until the Eucharist is consecrated for the first time in the new place at the dedication Mass, and when reposed after Communion, the Lord’s Real Presence dwells there.

The tabernacle in each church building serves various functions. As a repository for the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, a treasure worth more than any amount, it’s often constructed with costly metals and may be adorned with jewels, like at our Cathedral Basilica. For the protection of such a priceless treasure as the Eucharist, the tabernacle is locked. But despite being secured, it is accessible for Mass, for Communion to the sick, and for reserving the Eucharist for Adoration. Most importantly, though, it is the physical dwelling place where the Lord is always present to his people.

The dwelling place of the Real Presence of Jesus is sufficient enough to define the tabernacle, but to understand more about its role we have to look to the Old Testament, the 24th and 25th chapters of the book of Exodus. Moses and the Israelites have just arrived at Mount Sinai. The Lord God makes himself manifest to his chosen people (whom he had just delivered from slavery), with flashes of lightning, billowing smoke and peals of thunder. But Moses was to lead the people to the Promised Land, and the Lord desired to accompany them by being present in the Ark of the Covenant. In these chapters from Exodus, construction plans are given for the ark and for various other elements of the Lord’s dwelling. The ark was to be made of acacia wood, have every surface covered in gold, and was to be adorned with angels. In later chapters, after the construction was complete, the Lord descended to his dwelling place in the form of the glory cloud, the Shekinah. It was here that bread was placed in the Lord’s presence in sacrifice and was only able to be eaten by the priests, an early prefiguring of the Eucharist. Later in salvation history, Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem and the Lord dwelt there in the Holy of Holies, an area separated by a large veil. Sacrifices were offered to the Lord day and night.

 

It was important for the people of every generation to know of the Lord’s presence among them. But also, the Meeting Tent was where Moses met with the Lord panim-al-panim … that is, face to face. No one else had such an intimate friendship with the Lord to be able to meet him face to face, only Moses, the people’s intercessor. One element of Moses’ interactions with God that has always fascinated me is the fact that Moses’ face became radiant from being in the Lord’s presence — so much so, that it frightened the people and he was forced to wear a veil.

Despite the many years that have passed since the time of Moses, several things are still the same. First, the Lord still desires to be present to us and to accompany us on this journey through life, and as such, is still very present to us in the most holy Eucharist. Veiled in the outward appearances of bread and wine, Jesus Christ becomes present to his people at each and every Mass. Second, as in the Old Testament, the Lord’s dwelling is still a sacred vessel (the tabernacle) made of precious elements and centrally located in many churches. The sanctuary lamp, a specific and conspicuously placed candle, denotes the presence of the Lord. Finally, like Moses, any amount of encounter with the Lord reserved in the tabernacle (or especially during Eucharistic Adoration) leaves a radiance within our souls. Our faces may not glow as Moses’ did, but our hearts, our minds and our actions cannot help but radiate Christ to the world if we continually place ourselves before the Lord, face to face.

In this life, we face many challenges each and every day that might seek to close our hearts and minds to the Lord’s Real Presence among us. But in each and every Catholic Church, the Lord is reserved in the tabernacle and waits for us to come before him … to speak to him whatever may be on our minds … to show his love to us and transform our souls. Humanity’s most intimate desire is unity with our Lord and Creator because we are made in his image and likeness and can only be truly fulfilled through unity with him. He continues to sustain us at every Mass through the reception of his very Body and Blood, and he makes himself available to us in a real way in every tabernacle in the world. He does this not because he needs us — he does this because he desires us, and he loves us. May we always remember that when the world faces us with adversity, the Lord waits to show us his love face to face.

 Father Britton Hennessey is parochial vicar at St. Timothy Parish, Union, Ky.

The Eucharist: how we should receive this gift

By Father Andrew Young.

