The most important sacrament

| Father Michael Van Sloun | February 22, 2018 | 1 Comment


This column, Faith Fundamentals, is intended to help Catholics gain a better understanding of the core beliefs of our faith. The goal is to fill in the gaps. There was a time in the past when religious education classes were soft, when the students drew pictures, made collages and spoke about their feelings. But when it came to instruction, solid content was lacking. As a result, it is not only the children who need to learn what we believe and why, but also the adults, and the good news is that older Catholics are eager and hungry to learn.

What fundamentals need attention? The sacraments. They are a rich source of grace. They are central to our prayer and liturgical worship. Yet, when we celebrate them, we have a partial understanding of what we are doing, and it would be a great spiritual benefit to learn more of the fundamentals to acquire a stronger and firmer foundation.

Faith Fundamentals debuted last year with the initial series on baptism, the gateway sacrament. The first sacrament is a good place to start. This next series is on the Eucharist.

How important is the Eucharist? I was humbled by how I lacked the fundamentals on this question. I am a lifelong Catholic. I had been a religious brother for 23 years. I had just enrolled in the major seminary, and, filled with zeal, was in my first class on the sacraments. The professor asked, “What is the most important sacrament?” My hand shot up. The professor pointed straight at me. Full of naive confidence I blurted out, “Baptism.” “It has to be baptism,” I thought, “It is first.” It was like Family Feud, a buzzer blaring at a wrong answer, a red X flashing on the screen. The professor glared. The students gawked. Looking me square in the eye and with a harsh and scolding tone, as if to say, “How could you be so stupid?” the professor reprovingly stated, “The Eucharist is the most important sacrament!” Blushing, mortified, I slid down in my chair. Emotionally I have recovered, but I have not forgotten.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. Baptism is received once; Eucharist is received over and over again. Baptism initiates us into the body of Christ; Eucharist is communion with the body of Christ. Baptism is the first flow of grace; Eucharist is a fountain of ongoing grace. Baptism sets the table; Eucharist is a banquet that provides spiritual sustenance for a lifetime. Baptism is the beginning of the journey of faith on earth; Eucharist is Viaticum — given when death is imminent — and ideally is the last sacrament, and brings us home to heaven. I never thought that one sacrament could outrank another, but the Eucharist stands above the rest.

My father showed me the path to a great love for the Eucharist. When I was a little boy, some mornings I would get up early, and I was inspired to observe how my dad would attend daily Mass before going to work. He had a deep devotion to the Eucharist. It was the high point of his day. Eventually I joined him, and his love for Jesus in the Eucharist became my love for Jesus in the Eucharist. I might have answered the question wrong in class, but my dad had it right. He gave me the correct fundamentals when it comes to the importance of the Eucharist.

Over the coming months, Faith Fundamentals will delve into a number of core beliefs on the Eucharist: the real presence, transubstantiation, the biblical foundations, how it provides spiritual nourishment, its transforming effect and the Eucharist as sacrifice.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. Read more of his writing at

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Category: Faith Fundamentals