By Fr. Nile Gross, STL
Special to the Rio Grande Catholic
We are a Eucharistic people – a Eucharistic Church. The Eucharist, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the center of our faith and, by extension, our lives. What, then, are we to do, to feel, in the current crisis in which access to the Body and Blood of Christ is limited?
The most important thing that we must do is pray – pray for the mercy of God, for His healing, for His strength in these times. We must also consider what it means to be a Eucharistic people, because this manner of defining ourselves is not limited to being a people who receives the Eucharist at Mass. It is the fuller reality which should be focused on in these times of crisis. For many centuries the People of God did not receive the Eucharist, were not even offered it, but twice a year, and yet, we were still a Eucharistic people. Thanks to the leadership of Pope St. Pius X, who asked that the Eucharistic Lord be offered to the laity at every Mass in his 1910 encyclical, Quam singulari, Catholics around the world gained greater access to this beloved gift of the Church. Never would the Church want to return to the days in which the people did not receive the Eucharist frequently.
However, we must remember that many great saints lived and thrived prior to 1910. These men and women recognized the Eucharistic presence in the bread and wine, but understood other dimensions of this great Mystery as well. The word eucharist itself gives a hint to this deeper meaning – “to give thanks”. A Eucharistic people comes together in liturgy not simply to receive something, but to bring something to the celebration as well. To bring to God our sacrifice of praise, our thanksgiving to Him for all the blessings he has bestowed upon us. To be a Eucharistic people means to draw on the Holy Spirit dwelling within us and actively join ourselves, our prayers, with those of Jesus Christ to the Father, as we are members of his Mystical Body. We must remember the sacrificial element of the Mass and our proper role in this sacrament. By joining ourselves to the liturgical prayer, we connect ourselves to the Cross, to the sacrifice of Calvary.
In the present crisis something has been taken from us – direct access to the Eucharist in the Body and Blood of Christ. However, we can still offer ourselves to the Father with Christ, as St. Paul says: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2). In all that we do, especially in times of crisis and suffering, we must present ourselves as “living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.” This is the fullness of the meaning of being a Eucharistic people. We live a sacrificial life, giving ourselves to others as Christ did for us on the Cross.
Now, this does not alleviate the true pain that we feel in the present moment when access to the Mass and the Precious Body and Blood of Christ is limited. But it should allow us to join more fully in the Eucharistic reality at the heart of the Church. We can continue to offer ourselves for our families, for those who are suffering. We pray for those affected by this terrible epidemic and for its conclusion. We follow the liturgies of the Church and the liturgical year as best we can – reading the daily readings and meditating on them, meditating on our rich Eucharistic prayers, watching televised or streamed masses. We bring the Eucharist, the thanksgiving, into our homes and families. Importantly, we make a spiritual communion. The Church has taught through the centuries that when a person is not able to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Mass, we can still unite ourselves to Him in prayer. It is a beautiful way to express our desire for union with Him and with his Church. This act of spiritual communion was encouraged by many of the great saints of our past – Padre Pio, Alphonsus Liguori, and Josemaria Escriva, to name a few, the latter who said, “What a source of grace there is in spiritual communion! Practice it frequently and you’ll have greater presence of God and closer union with him in all your actions.”
How does one make this act of communion? At the time of Communion in the Mass or immediately after, one would make a prayer expressing their desire to receive Christ and asking him to come into their hearts. St. Alphonsus Liguori provides a beautiful example of such a prayer of spiritual communion:
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
This prayer is not a substitute for the Eucharistic Lord but can unite us to him throughout the day and demonstrate our love for Christ and the Eucharist. If reception of communion is not possible for you in these times or at any time, because of sickness, age, distance, this prayer or a personal prayer which conveys the same love of Christ and desire to be with him may be offered. Jesus responds to prayer.
The Church has not abandoned anyone in these times of need. Our churches remain open. Priests are available for confessions and anointing of the sick and desire to bring God’s merciful love to all in need. Priests offer masses daily for the People of God and their needs. Because of the danger of viral infection, large gatherings may not be possible, which may limit access to Mass throughout the world, but the Church continues to beseech God for her people in her time of need.
We are a Eucharistic People. Let us never forget this. Let us extend the graces of the Eucharist into the world by uniting ourselves to the sacrifice of the Lord and offering ourselves for others in prayer and service just as Christ offered himself on the cross. Let us pray that the Eucharistic Lord will be returned to us soon. No greater gift has been given to us! He is the center of our lives. But let us live as a Eucharistic people, as saints seeking Christ in all things, an offering Him to others in our words and actions.
Though this year’s Triduum celebrations will be abbreviated and the faithful will not be present because of the pandemic, the “three days” still mark the pinnacle of the Church’s liturgical calendar. As you participate in these liturgies from home, it may help to understand their inherent meaning and symbolism.
The circular letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship, On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts, states: “Just as the week has its beginning and climax in the celebration of Sunday, which always has a paschal character, so the summit of the whole liturgical year is in the sacred Easter triduum of the passion and resurrection of the Lord.”