“Let the entire man be seized with fear; let the whole world tremble; let Heaven exult when Christ, the Son of the Living God, is on the altar in the hands of the priest.” These words from St. Francis of Assisi should give us pause as we reflect upon the reality of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a sublime gift from God that enables us to enter into a union with Jesus Christ unlike any other. When we receive holy Communion, we are not simply receiving bread and wine. We are really, truly and substantially receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The awesome nature of this gift is something that should fill us with intense joy and we should be awe-struck every time we are in the presence of the Eucharist — because the very same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, worked amazing miracles, suffered, died and rose from the dead is right there in front of us. All too often, however, we can lose sight of this great reality and we can find ourselves approaching the Eucharist in a routine, nonchalant, way that makes it seem like receiving holy Communion is no different from anything else happening in our day. If we find ourselves falling into this category, a look at how the Church says we should approach the Sacrament can be a helpful reminder of the glory in front of us.

Since the Eucharist is the bedrock of our faith, the Church sets certain requirements for one to be able to receive holy Communion. Baptized (or fully received) Catholics who have reached the age of reason (7 years old) and who are not aware of mortal sin and who have observed the Communion fast may receive holy Communion. One who knowingly receives holy Communion while guilty of mortal sin that has not been absolved in confession, receives unworthily and thereby commits the mortal sin of sacrilege. Venial sins do not and should not prevent us from receiving Communion. The grace received in holy Communion forgives our venial sins and fortifies us against temptation to mortal sin. The Communion fast is absolutely necessary as well. All are obliged to not eat or drink for one hour prior to receiving Communion. Water and medicine are always permitted and do not break the fast. Deliberately not observing the Communion fast and still receiving is a mortal sin. Those who are seriously ill, however, and those who care for such persons are not bound by the fast.

Beyond these basic requirements to receive the Eucharist in a fitting manner, we also must make sure our hearts are properly disposed. When it comes to our prayer lives our disposition is of pivotal importance. God hears all of our prayers and answers all of our prayers but how we prepare ourselves for these encounters with God and how we approach God makes a huge difference in how we are able to experience God’s grace in our lives. Think about the last time you received holy Communion. Did you line up, look around the church, wave to a friend, then mechanically stick out your tongue or hand, quickly make the sign of the cross and go back to your pew? Or did you step into the line, try your best to block out any distractions, bow as the sacred Host was elevated in front of you, and then humbly receive the Lord of the Universe into your very person?

In both cases the same things occurred. In both cases you received holy Communion. One case, however, clearly had a better realization of the true gift that was being received and certainly had a greater impact on the one receiving the gift. Our preparation for receiving our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament should begin even before Mass begins; hence the need to fast for a while and to confess any grave sins we are aware of having committed. Once we enter the church, we should spend time in silent prayer so that our hearts are ready to fully enter into the Mass. Throughout Mass, we should try to avoid distraction and continually unite our own prayers and petitions to the prayers being offered by the priest. We should especially offer our own petitions at the moment of the Offertory and in that most sacred moment of consecration, we should be so plugged-in to the action of the Mass that we can truly recognize our Lord and God as he is elevated before us in the sacred Host and precious chalice. All of this should lead up to the moment when we step out of our pews and prayerfully approach the throne of God, disguised as a golden ciborium.

St. Therese of Lisieux once reminded us, “Our Lord does not come down from Heaven every day to lie in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another heaven which is infinitely dearer to him — the heaven of our souls.”

When we receive the Eucharist with the proper disposition and having prepared our hearts for the amazing gift that it is, the Lord’s grace is able to flood our souls and provide us with the strength we need to continue our mission of being true disciples of the Lord in the world. May each of us never lose sight of this precious gift. May we always make every effort to receive the Eucharist in the best possible manner and may we always approach the Eucharist, as St. Francis of Assisi said, with holy fear, trembling and exaltation!

Father Andrew Young is pastor of St. Patrick Parish, Maysville, Ky.

In times of turmoil remember — ‘only one thing is necessary’

By Brad Torline.

Becoming a parent for the first time is an intimidating experience for most people even under normal circumstances. Imagine what it’s been like in the year 2020.

