Thomas Aquinas’ Mystical Experience

By David Cooley.

I hope that the brief theological insights in these pages bring comfort and a greater awareness of the fact that, as Cardinal Robert Sarah wrote in his recent letter to the Church, “God never abandons the humanity He has created, and that even the hardest trials can bear fruits of grace.” In this difficult year in which we have all suffered the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and have all experienced at least some time of Eucharistic fasting, we can renew our appreciation of the vital importance, beauty and immeasurable preciousness of the Eucharist and the Mass. Remember, as the name of this series reminds us, the Second Vatican Council said that the Eucharist is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed,” and “at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10). Before you move on to the final pages there is one last reflection on the Eucharist and on a particular saint that I’d like to share.

If you are anything like me, there is one saint that sometimes comes across as more than a little intimidating. His name is Thomas Aquinas. Now, I’ll admit that I turn to an explanation of his now and again to help me better understand a difficult concept, but reading him thoroughly and following him down his thought processes doesn’t usually make me feel smart — just the opposite, actually. After all, he is not only a Doctor of the Church, but the “Angelic Doctor,” as the Dominicans like to say. His works are vast and overwhelming and he can be a little difficult to relate to.

However, there is a story about Thomas Aquinas that changed my perspective on him forever and really sparked my imagination. In the Thurston and Attwater revision of Alban Butler’s “Lives of the Saints,” the event is described this way:

“On the feast of St. Nicholas [in 1273], St. Thomas Aquinas was celebrating Mass when he received a revelation that so affected him that he wrote and dictated no more, leaving his great work the ‘Summa Theologiae’ unfinished. To Brother Reginald’s (his secretary and friend) expostulations he replied, ‘The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.’ When later asked by Reginald to return to writing, Aquinas said, ‘I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.’ … Aquinas died three months later while on his way to the ecumenical council of Lyons.”

Thomas’ reaction to his experience is quite extraordinary. It is interesting to note that, traditionally, it is believed that Thomas Aquinas had his mystical experience at the moment he lifted the consecrated Host during Mass. But whether it was at that exact moment or not is beside the point.

While it’s true that we are not all called to be great theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas, great orators like St. John Chrysostom, brave authors like St. Catherine of Siena, world-changing missionaries like St. Teresa of Calcutta, or amazing mystics like Sts. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, we are all called to greatness and we are all called to sainthood.

Maybe we can’t all be brilliant like Thomas Aquinas, but that moment he had with the Lord belongs to each and every one of us — it is open to all of us. That is precisely what is waiting for us in the Eucharist. What the great doctor of the Church realized, close to the end of his life, is that there is nothing in the universe to compare to our Lord. This means that no amount of brilliant ideas we have, no amount of friends we win, no amount of awards we’re given, no amount of fame we acquire will ever be enough to fulfill us. This is because we were made for more. The things that can seem so important to us right now, when seen through eyes fixed on eternity, will not seem to be much more to us than straw.

This doesn’t mean that our lives don’t matter – just the opposite! This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about the things we care about – he does! Scholars, and Catholics in general, have never understood Aquinas’s comment to be a retraction or refutation of anything he wrote. If that was the case, Pope Leo XIII would not have encouraged a renewed interest in Thomistic theology and philosophy, and Aquinas would not have been named a Doctor of the Church. No, Thomas wasn’t saying that he had been wrong about God; instead, he was given a rare glimpse of how much our words and thoughts fall short in describing and understanding the glory of God. Knowing this helps us in our worship and to keep everything in proper perspective. Still, we can’t help but take the Eucharist for granted. If we could truly see what was before us then everything else, no matter how glorious, would seem worthless. Yet we don’t decide worth — God does. His love knows no bounds and he already decided that you were worth dying for. He is waiting for you right now. Don’t walk to him, run.

The richness and beauty of the Eucharistic prayers

By Father Joseph Gallenstein.

In his exhortation at the end of the Synod on the Eucharist in March 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The spiritual life of the faithful can benefit greatly from a better appreciation of the richness of the Eucharistic prayer.” My own spiritual life has been greatly blessed by the observations and insights of parishioners who, having celebrated Mass, make a comment on one or more aspects of the Eucharistic prayer.

