Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 30, 2000
Live the Eucharist to the max
In 1965, Pope Paul VI took the unusual step of issuing an encylical while an ecumenical council was in process. Pope Paul wrote the encyclical, Mysterium Fidei, to counteract tendencies to minimize the Church's teaching about the Holy Eucharist.
The minimalist approaches to the Eucharist he confronted were doctrinal in nature - exaggerating the sign aspect of the sacrament and treating the Consecration as primarily a symbolic transformation of the bread and wine rather than a substantial and enduring change into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Pope Paul was correct in seeing any minimalization of the teaching on the Eucharist as a threat to the faith of the people. The pope also asserted that Christ is present to the max in the Eucharist - that while Christ is present in his Church in many ways, his presence in the Eucharist is of an extraordinary and central nature. "It is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, the God-Man, is wholly and entirely present."
This is our faith. And when we know it with our minds and believe it with our hearts, it can make a profound difference in how we live. But just what is that difference?
This is the question which Archbishop Thomas Collins addressed so eloquently in his pastoral letter, The Eucharist: It is the Lord!, published in the Oct. 9 WCR. Our archbishop's letter is not a doctrinal treatise, but rather a guide for Eucharistic living rooted in Pope Paul's Vatican II doctrine.
Just as Pope Paul taught a doctrine of the Eucharist as the fullest presence of Christ so Archbishop Collins asks us to give our energy and life fully to this Jesus, who is fully present in the Eucharist.
Repeatedly, he tells of how Jesus comes subtly in the Eucharist, never overwhelming us with the full display of his divinity. Yet our faith can be "constantly refreshed (through the Eucharist) by the experience of an encounter with the risen Lord."
But the Eucharist is not lived for one hour on Sunday. Collins calls us to prepare for the Sunday celebration by studying God's word, discussing it with others, praying on it and frequenting the sacrament of Reconciliation. He asks us to come to church early to prepare ourselves for Mass by meditating on God's word for the day.
The archbishop further asks us to participate fully in the Mass, not necessarily by assuming a role in some ministry, but through "engaged attentiveness." At the Eucharist, we are not spectators, but priests, priests who bring our whole lives and the sufferings and joys of others to be offered at the altar.
The Church in which we participate is not simply our own community of a few hundred or thousand people. "We are participating in a reality which goes far beyond what our human eyes can detect."
Further, the Eucharistic celebration itself may end with the priest saying, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." But that is a signal to us to bring Christ's real presence into daily living. We do that by celebrating Sunday as a time set apart, by living with others in a community of love, by praying regularly, especially before the Blessed Sacrament, and by showing justice to others and building a culture of life.
Collins' letter is a long document, much longer than many of us are accustomed to reading. But it is a letter which should not be ignored or read once for interest's sake. It is something which needs to be returned to, time and again, as we strive to reshape our lives. Collins does not so much teach correct doctrine as show us how to channel our energies behind that doctrine. He shows us how to be 24/7 Christians, to live the Eucharist to the max.
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