Wednesday, December 31, 2008

St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Eucharist

As 2008 comes to a close, let us look at the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch in his letter to the Smyrnaeans, written around 107 A.D, shortly before his martyrdom. Speaking againsts the Docetists, who held the view that Jesus did not have a physical body, but only the illusion of a body, St. Ignatius wrote:

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that you should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.

As early as 107 A.D., it is clear that Catholic doctrine held the Eucharist to be not a symbol of Jesus' flesh and blood, but his actual flesh and blood. The Eucharist is, as St. Ignatius says, a "gift of God," which we need to "treat...with respect" so that we "might rise again." As we prepare for mass and approach the Eucharist on the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, let us keep these things in mind.

Monday, December 29, 2008

St. John Chrysostom on the Eucharist

I came across this passage from St. John Chrysostom's The Priesthood, cited in William A. Jurgens' Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 2, #1118, p. 89.

When you see the Lord immolated and lying upon the altar, and the priest bent over that sacrifice praying, and all the people empurpled by that precious blood, can you think that you are still among men and on earth? Or are you not lifted up to heaven?

The imagery may be rather distasteful to many modern ears. The violence of the word "immolated" and the image of people drenched in the Precious Blood of the Lord may seem gruesome, even barbaric. However, St. John Chrysostom conveys a number of important ideas in this short passage on the Eucharist.

First, Jesus suffered a violent, unjust death for our salvation. It is easy for us to sanitize that death, become complacent about it, even forget about it.

He reminds us that it is through the Blood of the Lamb that we are saved, the fulfillment of the original Passover where the blood of lambs was put on the lintel of doors to protect the Israelites from the killing of their first-born (Exodus 12:21-30). He reminds us of those in Revelation who had "come out of the great tribulation" and "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" and now stood before the throne of God to serve him (Revelation 7:14-15).

Finally, he uses the color of purple rather than red to indicate the Lord's Precious Blood to remind us of our royal inheritance through Baptism, where we share with Christ the characteristics of priest, prophet, and king (see The Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1268).

St. John Chrysostom reminds us that ours is an Incarnational faith, a faith of the body and of the senses, as well as of the spirit and the mind.

Friday, December 26, 2008

On Faith

As we continue to celebrate the season of Christmas, when we recall the great gift of the Incarnation, it is good for us to consider some ideas raised by Rose Murphy in her article in the December 26th National Catholic Reporter.

She is struggling with her faith. She rejects many teachings of the Church, yet still feels connected to the Church. While I certainly do not agree with her rejections of these doctrines, I want instead to focus on the nature of faith, reason, obedience, and journey.

Murphy writes this:

Impossible now to recapture that ardent, unquestioning faith I had as a child, and into adulthood: that Christ was physically present in communion, that I had a special guardian angel, that certain prayers chipped away at Purgatory time. Even after outgrowing those fantasies, I continued to keep a core faith in the larger Church tenets: that Jesus was the Son of God, that he died for my sins, that I was preparing for an afterlife where I would see God and presumably my parents and all those who had gone before me. Today all of that doctrine is hazy to me, not so much rejected as irrelevant. I know now that humans can never penetrate the idea of God; certainty is – and has always been -- an illusion.

It is saddening that she feels that the Real Presence in the Eucharist is a "fantasy" and "irrelevant." She believes that Jesus is the Son of God (which is probably most explicitly depicted in the Gospel of John) but does not acknowledge his Eucharistic theophany (also explicitly described in the Gospel of John in the Bread of Life discourse in Chapter 6).

Murphy goes on to say, "More and more, I see Christ as a rebel, an advocate for the poor, an agitator, an outsider who spoke truth to power and paid the ultimate price for it." While Jesus certainly is these things, Murphy is reducing Jesus to a human savior, much as the kind many of the Jewish faithful were expecting when Jesus came to overturn their expectations. However, Jesus turned out to be bigger than their (and our) conceptions of God.

Murphy still feels the tug of faith despite her doubts and rejections:

Intellectually, I can reject much of the Catholic Church, but emotionally it reels me in whenever I wander from it. I am still nourished by certain Mass rituals: the Prayers of the Faithful (with touching reminders of so much pain among my neighbors), the Sign of Peace and the communal grasp of another hand, the preparations for Eucharist, and the walk up the aisle to receive communion. Just what am I receiving? I know the act of communion matters to me, feeling the host on my tongue is significant, but I don’t know why.