The origins of the Eucharistic prayers are found in the table prayers of Jewish meals and the prayer of blessing known as the berekah, which praised and blessed God. At feasts such as Passover, the inclusion of the Haggadah, integrated the special meaning of the feast as one that made present God’s liberating deeds from the past and applied its power of those celebrating the feast. Similarly, during the course of the Eucharistic prayer, Christ becomes uniquely and truly present, under the forms of bread and wine. But Christ’s saving action also becomes present again for us, here and now, in this time and place.

Jesus, while using traditional Jewish meal blessing prayers, gave new dimension with his words “This is my body,” “This is my blood” and “Do this in memory of me.” However, in the earliest years of the Church there were no liturgical books and improvised prayer with themes of praise, thanksgiving and supplication were used. Justin Martyr (c. 150 AD) writes: “bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability and the people assent, saying, ‘Amen.’” By the 4th Century, the extemporaneous Eucharistic prayers gave way to written prayers.

The Preface is the part of the Eucharistic prayer that comes before the “Holy, Holy, Holy” and begins with the dialogue: “The Lord be with you.” In the name of the people, the priest praises the Father and gives him thanks for the work of salvation or for some special aspect of it in keeping with the day, feast or season. The text of the various prefaces (there are many!) is a statement of the special reason for praising God. For example, there are various prefaces for the Blessed Virgin Mary and her role in salvation history. Likewise, there are different prefaces for Apostles, pastors, martyrs, etc., as well as Sundays and weekdays of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Ordinary Time.

Jesus’ “Words of Institution” that is, those words echoing Jesus himself at the Last Supper are found in all the current Eucharistic prayers — “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you. Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” With very few exceptions, those words are found in all the ancient Eucharistic prayers of East and West, even if the exact wording differs slightly.

The Lord’s command to “Do this in memory of me” is the reason for “doing” the Eucharist. The earliest Christians understood the Passover invokes a special kind of remembrance of the whole saving and liberating actions of God. In Greek the word is “anamnesis.” Since God is ever faithful to the divine Covenant, the past deeds become present and efficacious to those partaking in the ritual. The Church in her Eucharistic prayers make explicit anamnesis, especially recalling the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Eucharistic Prayer for Children II says it simply: “And so, loving Father, we remember that Jesus died and rose again to save the world. He put himself into our hands to be the sacrifice we offer you.”

An acclamation in the middle of the Eucharistic prayer is relatively new in the Roman liturgy. In the East, there are some old Eucharistic prayers were the people acclaimed “Amen!” after the words of institution over the bread and then again over the cup. The priest gives the invitation “The Mystery of Faith” to which the assembly has three options of response: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again;” “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again;” or “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.” What is the mystery? Jesus’ Eucharistic presence captures the larger “mystery” of Christ’s living, dying, rising and presence among his people and the whole plan of God realized in Christ’s saving love.

Although the language varies, there is a statement of “offering the bread and wine” in all the Eucharistic prayers. For example, Eucharistic Prayer II speaks of offering “the bread of life and the chalice of salvation.” Eucharistic Prayer III says, “We offer you this holy and living sacrifice.” The intention here is that the whole Church, but especially the particular assembly, is offering to the Father the spotless victim (Jesus) and also attempting to learn how to offer ourselves and daily be drawn into more perfect union with Christ.

There are also intercessory prayers in the body of the Eucharistic prayers. These include mentioning the pope and local bishop by name, invoke the saints and martyrs, prayer the community and for the dead. These intercessions make it clear that the Eucharist is being celebrated “in communion” with the whole Church of heaven and earth, and that the offering is made for the Church and all its members living and deceased.

The traditional conclusion of the Eucharistic prayer is a (sung) statement of praise and thanksgiving in the form of a Trinitarian doxology. The assembly responds, “Amen.” Justin Martyr attests to the significance of the “amen,” writing: “When the prayer of thanksgiving ended, all the people present give their assent with an ‘Amen.’” The assembly assents to the Eucharistic prayer and make it their own in the Great Amen.