I had finally mustered up the courage to dive into marriage and fatherhood and then, less than three months after announcing our first pregnancy, a “once-in-a-life-time” pandemic hit.

The ensuing political and economic instability, the surge in race tensions, and, of course, the most contentious presidential race in living memory were all just cherries on top of this nerve-wracking scenario.

I’ve always thought it was a little tiresome and melodramatic when people say things like “What kind of a world have I brought a child into?!” The world has always been in a bad way and we could always use another good person. And yet, I have definitely caught myself looking down at my tiny beautiful new daughter this year and wondering just what kind of world she will grow up in.

All of this had me pondering and praying — what are we as Christians called to do in the face of all this? What am I personally called to do?

“You are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary.” (Luke 10:42)

If you turned your phone or computer on at all during 2020 you were probably immediately berated by a host of political movements, causes and activists — each demanding your attention, focus and support. If you failed to respond, at once you were made to feel complicit in systematic evil, worthy of condemnation and exclusion, etc. etc.

But as the verse above reminds us, anxiety and hyper-activity are antithetical to the Gospel.

I’m not saying that Catholics don’t have social and political responsibilities. We do. They comprise what tradition calls our “active life.”

The simple point I want to make here (and the point that has brought me peace during these times) is the reminder that the Church has always prioritized what she calls the “interior life” over the active life.

I think remembering this can give us focus and peace during these tumultuous times. There are many crises going on in society and in the Church right now. Sometimes it feels we are losing ground on all sides, making us feel the obligation to run this way and that trying to do something about it all.

But remember that, in the end, there is really only one thing for which we will ultimately be held responsible. Remember that, in Christ’s words, “Only one thing is necessary,” and that is our interior life, what Pope Benedict described as our “personal search for the face of the Lord.”  It is our personal striving to discover the Truth and to live in accordance as best as we can — first and foremost in our own lives and then we can strive to help those in our immediate sphere of influence as well. Only then should we strive to do something bigger.

I’m reminded of an old story my friend’s Ukrainian Catholic pastor would tell:

“Once there was young man who sought to become a priest thinking, ‘Perhaps, I can save the world.’ He thought he would climb to the highest ranks of the Church, fix her systems, and launch worldwide movements to renew entire societies. But after being ordained he realized that he could not save the world unless he could first save his own diocese. So with joy he accepted his first assignment to the Curia and served under his Bishop for 20 years only to realize, in the end, that he did not have the abilities to save his own diocese. He grew tired and was happy when the bishop reassigned him to a small parish. He devoted himself with fervor for another 20 years, thinking ‘I could not save my diocese, but perhaps I can save this little parish.’ But as the years passed, he realized that he could not save his little parish either. In old age, humbled by many years of hard work, he thought to himself ‘I cannot save this little parish, after all, but perhaps I can save myself.’ So he dedicated himself to eradicating his bad habits and the wicked thoughts he held secret in his heart.

“On his deathbed he realized that he could not even do this. He could not save even himself! And he was able to simply offer himself over to the Lord.”

We have a tendency of going about things backwards, don’t we? In youthful zeal we think we can fix and rework entire systems. We think we could run the entire world better if only we were in charge. We think we can save the world even though our families are a mess and we don’t know how to help them, and even though we cannot solve our own problems.

Here is the truth: We cannot save the world. We cannot save our community. We cannot save our family. We cannot even save ourselves — only Christ can. The sooner we realize this the better.

Scripture says that all of creation is groaning for the revelation of the sons of God. (Romans 8:22) Translation: The only true way to help the world is to become a saint.

If we fill our life with activism but do not become a saint, we have failed and everything we have will come to nothing. But if we concentrate on holiness first and foremost, above all else, then we will accomplish more than we ever imagined in our lifetime because it will not be us doing the accomplishing — but Christ in and through us. As He promised us, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Matt 6:33)

Brad Torline is associate director for the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization, Diocese of Covington, Ky.