I have sympathy for Murphy at this stage in her faith journey because this is the point I was at about ten years ago when I returned to the Church after almost a decade and a half in atheism. The Mass was like a magnet to me, even though I did not understand why. I went back to Mass before I believed in God again. I felt drawn. I have since come to understand that there is not a dichotomy between faith and reason, between the intellect and the emotions.

I moved from the place where Murphy is now to where I am today (and I still have far to go in growing closer to God), not by my own virtue, but by faith given to me as a gift which at some point I finally had the good sense to accept, even when I didn't fully understand the gift. And I never will fully understand the gift. The Eucharist is probably the supreme example of a matter of faith that is impenetrable through reason (whereas many other doctrines of the Church are very accessible to reason). Catholicism is a wonderful blend of mystery and sense, the spiritual and the physical.

Towards the end of her article, Murphy says that she sees "Christ as a symbolic son of God" and that "Receiving the spiritual nourishment of communion then becomes a reminder of so many people who lack food or the means to acquire it. " I cannot believe in such a small, banal god as that.

Because I have been on the part of the road of faith where Murphy is now, I know that God can bring her further down it. Tonight, when my children and I prayed a decade of the Rosary, I said a prayer for Rose Murphy to grow in her faith, to see that reason and emotion can lead her to embrace the Church's doctrines. May she pray, too, that we will grow further in our faith.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Charles de Foucauld

The Lord is near at hand!

As we prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord, some words from Charles de Foucauld can help us in that preparation.

Father de Foucauld, or "Brother Charles of Jesus" as he is known, served in the Holy Land before going to North Africa. He was murdered in 1916 on December 1 by marauders.

Brother Charles is best known for his wonderful "Abandonment Prayer":

Father, I abandon myself
into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do,
I thank you.

I am ready for all,
I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me
and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands
I commend my soul;
I offer it to you,
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself
into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Brother Charles also gives us important food for thought about the Eucharist as it relates to the Advent and Christmas seasons:

What happiness! God is with us, God is in us, our God in whom we are
and act, God who is close to us in the Tabernacle. O my God, what more do
we need? How happy we are! Emmanuel, "God with us," these are, for
all intents and purposes, the first words of the Gospel...and the last words are
"I will be with you until the end of time."


The Eucharist is Jesus, it is all Jesus! My Beloved Jesus, you are
whole and alive in the Eucharist, as fully as you were in the home of the Holy
Family in fully as you were amidst your Apostles. In the
same way, you are here, my Beloved and my All.


To adore the Holy Host, that should be the foundation of every human's


These passages are found in an excellent book called, 15 Days of Prayer with Charles de Foucauld by Michel Lefon, pp. 73-75.

Come, let us adore him.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Blessed Mother Teresa and the personal and social nature of the Eucharist

As a follow-up to Pope Benedict XVI's December 10, 2008 general audience, here is Blessed Mother Teresa talking about the relationship between the work of the Missionaries of Charity and the Eucharist:

Our lives have to continuously feed on the Eucharist. If we were not
able to see Christ under the appearance of bread, neither would it be possible
for us to discover him under the humble appearance of the bruised bodies of the

Mother Teresa shows us a moving example of what Pope Benedict called "the personal and social character of the Sacrament of the Eucharist."

Let us all live lives which continuously feed on the Eucharist so that the Eucharist may bring us closer to Jesus and to others, especially the poor. As we near the Nativity of the Lord, let us remember that he chose to come in poverty. Let us be poor in spirit and rich in compassion for those poor in the material necessities of life. But let us remember Mother Teresa constant warning about the spiritual wealth of the materially poor, and the spiritual poverty of the materially wealthy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI's General Audience of December 10, 2008

In his weekly General Audiences, Pope Benedict XVI has been talking about St. Paul, since this is the Year of St. Paul. In his general audience for December 10, 2008, he discusses how we enter into the "new beginning," or "new history" initiated by Christ. He then goes on to discuss two of the three sacraments of initiation: baptism and the Eucharist. The Pope says that St. Paul hands down the tradition of the Last Supper "as a precious treasure entrusted to his fidelity." This is the responsibility of the Church, tasked with faithfully perpetuating the Eucharist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As individuals, we are tasked with faithfully receiving the Lord in the Eucharist.

