Eucharist – The source and summit of Christian life. Primer on the sacrament.

| Father Michael Van Sloun | February 2, 2011 | 3 Comments

The Eucharist, the sacrament. The Eucharist is one of the seven sacraments, and it stands above the others. While baptism is the gateway sacrament, the beginning of belief in Jesus as Lord, and incorporation into the Body of Christ, the church; it is the Eucharist that is the source and summit of the Christian life. Baptism is celebrated once; Eucharist is celebrated over and over again. Baptism is the beginning of the life of grace; Eucharist is a rich source of grace throughout life, spiritual sustenance for our pilgrimage on earth, and at the time of death Eucharist is received as viaticum, bread for the journey, so Christ might escort the believer to heaven and eternal life.

The Eucharist, a sacrament with a solid biblical foundation. The Eucharist was instituted by Jesus on Holy Thursday night, and the biblical basis for the sacrament is found in the four accounts of the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25). When Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24,25), he asked his followers to reenact the Last Supper, to share his Body and Blood, because, as Jesus explained, “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55), and “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54). The Eucharist was Jesus’ parting gift to us, his continuing presence among us.  The early church complied with Jesus’ request when it gathered each week for the breaking of the bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).

Core belief about the Eucharist. We believe in the Real Presence. The Eucharist is not a symbol or a reminder. The Eucharist is Christ truly present, his Body under the form of bread, the Blessed Sacrament, and his Blood under the form of wine, the Precious Blood.

Frequency of reception. It is best to receive the Eucharist at least once a week. God asks us to keep holy the Sabbath, and as Catholics we regard Sunday as our Sabbath, and we believe that part of our Sabbath observance is our obligation to attend Mass, and when we attend Mass, full participation is the ideal, especially the culmination of the Eucharistic Prayer and the Communion Rite, the reception of holy Communion.  While the standard is weekly, it is possible to receive the Eucharist more often at daily Mass, an extraordinary blessing that is highly recommended. The minimum is once a year, the Easter duty.

Food for life. People are very diet conscious these days. It is important to receive proper nutrition and eat a well-balanced diet. To go without food for a day would result in hunger pains. If a person goes without the necessary proteins, vitamins and minerals, malnutrition begins, deficiency diseases eventually set in, and the body begins to break down. Spiritually, it is much the same. To go without the Eucharist for a week is the beginning of spiritual hunger and pain; and to go without the Eucharist for a prolonged time, spiritual malnutrition begins to set in, faith weakens, the spiritual immune system is compromised, spiritual deficiency disease, sin, takes hold, and spiritual health breaks down. Extended absence from the Eucharist can be so debilitating that it can cause untold harm to the spiritual life. Jesus wants us to pay careful attention to our spiritual diets, to eat richly, to receive his Body and Blood often.

Spiritual preparation for Communion. The communicant should be in the state of grace, free of mortal sin. Paul explains, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians  11:27). If a person is in the state of serious sin, it is necessary to approach the sacrament of reconciliation first (Canon 916). It is important for all communicants to do remote and immediate preparation, to pray before coming to Mass and observe the one-hour fast, and then when at Mass, to fully, actively and consciously participate in the liturgy: to sing the hymns, respond to the acclamations, listen attentively to the readings and the homily, and pray along with the priest during the Eucharistic Prayer.

The effect of the Eucharist after Mass. We are to become what we receive. If we allow the Eucharist to have its full transformative effect, we are to become more and more like Jesus. The apostle Paul puts this eloquently, “The life I live now is not my own; Christ is living within me” (Galatians 2:20). If God is love, and if Jesus is the personification of God, and if Jesus who is all-loving is dwelling within us, when we leave Mass and resume our daily activities, his love should well up and spill over to others. Jesus helps us to be more patient and kind, humble and polite, concerned and generous, forgiving and truthful (1 Corinthians 13).

The Mass and eucharistic adoration. The Mass enjoys a privileged place: it is the Christian community at its worshiping best. At Mass, Christ is present in a fourfold way: in the Eucharist, the Word, the priest and the congregation. Therefore, the Mass has precedence over eucharistic adoration, and when a choice is available, the Mass is preferred. Eucharistic adoration extends the Mass, and at times, outside of the Mass, it is a beautiful way to pray in the presence of Christ and worship him in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.

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Category: Spotlight, The Lesson Plan