‘Give us this day our daily bread’ — The new manna

By David Cooley.

In the first installment of “The Eucharist: The Source and Summit” we focused on the doctrine of Jesus’ Real Presence and on prefigurements of the Eucharist in the Old Testament. In this second installment we now turn to the New Testament and will focus on the scriptural scenes and passages that pave the way for the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

Early in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus teaches his disciples to pray the “Our Father.” (Mt 6:9-15) It’s interesting that, in the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus invites us to pray for food: “give us this day our daily bread.” This seems the most “human” or “practical” of all seven petitions in the prayer. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to “not be anxious about your life or what you shall eat” (Mt 6:25), yet he invites us to pray for what is necessary each day. Is it possible that Jesus is referring to a “daily bread” that is both physical and spiritual?

The fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer and Jesus’ teaching against anxiety acknowledge our earthly needs but they also call us to turn our cares and worries over to God. We rest in God’s providence and we are called to have faith — an attitude of trust in the presence of God and openness to his will. It is not a blind trust, but an assent to what has been revealed to us.

So, while there is clearly a straightforward, earthly sense to this petition, there are deeper and higher dimensions as well.

The earthly sense is that we need sustenance to survive, and we should trust that God will take care of us. As, St. Cyprian (d. 258 AD) observes: anyone who asks for bread each day is poor. In other words, the prayer presupposes the poverty of the disciples — those who have renounced the world, seek no security other than God and pray for the fulfillment of his kingdom

The deeper dimension is found in the context of the Exodus, when the People of God, wandering in the desert, were fed by God himself with “manna from heaven.” Jesus referred back to that story when he said, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4; Deut 8:3). In this context, “our daily bread” is the Eucharist, the new manna from heaven.

In the fifth chapter of his book, “Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration” (Ignatius Press, 2007), Pope Benedict XVI points out that the Fathers of the Church were practically unanimous in understanding the fourth petition of the Our Father as a Eucharistic petition. “[I]n this sense the Our Father figures into the Mass liturgy as a Eucharistic table-prayer (i.e. ‘grace’).” (“Jesus of Nazareth,” pg. 154) In other words, the Our Father is our prayer before the meal at our Lord’s Table.

When Jesus feeds 5,000 people by miraculously multiplying bread we are reminded, again, of the miracle of manna in the desert. In the ancient Jewish tradition it was believed that manna was originally from the Garden of Eden but, after the fall of man, was taken away and stored in heaven. Therefore, manna was a perfect food unaffected by sin, and only appeared when God sent a mediator to deliver his people from slavery. It was also believed that the Messiah who was to come would be a new Moses and would bring with him a new manna. In the Bread of Life discourse (Jn 6:35-59), Jesus repeatedly refers to “manna from heaven,” using it to explain to his disciples how they would be able to eat his flesh and drink his blood. It seems just that the new manna provided by the Messiah would be even more miraculous than the ancient manna provided in the wilderness. Jesus said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn 6:51) When Jesus was in danger of losing many disciples because of this hard teaching he said, “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jn 6:55)

New Testament scholars widely agree that Jesus is speaking here about the Eucharistic food and drink that he will give the disciples at the Last Supper. If we consider Jesus’ words in the Bread of Life discourse from an ancient Jewish perspective then the Eucharist could never be just a symbol, it must be supernatural bread from heaven. The Eucharist is a gift of himself that Jesus left behind for all time for the people of the New Testament — us. He left us himself in his sacrifice offered under the appearance of bread and wine. It is a manifestation of his boundless love. It is a uniquely intense fulfillment of the promise: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Mt 28:20

In the gospels, when Jesus speaks of bread or uses bread to perform a miracle there is always a transcendent message that mankind’s true food is the Logos, the eternal Word. In the Blessed Sacrament the Eternal Word becomes true manna for us, a taste of heaven that we can experience this very day. Being in communion with God, we are sharing in the life of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. The Eucharist, our daily bread, is spiritual food for our soul, giving us graces for our journey back to God.

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.