 Father Joseph Gallenstein is pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, Alexandria.

Eucharistic hymns and Catholic theology

By Father Stef Bankemper.

In this installment of our series on the Eucharist we turn to Eucharistic hymns. It is a vast topic, so must be severely limited in a short article. One sub-topic that has interested me for years is the question of how adequately the hymns we use express our Catholic theology. The shortness of space allows me only to begin to broach this subject, and so this article will be limited to a very brief discussion of how well a few of our commonly-used hymns express one aspect of our Eucharistic theology. I have chosen hymns from Breaking Bread; it is not the only worship aid/hymnal in use in the diocese, but it is often used.

Before I begin this exploration, let me note that people are often surprised when I raise this question. We commonly assume that the prayers we pray at Mass, for instance, and the songs we sing, accurately express what we believe. And we should assume that. One of the maxims of Catholic theology is the phrase “lex orandi, lex credendi” (“the law of praying, the law of believing”), which means, basically, that the words we pray shape what we believe. Knowing that, the Church takes great care that her official prayers are theologically correct. Surprisingly, she does not show the same care in the hymns that she allows to be used, and so the quality of the theology in our hymns, and its expression, ranges from excellent to questionable to poor to heretical; thankfully, there are few of the last, but they do exist.

Let us look at the song “Bread of Life,” by Rory Cooney. The first words we sing are the words of the refrain:


I myself am the bread of life.

                                    You and I are the bread of life,

                                    taken and blessed, broken and shared by Christ

                                    that the world might live.


On the most immediate level — what the words actually say — this is one of the worst hymns we could sing in the liturgy. I can assure you that I am not the bread of life, and — no offense — you also are not. There is one Bread of Life, and we know who it is.

But Cooney does not capitalize the words “bread” and “life”; what is he trying to express? I think he is trying to express something that Paul VI, taking his cue from St. Augustine, wrote about in his encyclical “Mysterium Fidei”:


From this it follows that the worship paid to the Divine Eucharist

strongly impels the soul to cultivate a “social” love, by which … we make the

interests of the community … our own and extend our charity to the whole

world because we know that everywhere there are members of Christ.


As I wrote, Paul VI received his idea from Augustine. I have heard people quote a line from one of Augustine’s sermons in support of Cooney’s words: “become what you see.” The trouble is that they do not quote more of Augustine’s words. He continues in that same sermon by claiming that we say “Amen” to what we are. But Augustine does not say bread of life; he says body of Christ: “Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your ‘Amen’ may ring true.”

What is the difference between saying “we are the bread of life” and “we are the body of Christ”? The biggest difference is that the second is scriptural and accurate (1 Cor 12; Rom 12), while the first is analogous and tenuous at best. And two things make these words even worse: first, they are the first words we sing and there is no preparation, no context for them; second, that Cooney does not just write “I am the bread of life,” but “I myself am the bread of life.” Without any preparation, it could be interpreted that I am not just forgetting God but consciously excluding God. What is the problem? The problem is that the liturgy is not the place for theological speculation, but for clear and direct expression of what is true. If the maxim lex orandi, lex credenda is valid, then when the Church is praying — especially in a time when the faithful are so inadequately catechized — she should be praying words that strengthen our faith, not weaken or confuse it.

Another hymn, “Bread For The World,” by Bernadette Farrell, comes a little closer to a more adequate expression of the idea that the Eucharist begets in us a “social” love. The refrain of her hymn reads:


Bread for the world; a world of hunger.

Wine for all peoples: people who thirst.

May we who eat be bread for others.

May we who drink pour out our love.


There is much that is still problematic in this hymn: for instance, there remains the idea, slightly less overt, that somehow we are ourselves what the world needs and longs for; Farrell does not mention Jesus Christ anywhere in the refrain. At least, though, she hints in the third and fourth lines at the need for us first to receive something before we can give to others.

In his hymn “Gift Of Finest Wheat,” Omer Westendorf comes closest in this group of three composers to expressing well the idea that the Eucharist impels us to go out to others. First, there is no ambiguity in the refrain as to the source of the bread of life:


Come give to us, O saving Lord,

the bread of life to eat.