There are many good points which the Pope makes here, but I want to concentrate on the Pope's discussion of 1 Corinthians 10:16-17:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of
Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the Body of
Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all
partake of the one bread.

In this passage, he sees "the personal and social character of the Sacrament of the Eucharist." His words are noteworthy on this point:

Christ personally unites himself with each one of us, but Christ himself is also
united with the man and the woman who are next to me. And the bread is for me
but it is also for the other. Thus Christ unites all of us with himself and all
of us with one another. In communion we receive Christ. But Christ is likewise
united with my neighbour: Christ and my neighbour are inseparable in the
Eucharist. And thus we are all one bread and one body. A Eucharist without
solidarity with others is a Eucharist abused. And here we come to the root and,
at the same time, the kernel of the doctrine on the Church as the Body of
Christ, of the Risen Christ.
"A Eucharist without solidarity with others is a Eucharist abused." This thought is worth dwelling on. We get a sense of this in Matthew 5:23-24: "So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." In the past, some people have felt that Eucharist adoration was such an abuse. But we can be in solidarity with others, even when we are not physically with them. In fact, praying before Christ in the Eucharist should bring us very close to others.

Let us treat the Eucharist as a "precious treasure" each time we receive Christ, and let this precious treasure help us to treasure our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Strength, Salvation, Eucharist

More on Christina Rossetti. One of her poems is called, "The Three Enemies." This poem is based on the traditional teaching of the three sources of tempation: the flesh, the world, and the Devil. In the poem, Rosetti sets up a call-and-response format where one speaker makes a comment about the main speaker, and the main speaker turns that comment to a spritual end.

Here's the poem in its entirety:



"Sweet, thou art pale."
"More pale to see,
Christ hung upon the cruel tree
And bore His Father's wrath for me."

"Sweet, thou art sad."
"Beneath a rod
More heavy, Christ for my sake trod
The winepress of the wrath of God."

"Sweet, thou art weary."
"Not so Christ:
Whose mighty love of me suffic'd
For Strength, Salvation, Eucharist."

"Sweet, thou art footsore."
"If I bleed,
His feet have bled; yea in my need
His Heart once bled for mine indeed."


"Sweet, thou art young."
"So He was young
Who for my sake in silence hung
Upon the Cross with Passion wrung."

"Look, thou art fair."
"He was more fair
Than men, Who deign'd for me to wear
A visage marr'd beyond compare."

"And thou hast riches."
"Daily bread:
All else is His: Who, living, dead,
For me lack'd where to lay His Head."

"And life is sweet."
"It was not so
To Him, Whose Cup did overflow
With mine unutterable woe."


"Thou drinkest deep."
"When Christ would sup
He drain'd the dregs from out my cup:
So how should I be lifted up?"

"Thou shalt win Glory."
"In the skies,
Lord Jesus, cover up mine eyes
Lest they should look on vanities."

"Thou shalt have Knowledge."
"Helpless dust!
In Thee, O Lord, I put my trust:
Answer Thou for me, Wise and Just."

"And Might."--
"Get thee behind me. Lord,
Who hast redeem'd and not abhorr'd
My soul, oh keep it by Thy Word."

For our purposes here, I want to focus on her section on "The Flesh," where Rosetti writes:

Sweet, thou art weary."
"Not so Christ:
Whose mighty love of me suffic'd
For Strength, Salvation, Eucharist."

The Eucharist is the supreme antidote to the three sources of tempation. Through the transmission of grace, the Eucharist (as do all the sacraments) gives us the strength to fight the tempations of the flesh, the world, and the Devil. Through the Eucharist we travel toward our salvation. "I am the living bread," Jesus says, "which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51). Jesus transforms the temptations of the flesh and the world here through the Eucharist. In fact, Jesus goes further about the necessity of the Eucharist: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:53-54).

Strength, Salvation, Eucharist. Christ came into the world to give us himself in the flesh to transform the flesh and the world. This is the true gift of Christmas, which cannot be found at a store, but can be found at your local Catholic parish.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

In the Bleak Midwinter

I've been reading Christina Rosetti's poetry recently. Rosetti was a nineteenth-century English poet (1830-1894). She was a High-Church Anglican, and her religious sensibilities were often very consonant with Roman Catholic belief and practices, although she broke off an engagement with a man who became a Catholic because of his decision.

