Unraveling the Mysteries: The Fifth Luminous Mystery, the Institution of the EucharistPosted by Jenny on May 16, 2013 in Blog | 4 comments
Emily | A Year of Living Adventurously
‘Tis the season for graduations, confirmations and first communions, because it’s spring here in the U.S. (and the northern hemisphere). Do you remember your first communion? I’m pretty sure the Apostles never forgot theirs.
The importance of the Eucharist, and the Mass, in Catholic life cannot be understated. You can’t have one without the other. Mass isn’t Mass without Eucharist; it’s just the “liturgy of the word”, and, while that’s lovely, it’s not the source and summit of our lives, as my pastor is fond of saying. The Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, and our belief that it is just that, is one of the hallmarks of Catholicism.
Maybe the apostles had no idea what Jesus was doing. I mean, sure, he’d said “eat my flesh and drink my blood” (John 6) and they hadn’t fled, like so many had. They’d stayed with Jesus, even though this teaching was hard to so many of their countrymen. But did they truly understand what Jesus was doing in that Upper Room? Do we, 2,000 years later, understand it at all?
Probably not. As my sacraments class professor said, “sometimes when studying, we must fold back the wings of our intellect, and bow before the mystery.” My fellow Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas says the same thing in his great Eucharistic hymns “Tantum Ergo Sacramentum” and “Salutaris Hostia”.
We will never truly understand the power, the beauty, of the Eucharist. I don’t think we can, with our finite human minds. But we do need to believe what it is–it is Jesus, come down to us, to be consumed, here in bread and wine. (Or just bread. You don’t need both to get the complete sacrament.) There’s a reason the hosts are handled so carefully, the reason the Precious Blood isn’t poured down a regular drain, but a sacrarium (Catholic trivia of the day: this is a special type of sink that empties into the ground, not the regular water system, so the remains of the sacrament go back to the Earth.). Since we believe it is truly Christ’s blood that is in that chalice, and so we must treat it with respect.
The enormity of the Eucharist, I think, can be lost when we receive it so often without pondering what it truly is. Until the beginning of the 20th century, children couldn’t receive communion. This was changed by St. Pius X, who promoted the early reception of communion once children reached “the age of reason” (about seven or eight), and were able to determine right from wrong. We can receive Christ every day! What an immense gift.
An immense gift, of course, must be treated as such. Our souls should be in a state of grace, meaning we are not conscious of mortal sin. We should have fasted for one hour before receiving communion, and should adopt an attitude of reverence when we go receive. (Like, this is not drive-through communion–no “receiving and leaving”!)
Before Christ began His passion, He gave His Church this sign of his tremendous, self-giving and redeeming love. We may not completely understand the theology surrounding it (although I would definitely recommend reading a bit about it, and the Mass: Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth and Donald Cardinal Wuerl’s The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition are good places to start). But, like the apostles, I think we realize what is happening during the Mass. We realize that something monumental is occurring, and that, like Moses, we are approaching holy ground. Or, rather, we should. As Flannery O’Connor said, “if it’s just a symbol, well then to [heck] with it.”
The Mass, above all things, is what keeps my faith alive. We cannot think to live as Catholics, and grow in faith, without the Mass and the Eucharist. Just as the physical body needs food, so do our souls! In June we will celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, which celebrates the Eucharist in all its glory. Perhaps this would be a good time to make a holy hour at a nearby parish, or try to attend a weekday Mass (or two, or three), or perhaps read more about the sacrament? We can never be too informed or too in love with our faith!