THE WORDS UTTERED by Our Lord in today’s Gospel, taken from the Evangelist John’s “Bread of Life Discourse,” are utterly true. The Lord Jesus says: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”
The Eucharist is not a just a sign; it is not just a symbol. We believe that it is the true Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of our Lord Jesus, sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine. Simply put, the Eucharist is Jesus Christ, given to us under the form of the simplest elements of the staple of the diet of the people of Jesus’ day.
Lost Sense of Wonder
There can be no doubt that we have in many ways lost a sense of wonder and awe concerning the Eucharist. May I suggest two practical ways that we as priests and the lay faithful can recover a sense of wonder and awe about the Eucharist?
First, for we who are ordained priests, perhaps we should listen to the words of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, from April 26, 2015, at the priestly ordinations he performed that day: “May you continue the sanctifying work of Christ. Through your ministry, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect for it is united to the sacrifice of Christ, which, through your hands, in the name of the whole of the Church, is offered up in a bloodless manner, on the altar in the celebration of the Holy Mysteries.
“When you celebrate the Mass, understand, therefore, what you do. Do not do it in haste! Imitate what you celebrate – it is not an artificial rite, an artificial ritual – so that, participating in the Mystery of the Lord’s death and Resurrection, you may bear the death of Christ in your members and walk with Him in the newness of life.”
We as priests must reverently and carefully celebrate the Eucharist like it is the most important and precious thing in the world, because it is. The first time a Mass celebrant reads the oration of the Mass should not be when he says “Let us pray.” Especially in light of the new English translation of the Mass in 2011, we should read the prayers in preparation, which oftentimes can seem unfamiliar, even to those ordained for a long time.
Nothing that we do each day in our priestly lives matters as much as the Holy Mass. The reverent way we celebrate Holy Mass is perhaps the greatest way we as priests might be able to catechize our congregations about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
For the people of God assisting at Mass, do we reverently receive the Body and Blood of Christ? Do we take time to pray after the reception of Holy Communion? Do we take time to realize that, having received the Body and Blood of Christ, we are all now living, breathing, walking tabernacles of God, the Most High? How different our lives would be if only we stopped to realize that fact! How different perhaps we would treat one another, recognizing the fact that our Lord Jesus lives in my brother and sister!
Second, perhaps we should make an extra effort as parishes and parishioners to engage in Eucharistic adoration. Remember the story of St. Jean-Marie Vianney and the old man who would sit for hours in the Church before our Eucharistic Lord in the tabernacle. The Cure of Ars asked the peasant what it was that he was doing as he sat there for hour after hour in the Church before the tabernacle. The peasant replied, “Nothing, I look at Him and He looks at me.”
Mirror of Truth
Looking at the Lord, gazing at Him, most especially when we can sit quietly in front of Him, is like looking into the mirror of truth. As we look to Jesus in the exposed Blessed Sacrament, He looks back lovingly at us. We give Him our fears, our worries, our anxieties, and the wise and gentle teacher, truly present to us in the Eucharistic Species, in the silence, gives us His peace. There truly is no greater way to pray than in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
In his autobiography, “Treasure in Clay” (1980), Venerable Fulton J. Sheen says, “I keep up the Holy Hour [is] to grow more and more into his likeness. As Paul puts it: ‘We are transfigured into his likeness, from splendor to splendor.’ We become like that which we gaze upon. Looking into a sunset, the face takes on a golden glow. Looking at the Eucharistic Lord for an hour transforms the heart in a mysterious way as the face of Moses was transformed after his companionship with God on the mountain. Something happens to us similar to that which happened to the disciples at Emmaus.”
Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament gives us the quality time to be with the one whom we love and the One who loves us more than we can ever ask for or imagine.
This Corpus Christi, may we – priests, deacons, religious and laity – each in our unique Christian vocations grow in reverence for the Lord Jesus Christ truly, substantially present in the Eucharist. Through our reverent participation at Mass and prayer before the Most Blessed Sacrament, may we prove to the world that our Lord Jesus, the True Bread come down from heaven is with us, and have the courage and strength to help make the Lord known and loved at every moment, even until the end of time.
Readings for the Solemnity of The Body and Blood of Christ
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14B-16A
Psalm 147: 12-13, 14-15, 19-20
1 Corinthians 10; 16-17
John 6: 51-58
Father Cush, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as academic dean of the Pontifical North American College, and as an assistant professor of theology and U.S. Catholic Church history.