The Gift of the Eucharist

This article was originally published in the parish bulletin on April 21, 2013

I want to welcome those who are here for the first days of our joyful celebration of First Communion! Our second graders can receive Holy Communion for the first time at each of the Masses on this Sunday and on Sunday, May 5. (Of course, this also includes the vigil Masses on Saturdays.) I invite you all to consider the great gift of the Eucharist we are privileged to receive every week or even every day.

When children receive the Eucharist for the first time, it represents the culmination of a lot of preparation. There are lessons to be created and presented, as well as the providing of opportunities for children to understand the truth of the Real Presence of Christ in various ways. Our volunteer catechists and Kathy Raible, our Director of Religious Education, have tried to make it easy for the boys and girls of our parish to absorb the truth of the Eucharist. The children’s parents have seen to it that they have come to the parish many times as part of their preparation. Of course, theirs is the most important role: without faith-filled parents, there is very little chance that children would believe what has been handed down to us. That truth is that the Eucharist is the memorial of Jesus’ death on the Cross for the redemption of the world. His death allows our sins to be forgiven, and the Mass is the way Jesus’ death is made present to us. When we receive Communion, we are not participating in something symbolic. We are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.

Going to Sunday Mass, whether on Sunday itself or late on Saturday, is also a way of reliving the experience of Jesus’ disciples on the evening of the same day Jesus rose from the dead. They assembled in the upper room and there the Risen Lord stood among them spoke to them. Christians have always continued the tradition of meeting on the day of the Resurrection – the Lord’s Day – to follow Jesus’ command to “Do this in memory of me.” We must not forget that coming to Sunday Mass is how we keep ourselves connected to Christ and draw life from him.

In 1998 Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter on the observance of Sunday called Dies Domini. He quotes the 5th century Pope Innocent I, who said, “We celebrate Sunday because of the venerable resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and we do so not only at Easter but also at each turning of the week” (DD 19). Later Blessed John Paul writes: “In effect, Sunday is the day above all other days which summons Christians to remember the salvation which was given to them in baptism and which has made them new in Christ” (DD 25). That’s why at Sunday Mass we make a profession of faith by reciting the Nicene Creed. We who are baptized are renewing our belief in the great mysteries contained in the Creed. It is a good thing for us to recall in this Year of Faith.

In this same 1998 letter Blessed John Paul quotes from the 1562 session of the Council of Trent in order to explain that the Mass truly makes present the sacrifice of the Cross: “In this divine sacrifice which is accomplished in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once and for all in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner” (DD 43). John Paul carefully links this to the truth that we who participate in the Eucharist have our own sacrifice to contribute. Our praise and our suffering – in fact, our whole lives – are what we offer to God. He says what I hope you already know. At Sunday Mass we “bring to the altar the week that has passed, with all its human burdens” (DD 43).

If we are really to keep Sunday holy, then our efforts will need to extend beyond the doors of the church where we worship. Blessed John Paul says, “The Lord’s Day is lived well if it is marked from beginning to end by grateful and active remembrance of God’s saving work. This commits each of Christ’s disciples to shape the other moments of the day – those outside the liturgical context: family life, social relationships, relaxation – in such a way that the peace and joy of the Risen Lord will emerge in the ordinary events of life. For example, the relaxed gathering of parents and children can be an opportunity not only to listen to listen to one another but also to share a few formative and more reflective moments” (DD 52). You might think, “These are beautiful thoughts, but I can’t do that!” But I want to assure you that you can. It is in your power to do it. If you have young children or for that matter, any children in grade school, there are plenty of excellent children’s books available for you to read together. These can include Bible story books and books about the saints or the sacraments. Children of any age can learn a lot by the way their parents take them to help feed those in need or visit someone in a nursing home or take a meal to a lonely neighbor. These are very good ways of keeping the Lord’s Day holy, of being stewards of God’s bountiful gifts, and of showing the young that the way we live our faith is not limited to what we do within the walls of our church.

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