Her best known poem is probably "A Christmas Carol," which was put to music by Gustav Holst (1874-1934) and is known as "In the Bleak Midwinter." I had never noticed this carol until this year. The music especially is so moving. Here is the poem:

A Christmas Carol

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

This is a good hymn for Advent, too, because it focuses not only the coming celebration of the birth of Jesus, but also on his second coming ("Heaven and earth shall flee away/When He comes to reign"). My favorite stanza is the one about the angels and Mary ("Angels and archangels"). I love the contrast between the adoration of the heavenly host of angels--the worship of the King by his subjects--and the silent, hidden love of a mother for her child. This two-fold nature is what we are called to: we are to worship the Lord who is transcendent and infinite, but we are also called to love him in a close personal relationship, and we can do that because he took on an intimate, finite, human nature, in addition to his divine nature. And it is this bodily worship through the kiss that brings us back to the Incarnational and Eucharistic nature of this great feast of the Nativity of our Lord. Through Eucharistic adoration, we are able today to do what the Magi and the shepherds did so long ago. And in the reception of the Eucharist, we are able today to do what his mother did so long ago.

There are many beautiful versions of this carol, but here is one of my favorites, by Corinne May.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Eucharistic Christmas Novena

After a lengthy hiatus, I am returning to this blog.

I learned about a Christmas tradition I did not know about. A co-worker mentioned that she and her family go to church each day for the nine days before Christmas (December 16 through December 24) as a novena. I have never said a novena before, and I thought now might be a good time to start. I looked up Christmas novenas and found two. One is Christmas Novena (often called St. Andrew's Christmas Novena). Another is based on the "O Antiphons" and the Liturgy of the Hours.

I wanted to write a Christmas Novena with a Eucharistic perspective, and so came up with the following:

Eucharistic Christmas Novena

Come, Lord Jesus.
Son of the living God,
You came in weakness, not in strength;
in poverty, not in wealth;
in servitude, not in dominion.
Mary gave You her flesh
that You might share in our humanity;
You give us Your flesh
that we might share in Your divinity.
Prepare in our hearts a crib
where love may be born anew this Christmas
and every time we receive You in the Eucharist.

I humbly ask that You grant my prayer,

if it be consistent with Your holy will,
love of my neighbor,
and the progress of my soul:
(make your request).

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Thoughts on CARA Study and Cafeteria Catholicism

Ok, I know I said that I would talk about the Corpus Christi procession in this post, but I changed my mind. Today I was thinking more about the CARA study on the Eucharist. Because such large numbers of people don't attend mass regularly each week, it is likely that most of those people do not believe that intentionally missing mass to be a mortal sin. In addition, of those who don't attend mass regularly each week, many don't believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which they see as only symbolic. Therefore, it seems to me that one of the indications of the CARA study is that choosing to reject one teaching of the Church generally leads to rejecting other teachings. Were I a betting man, as they say, I would wager that one who doesn't attend mass weekly and doesn't believe in the Real Presence would also not feel obligated to follow the Church's teachings on sexual morality, especially the ban on contraception.

Many have styled this approach to Church doctrine as "Cafeteria Catholicism." As with the a la carte selection of a cafeteria, you get to choose what you want. Great idea for a restaurant. Terrible idea for a church, especially if you believe that church to have been founded by the Son of God.

The problem with Cafeteria Catholicism is that it operates on the presumption that God does not make any demands on us. It assumes that we are never asked to do very difficult things, the purpose for which we may not always understand.

I was reading the book of Jonah today. God asked Jonah to do something he did not want to do: go to Nineveh and preach a message of repentance to the Gentiles. Jonah was a religious person. But he did not want to do this. So, "Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord" (Jonah 1:3). After a storm threatened the ship Jonah was sailing on, he allowed himself to be thrown into the raging sea, found himself in the belly of a great fish, then was spit out onto land. Then Jonah sings a hymn of praise to God, and proceeds to finally do what God asked him to do: go to Nineveh.