Then, in the fifth verse, he writes,


You give yourself to us, O Lord;

then selfless let us be,

to serve each other in your name

in truth and charity.


While there is more that Westendorf could have written to express how the Eucharist impels us to others, he at least is on the right track. There is no suggestion that when we go to others we bring only ourselves. Indeed, we hope to be “selfless;” and if we are selfless, then we must be bringing something else to others — who else but Jesus, who has given himself to us in the Eucharist?


Let us end with a look at a hymn that, while not trying overtly to express the idea we have been discussing, might actually bring us to it in a more substantial way. The hymn is “Adoro Te Devote” by St. Thomas Aquinas, but the words at which we will look are from Gerard Manly Hopkins’ well-known translation of the hymn into English. The fifth verse reads:


O thou [the Host], our reminder of the Crucified,

Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,

Lend this life to me, then; feed and feast my mind,

There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.


There is no ambiguity here, and no questionable theology. The host reminds us of the crucified Jesus, the living Bread of Life. He is our life; we beg it from him. The last line recalls the verse and response of benediction: “You have given them Bread from heaven/Having within it all sweetness.” Even if we do need hymns that remind us of the social responsibility the Eucharist imposes on us, they should begin with the true Bread of Life and work outwards, so to speak.

It was not the purpose of this article to look at every aspect of the hymns mentioned, but hopefully our brief exploration has awakened an interest in looking more closely at the hymns we use. Perhaps one day someone in Rome or our bishops in this country will require more care in the creation of the hymnals that shape in some way the beliefs of our Catholic people.


Father Stef Bankemper is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Ft. Thomas.

‘O Come Let Us Adore Him’

By Deacon Peter Freeman.

The Eucharist is Jesus truly present – body, blood, soul and divinity. At the moment of consecration during Mass, the “gifts” of bread and wine are transformed (transubstantiated) into the actual Body and Blood of Christ, at the altar. This is what is meant by the real presence: the actual, physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

After Communion, the Eucharistic Body of Christ is reserved in the tabernacle. A votive light is kept burning to remind us that Jesus is present.

Because we, as Catholics, believe that Christ is truly and substantially present in the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament is given the same reverence, respect and devotion that is accorded to Christ.

Eucharistic adoration is adoring or honoring the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and can take place at any time that the Blessed Sacrament is present in the tabernacle.

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament occurs when a priest or deacon removes the sacred host from the tabernacle and places it in the monstrance on the altar for adoration by the faithful. The monstrance is the vessel used in the Church to display the consecrated Eucharistic Host during adoration or benediction. The word monstrance comes from the Latin word monstrare meaning “to expose”. When a consecrated host is placed in the monstrance, it is said to be in solemn exposition.

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament allows for the adoration of Christ visibly present in the Eucharist for 40 Hours devotions, holy hours, adoration and benediction.

Many parishes have Eucharistic exposition and benediction for a certain number of hours each week. Some parishes have perpetual adoration in a chapel reserved for Eucharistic Exposition. Perpetual adoration is adoration in front of the exposed Eucharist twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week.

During Eucharistic adoration, we “watch and wait” and remain silent in His presence and open ourselves to the graces which flow from the Eucharist. Like a magnet, the Lord draws us to Himself and gently transforms us.

Click Here for a directory of parishes within the Diocese of Covington that hold Eucharistic exposition and adoration, with days and times, as well as parishes with perpetual adoration chapels.

‘My Body … given up for you’

By David Cooley.

The celebration of the Eucharist goes back to the Last Supper that Jesus had with his Apostles. However, the memorial of the Eucharist is more than just a remembrance of that Last Supper event. In the Eucharist the sacrifice of our redemption becomes present. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, “Sacrosanctum Concilium” (1963), states: “At the Last Supper, on the night He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again” (n. 47). In his encyclical letter “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” Pope John Paul II wrote that the Mass makes the sacrifice of the Cross present, “which makes Christ’s one, definitive redemptive sacrifice always present in time” (EE, n. 12).

