January 2022 - The gift of the Eucharist

Encouraging someone we love – a child, a spouse, a friend – to come to Mass can be a challenge. We may encounter the famous complaint “I don’t get anything out of it!” If we press a little further, we may hear more: a litany of the faults of the parish priest, the music ministry, the parish in general. We may hear how this person was hurt by something someone in the parish did or said. We may hear how someone was scandalized by the sinful behavior of some of our Church leaders. All of these become obstacles that make it difficult for some to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist. All of this was true before the pandemic. The pandemic has only made these challenges more obvious than they were.

Yet, how many of these obstacles are the real obstacles? It is often true that the first objections you hear from someone else about anything are not this person’s deepest objections or difficulties. They are but symptoms. If that person trusts you enough, you may be told what the fundamental difficulty really is.

Let’s go back to that first comment about people not “getting anything out of the Mass.” What if someone told you that their father was in a nursing home, but that they didn’t get anything out of visiting him, so they stopped going? Or, if someone told you that their young daughter wanted to tell them all kinds of stories about what she was doing, but they didn’t get anything out of it, so they told their daughter to be quiet? What is lacking in both examples? Love.

How is it that we have somehow allowed a wedge to be placed between our love for the Lord and the Mass, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist? How is it that many see the Mass as an obligation imposed rather than an expression and an intensifying of love? Why does Mass feel more like a visit to the DMV rather than something on the same level as the sexual intimacy of a married couple intensely in love with one another?

Mass and the Eucharist are not about “getting”; they are about giving and receiving. Getting is not the same as receiving. We get things we believe are our due or what we choose; we receive gifts that are not owed to us but go far beyond our due, gifts that are chosen for us by the Giver of all.

We come to Mass to be united once again with the One who is Gift for us – Jesus Christ. We use bread and wine at Mass – bread that is broken, a chalice of wine that is poured out – to unite us with the one sacrifice of Christ, who gave Himself out of incomprehensible love for us all.
You may hear another objection – from someone else or from within your own mind: Is God not present everywhere? Why do I need to go to Mass to receive the Lord Jesus? Aren’t there more convenient ways to be with God?

One problem with this type of attitude is that it means that I am in control, not God. I am the consumer. God is the provider. God needs to march to my tune, or I’ll give Him only one star in my review. The truth is the other way around. God is God, not me or you.  Wouldn’t God know the best way to reach us and to feed us?

Moreover, although the Lord is present to us in many ways, we call His presence in the Eucharist “real.” Does that mean that His presence in other ways is not real? Of course not! It means that His presence in the Eucharist is unique. He is present there in a way He is not present anywhere else in this world. The bread and wine become His own body and blood.  He has told us so. He has told us to take, eat, and drink this sacrament of His presence. He offers Himself to us in a way that reminds us of how He gave Himself completely for us. We who receive this sacrament not only believe that it is truly the Body and Blood of the Lord but that it transforms us so that we can be and live for the Lord and for others.

Why do many of us feel resistance to approaching this wonderful sacrament of immense love? I have given a few symptoms and rationales that people offer, but I haven’t yet gotten to the core. It is, in the end, a question of trust. By trust, I mean not only that we trust the Lord’s own words that we are indeed receiving His own body and blood in the Eucharist and that in doing so we are being faithful to His command. I am also talking about the trust involved with knowing that I, a sinful human being, am about to draw so near to the Lord of all that He will be not only before me but within me. Can I trust His love? Can I trust Him enough to say yes to whatever He may ask of me at that moment when we are united in the Eucharist? Can I let go of any fear or anxiety or guilt that keeps me away and trust in the One who knows me better than I know myself – but who still loves me? If I really love and trust the Lord, then nothing – not even a pandemic – can keep me away from the Eucharist.  

For further study: Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1322-1419 and Bishop Robert Barron, Catholicism, Chapter 7