Then, of course, things get more peculiar. Jonah preaches repentance to the people of Nineveh, who then repent immediately. But rather than be content that he had fulfilled God's call, Jonah is angry because the people of Nineveh did repent. Jonah's anger gets back to a similar reason for his first resistance to God. When God asks Jonah why he is angry, Jonah replies: "I pray thee, Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and repentest of evil" (Jonah 4:2).

You see, Jonah didn't think he needed to obey God at first. When he does obey God, then he is angry about God being merciful and loving to Gentiles. Jonah thought he could pick and choose what kind of God he would serve. But that isn't serving God; it is serving ourselves.

Today's second reading at mass was from the letter of Paul to the Romans where he speaks of Abraham's faith (Romans 4:18-25). I thought about how God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, the one who was supposed to be the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham for untold descendants. Abraham could not see how God's promise could come true if he killed Isaac. It seemed to be against the Fifth Commandment. Abraham certainly could not see how these actions would foreshadow Christ's Passion. Despite not understanding why God asked him to do such a thing, Abraham was willing to obey God, and he was rewarded for his obedience. Abraham accepted all that was asked of him; he did not pick and choose. And he found closeness to God as a result.

I was listening to EWTN Catholic Radio the other day, and there was someone on who spoke about the cafeteria approach to Catholicism. The speaker teaches the faith to young people, and he has them blow up balloons and write "Magisterial Authority" on the top of the balloon. Then he has them write various doctrines of the Church elsewhere on the balloon (all-male ordination, ban on contraception, social teaching, etc.). Then he has them choose one of the doctrines to eliminate and prick it with a pin. Of course the entire balloon bursts. Another example the speaker tells young people is to consider what we would think of a husband or wife who said that he or she would be faithful 364 days a year. "It's only one day" of infidelity. And yet, of course, the one day would severely damage, if not destroy, the entire relationship.

I remember once overhearing a conversation with two co-workers a number of years ago. One woman talked about how she did not agree with all the doctrines of the Church. The other person, a man who was a Christian of another faith, said, "So, you're what, 70% Catholic?" At the time, I was a Cafeteria Catholic myself, and although I did not chime in, I recall thinking that "he just didn't understand." It was the woman and myself who just didn't understand.

I don't perfectly live the teachings of the Church, nor do I perfectly do what God requires of me. As we learned in today's Gospel reading: "People who are in good health do not need a doctor; sick people do" (Mathew 9:12). But being a Cafeteria Catholic is like ignoring part of the doctor's advice. If, after surgery, you are told to take an antibiotic and avoid lifting anything heavy for the next next six weeks, and then you choose to take the antibiotic but ignore the advice about lifting heavy objects, you may tear open stitches from the surgery. If you decide to avoid lifting heavy objects but refuse to take the antibiotic, you may find yourself with an infection. Our Divine Physician cannot heal us if we don't listen to all he has to say to us.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

CARA Study of the Sacraments - Belief in the Real Presence

It's been too long, but it's good to be back. Let's take a final look at the CARA study of the sacraments as it relates to the Eucharist. This time we will examine attitudes towards the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

While the overall numbers are distressing, again we see that regular mass attendance makes the difference.

  • In 2001, 63% of those surveyed said that the sentence "Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist" best described their belief. That number dropped to 57% in 2008.
  • In 2001, 37% agreed with the statement "Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present." This number rose to 43% in 2008.

Therefore, more than 4 of 10 Catholics reject a central doctrine of the Church and receive the Eucharist without the correct belief and proper disposition. They are unable to receive the infinite grace of the sacrament through their closed disposition. For some, this is due to a poor formation of their faith. For others, it is an inability to believe this profound mystery (think of the John 6:52-69). For others, I suppose, it is an obstinate rejection of magisterial teaching. We should pray for all those who do not accept that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist.

And apparently, we should pray that they go to mass, which will greatly increase the likelihood of their belief in the Real Presence. For those who believe in the Real Presence, the breakdown by mass attendance is:

  • For those attending mass weekly or more - 91%
  • For those attending mass less than weekly but at least monthly - 65%
  • For those attending mass a few times a year or less - 40%

Some of the most heartening news comes when we look at the generational breakdown.