In his “Summa Theologiae,” Thomas Aquinas makes the point that the Eucharist is at once a “sacrament” and a “sacrifice.” He wrote, “In this sacrament is included the whole mystery of our salvation” (“Summa Theologiae,” III, q. 83, a. 4, c). While St. Thomas notes the close connection between sacrament and sacrifice in the mystery of the Eucharist, he nevertheless sees them as irreducibly distinct from one another, being different concepts and having different effects.

The Eucharist satisfies the concept of a sacrament, Aquinas observed, insofar as it is received and consumed, while it satisfies the concept of sacrifice insofar as it is offered (cf. III, q. 79, a. 5, c). The sacramental effects, graces, are therefore limited to those who are actually present to taste it, while its sacrificial effects may extend to all those for whom it is offered.

St. Thomas Aquinas’ predecessor, Peter Lombard — theologian and bishop of Paris (d. 1160) —recognized that it was important to note that Christ’s saving sacrifice on Calvary is a “once for all” action, unique and unrepeatable; but at the same time the Church’s daily Eucharist action is a genuine sacrifice, in which Christ is truly offered. The offering takes place in one way on Calvary and in another way on the altar. St. John Paul II, referring back to the Council of Trent, said that “the Mass makes present the sacrifice on the Cross; it does not add to that sacrifice nor does it multiply it” (EE, n. 12). He concludes, “The sacrificial nature of the Eucharist cannot therefore be understood as something separate, independent of the Cross or only indirectly referring to the sacrifice of Calvary.”

In the 21st century, perhaps it strikes us as strange to speak of a “sacrifice” in the first place. The word harkens back to the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament — complete with blood sprinkled on the altar — and, in the context of the Mass, refers to the death of God’s only Son for the reparation of sins. In other words, death to the innocent to save the guilty. Why would a God (a Father) of mercy demand such a thing? This is often a point of contention that popular atheists use when pointing out what they deem a major flaw in the Gospel narrative. “What kind of a blood-thirsty god would demand the death of his son to pay for the world’s crimes?” And yet it is St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians connects the crucifixion to the paschal sacrifice, calling Christ “our paschal lamb” who “has been sacrificed” (5:7).

In his book, “My Body Given for You,” recently published in English, Helmut Hoping, German professor of dogmatics and liturgy, writes that the Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross must be understood in terms of the life laid down for us “not in terms of the Crucified as the victim of violence” (“My Body Given for You,” Ignatius Press, 2019). Eucharistic Prayer II reminds us that Christ “entered willingly into his Passion” first and foremost as a gift, out of the greatest possible love for the Father and for us. Christ is the true sacrificial lamb and, at the same time, the true high priest who makes the offering on the people’s behalf. The Cross, then, is the true altar.

The Church is called to participate in the sacrifice of Christ. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, “Lumen Gentium,” teaches that the faithful, “taking part in the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of the whole of Christian life, offer the divine [sacrifice] to God, and offer themselves along with it.” (LG, n. 11) In this way, Christ’s sacrifice makes it possible for us to, in the right disposition, willingly offer ourselves back to God and unite our sufferings to the Cross.

In his first encyclical, “Redemptor Hominis,” Pope John Paul II wrote that the Father accepted the sacrifice of Christ, “giving, in return for this total self-giving by his Son, who ‘became obedient unto death’ (Phil 2:8), his own paternal gift, that is to say the grant of new immortal life in the resurrection.” (RH, n. 20). The Eucharistic sacrifice makes present not only the mystery of Christ’s passion and death, but also the mystery which crowned that sacrifice — the Resurrection. Christ risen has become for us the “Bread of life” and partaking in the Eucharist applies the event of the Resurrection to our lives.

Later, in his reflection “On the Eucharist and the Mass,” John Paul II wrote, “the Lord unites us with Himself through the Eucharist — Sacrament and Sacrifice — and He unites us with Himself and with one another by a bond stronger than any natural union. Thus united, He sends us into the whole world to bear witness, through faith and works, to God’s love.”

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

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.