The Paschal Triduum is a continuous celebration (liturgy) of Christ’s resurrection beginning with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday evening, continuing with the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, and concluding with the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. We do not “recreate” the events of the past, but enter into the ongoing story of the effects of the Resurrection. We celebrate the effects of Christ’s resurrection in our lives, our relationships, and the world.
Let us begin with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening. We gather as a community to remember that last night Jesus spent with the disciples in order to celebrate the Passover. In the Gospel of John there is no institution narrative, “take eat” “take drink.” John adds the unique story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. It is a gesture of complete humility and service to others. A challenge to all forms of pretentious power. It is as if Jesus is saying to each of us: if we call ourselves disciples, a member of the Church, this is how we live our lives, in humble service. The washing of feet summarizes the entirety of Jesus’ ministry of humble service that we are to imitate.
Let us focus on the second reading from Thursday evening’s Mass, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. Paul is writing just a few years after the Resurrection and he references a ritual already familiar to early Christians in which bread and wine are shared. Put into context, Paul is chastising the community for its divisions. If divided, Christ is not present in their celebration. The Eucharist has ethical consequences for participants. Let us add Jesus’ teaching of the Golden Rule from his Sermon on the Mount, Matt 7:12, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” Thomas Aquinas commented on this and wrote that we are all brothers [and sisters] and our unity in the Eucharist is in our common care for one another. In our brotherhood [sisterhood] as a united humanity, we are to strive to ensure the basic needs and rights of others just as we strive for our basic needs and rights. We bear mutual responsibility for one another.
Now we enter into the liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday where we venerate the Cross which is the central act of the evening’s liturgy. The liturgy of Good Friday is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection, not his death. The Cross we venerate is supposed to be plain, no corpus. Yes, Christ died, faithful to his identity as God’s Son and to his mission to proclaim and witness to the Kingdom. We read John’s Gospel which has Jesus lifted up on the Cross to the Father in glory. Jesus lived fully alive in the Spirit received in baptism and this same Spirit raises him from death to the resurrection. We too share in the resurrection when we lift up our lives to the Father in faithful service. To wash the feet of others, humble service in witness to the Kingdom, this is our glorification and our “already” participation in the resurrection.
As we celebrate the Easter Vigil, we shout Alleluia! Because the story of Christ’s humble service offered to the Father in the glory of the Cross has become our story and our Paschal victory.
In response to the old hymn “Were You There?” No! we were not there; we are here in the present reality. We are not remembering the past, but realizing Christ’s Paschal victory through our humble service to family and neighbor. We wash the feet of all we encounter with love, dignity and respect. Christ is Raised! Alleluia!
By Rev. Marcus McFadin, D.Min
Acting Director, Office of Worship
In the Gospel of Luke, the story of Emmaus teaches how Christ is present sacramentally to the Church in word and symbol. Christ’s physical presence in the Gospels is now a sacramental presence. Christ is present in the actions and symbols we find in the celebration of the sacraments such as the Word, the bread and wine, the words of forgiveness. It is Christ who offers God’s mercy and pardon through the words and actions of the priest when we celebrate the Sacrament of Penance.
When Jesus began his public ministry, he called for repentance. He meant the complete transformation of the human person in light of the Good News. This was more than a change in behavior, it was a change in attitude, thought, all that influences human action and speech. The Lenten journey is a time to acknowledge where we fall short and need to repent, to be transformed in light of the Good News. We do more than give up candy or soft drinks, we give up, or take on, what is necessary to conform ourselves to Christ and his message, both as an individual and as one who lives in relationship with others. It is to understand the Good News as a way of life in which we mediate and share God’s goodness with others.
During the Lenten journey we are encouraged to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance, popularly referred to as Reconciliation. It is an important opportunity to acknowledge our limitations and shortcomings especially in the current climate in which acknowledgement of sin has been weakened. Secularism has created a denial that certain actions or attitudes are always wrong and sinful. Everything is relative, there are no absolutes and the individual is free of all responsibility.
We celebrate the sacrament by beginning with an examination of conscience. God speaks to the sinner through the conscience. The Catechism recommends Matthew 5-7, Romans 12-15, 1 Corinthians 12-13, Galatians 5 and Ephesians 4-6, for an examination and reflection on the Christian life. Simply: Have I loved God and my neighbor with all my heart? This is accompanied by an honest acknowledgement of sin followed by a sincere and genuine desire to change (conversion).
The examination of one’s conscience leads to confession of those sins to God whose forgiveness is certain. Confession requires honesty and courage that entrusts the penitent into the arms of God’s loving mercy. In our own individual way, we live the story of the Prodigal Son.
The final act of the sacrament of God’s mercy is the act of penance, also known as satisfaction. Absolution removes sin, but does not repair all the possible damages. Satisfaction is both justice and healing. To the person hurt by deed or speech, an outward physical act is needed to repair the relationship that has been hurt by sin. It also serves as atonement for past sins and a marker of growth in the Christian lifestyle on the part of the penitent. John Paul II said acts of penance “should not be reduced to mere formulas to be recited, but should consist of acts of worship, charity, mercy or reparation.”
Absolution is then given, through the gestures and words of the minister, God grants forgiveness. Blessed are those whose sins have been forgiven, whose evil deeds have been forgotten. Rejoice in the Lord, and go in peace.