Of those believing in the Real Presence and attending mass at least monthly:

  • Pre-Vatican II - 86%
  • Vatican II - 74%
  • Post-Vatican II - 75%
  • Millennials - 85%

As a reminder, the generation breakdowns are:

  • Pre-Vatican II (Born in 1942 and earlier, or 66 years old and older in 2008)
  • Vatican II (Born between 1943 and 1960, or 48 to 65 years old in 2008)
  • Post-Vatican II (sometimes called "Generation X," born between 1961 and 1981, or 27 to 47 years old in 2008)
  • Millennial Generation (Born between 1982 and 1990, or 18 to 26 years old in 2008)

Millennials believe in the Real Presence at very nearly the same rates at Pre-Vatican II Catholics. That would seem to give us significant hope, and I think it does. However, we need to heed the reminder of the CARA report that Millenials get to mass less often than any other group. The breakdown by generation of those attending mass at least monthly is:

  • Millenials - 36%
  • Post-Vatican II - 39%
  • Vatican II - 42%
  • Pre-Vatican II - 65%

The breakdown by region for those believing in the Real Presence is:

  • Northeast - 48%
  • West - 53%
  • Midwest - 59%
  • South - 69%

The Northeast, which was once a stronghold of Catholicism, is now the region least likely to believe in the Real Presence. It should cause us grave concern to see that less than half of all Catholics attending mass at least monthly in the Northeast believe in the Real Presence. Here is an indication of the luke-warmness of Cultural Catholicism at its most pronounced in the U.S. I'm sure that in the Northeast, the more people go to mass, the more they believe in the Real Presence. However, even going to mass is not enough; that can be simply doing the exterior actions without the interior conversion and faith.

Clearly, the CARA study shows us that there is much work to be done catechizing the Catholic faithful on the Eucharist. We need to start with ourselves, then pass that catechesis on to our family, and then our parish.

In that spirit, my next post will be about the Corpus Christi procession we had at our parish a couple of weeks ago.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cara Study of the Sacraments - Adoration

Let's continue with the CARA study of the sacraments as it relates to the Eucharist. This time let's look at questions about Eucharistic adoration. The question was asked: "Does your local parish offer opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration where the Eucharist/Holy Communion is
displayed and people come to pray and worship?" Of those surveyed, 47% responded "Yes," 6% said "No," and 47% said "I don't know." A more meaningful picture is developed when the responses are broken down by Mass attendance. Not suprisingly, the more people go to Mass, the more they know whether their parish offers adoration or not.

  • For those who attend weekly or more: 83% - Yes; 7% - No; 10% - I don't know.
  • For those attending less than weekly but at least monthly: 59% - Yes; 10% - No; 31% - I don't know.
  • For those attending a few times per year or less: 28% - Yes; 3% - No; 69% - I don't know.

The good news here is that it would appear that Eucharistic adoration of some sort is going on in the vast majority of parishes. Jesus is inviting us to come to him.

The breakdown by generations regarding those who responded "I don't know" is:

  • Pre-Vatican II - 36%
  • Vatican II - 46%
  • Post-Vatican II - 52%
  • Millennials - 52%

As a reminder, the generation breakdowns are:

  • Pre-Vatican II (Born in 1942 and earlier, or 66 years old and older in 2008)
  • Vatican II (Born between 1943 and 1960, or 48 to 65 years old in 2008)
  • Post-Vatican II (sometimes called "Generation X," born between 1961 and 1981, or 27 to 47 years old in 2008)
  • Millennial Generation (Born between 1982 and 1990, or 18 to 26 years old in 2008)

CARA suggests that these results may be due to lower Mass attendance by younger generations.

Then CARA asked about participation in Eucharistic adoration: "Have you participated in Eucharistic Adoration at your parish or elsewhere within the last year?" (this was for those respondents who said that their parishes did offer Eucharistic adoration):

  • Yes - 29%
  • No - 71%

Again, as one would expect, the more one attends Mass, the more people participate in Eucharistic adoration:

  • Weekly or more: Yes - 43%; No - 57%
  • Less than weekly but at least once a month: Yes - 35%; No - 65%
  • A few times a year or less: Yes - 8%; No - 92%

The more one attends Mass, the more one realizes the nature and importance of the Eucharist. The more one realizes the nature and importance of the Eucharist, the more one is drawn to the Eucharist.

