Arts and Culture

Eucharist: Center of Catholic Faith

by Father Robert Lauder

Third in a series

One serious problem in the Church in the U.S. is the number of Catholics who have stopped attending the Eucharist. No one I know who has stopped attending has the same view of the Eucharist that I have. They certainly do not have the same view that Pope Benedict XVI expresses in his book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011, pp. 362).

I know some people have stopped attending the Sunday Eucharist because they find the homilies poor. I sympathize with them. I take their criticism to heart and try to be more prepared, more relevant, more inspiring and more challenging in my homilies.

However, I cannot agree that poor homilies are a legitimate reason for not attending the Sunday Eucharist. Homilies are important, but they are not the entire Eucharist. A eucharistic celebration is a unique opportunity for meeting the Risen Christ. To miss that opportunity is to miss one of the most important blessings from a Sunday Eucharist.

Everything that we believe about Christ is summed up in a Sunday Eucharist. But the meanings and mysteries present in a Eucharist are not present the way that they might be present in a lecture or an essay. They are present in an action, a unique action that is primarily the action not of anyone in the congregation, not even of the celebrant. The Eucharist is primarily the action of the Risen Christ.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus offered Himself on the cross as a sacrifice to the Father for all of us. At a Eucharist, the Risen Lord is offering Himself to the Father for all of us, and we can participate in the offering. We can offer both ourselves and Christ to the Father. There is no religious or sacramental action greater than a Eucharist. We are told who God is and who we are when we participate in a Eucharist. But we are not only informed at a Eucharist; we can be formed into God’s people at a Eucharist.

Pope Benedict writes the following:

“The Church greets the Lord in the Holy Eucharist as the one who is coming now, the one who has entered into her midst. At the same time, she greets him as the one who continues to come, the one who leads us toward his coming. As pilgrims, we go up to him; as a pilgrim, he comes to us and takes us up with him in his ‘ascent’ to the Cross and Resurrection, to the definitive Jerusalem that is already growing in the midst of this world in the communion that unites us with his body.” (p.11)

A danger for those who have been Catholic, from the time that they were baptized as infants and perhaps went to Catholic grammar school or to religious instruction at an elementary level, is the tendency to rely on their initial knowledge about a Christian mystery without ever probing more deeply into its meaning.

Pope Benedict offers a view of the Eucharist which includes an understanding of the Old Testament, the New Testament and the nature of liturgical action.

The pope’s comment that the Church, which means us, greets the Lord as one who has entered into our midst, if reflected upon, can seem mind-boggling. We can remind ourselves that salvation and redemption are gifts from God. The Lord did not have to become human, did not have to be born of a virgin, did not have to die on a cross. Jesus has identified completely with us and His conquest of death. His resurrection so liberates Him that He can enter into our midst in a special way at a Eucharist.

We Are Pilgrims

Christ’s presence among us is not a once in a lifetime experience for us. He continues to come. There are moments in our lives when everything seems to be going beautifully, but there are also moments when nothing seems to be going well. These difficult moments can remind us that we are pilgrims, that we have not here a lasting city. The Lord has become a pilgrim with us, and His identification with us takes us with Him to the cross but also to the resurrection.

The special union, which the Holy Father refers to as the “communion,” means that we are united to Christ’s body, indeed that we are Christ’s body in the world. To be Christ’s body, to have this special union increase and intensify, I think we should celebrate the Eucharist as well as we can, with faith, love and hope.

I suspect that during this year, which Pope Benedict has designated as a Year of Faith, marvelous happenings will occur. There will be a rebirth of faith in the world. I am hoping that there will be a great Eucharistic revival.[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.