There were very interesting results in a breakdown by ethnicity for those who have participated in Eucharistic adoration:

  • Hispanics: 37%
  • Non-Hispanic whites: 26%

Clearly, Hispanic Catholics have much to teach Non-Hispanic white Catholics about the value of Eucharistic adoration in our faith lives.

The breakdown by generation for those who responded yes to participating in Eucharistic adoration is:

  • Pre-Vatican II - 37%
  • Vatican II - 30%
  • Post-Vatican II - 27%
  • Millennials - 21%

This breakdown is not surprising in the decreasing percentages from older to younger generations. On the other hand, one could argue that 21% among the Millennials is better than one might have thought it would be.

According to the question, I would not be able to respond "yes." I go to visit Jesus in the tabernacle, but it has been some time since I have made it to adoration when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. But that will change on May 25. My parish is having a Eucharistic procession for Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. I have been organizing it, which has been a wonderful experience (more on that later). I have had adoration in front of a webcam of the Eucharist (see my blog entry of 4/4/08), which is a different 21st century twist of a very old practice.

My final entry on the CARA study will look at the statistics about belief in the Real Presence.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

CARA Study of the Sacraments - More on Frequency of Reception of the Eucharist

More on the CARA study of the sacraments with the focus on the Eucharist. Here's the breakdown by generation for those who said they attend Mass at least once per month. The generations identified were:

  • Pre-Vatican II (Born in 1942 and earlier, or 66 years old and older in 2008)
  • Vatican II (Born between 1943 and 1960, or 48 to 65 years old in 2008)
  • Post-Vatican II (sometimes called "Generation X," born between 1961 and 1981, or 27 to 47 years old in 2008)
  • Millennial Generation (Born between 1982 and 1990, or 18 to 26 years old in 2008)

Across all generations, the percentages who said they "always" receive Holy Communion when they attend Mass are essentially the same (71%-74%). Interestingly enough, however, the Millennials showed the lowest percentages for those who "seldom or never" received (2% vs 7%-9%) and the highest percentages for "frequently or usually" (26% vs. 19%-20%). Therefore, if you combine "always" and "frequently or usually," 99% of the Millennials responded this way vs. 93% for Pre-Vatican II respondents. This is a very good sign indeed.

The study also broke down frequency of reception by education for those who responded with "always" receiving the Eucharist at Mass:

  • 58% of those with post-graduate degrees
  • 40% of those with bachelor's degrees
  • 48% of those with some college or an associate's degree
  • 49% of those with a high school diploma or less
  • 58% of those who attended a Catholic university or college

I find these results fascinating, and I'm hesitant to conjecture about the meaning of these results. But I would suggest the following:

  • Despite concerns about the orthodoxy of many Catholic colleges and universities (and I would add that those concerns are not unimportant), it would appear that attending a Catholic college or university is still the best way of increasing the probability of developing a deep love of Christ in the Eucharist.
  • Those with bachelor's degrees actually receive Holy Communion less frequently than those with less education. Then, those with more education than a bachelor's receive the Eucharist substantially more often. Therefore, we cannot say that more education increases one's devotion to the Eucharist across the board. I suspect, perhaps, that this is a case of Alexander Pope's assertion in Essay on Criticism that "A little learning is a dangerous thing/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:/There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,/And drinking largely sobers us again."
  • While we can't reason our way into belief in the Real Presence, I think these statistics are a wonderful example of how faith and reason work together to enrich our spirituality. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have made much of the necessity of faith and reason. Reason informs faith, and faith gives purpose and direction to reason. One without the other leads to error and disaster. I once thought I'd "reasoned" my way out of faith. After a long time away from the Church, I have learned since my return that what had really happened was that I did not have enough faith or reason.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

CARA Study of the Sacraments - Frequency of Reception of the Eucharist

Let's continue to look at the CARA study on the sacraments by focusing on the Eucharist. Catholics who had made their first Holy Communion were surveyed on the frequency of their reception of the Eucharist. Of those surveyed, 50% said that when they attend Mass they "always" receive Holy Communion. 20% responded "frequently or usually." 17% said "seldom." 13% said "never."

These results indicate that 70% of those surveyed received Holy Communion either always or frequently. This seems to correspond reasonably with the 74% who said that receiving Holy Communion at Mass was "very important." Again, it shows that the majority of Catholics consider the Eucharist to have a prominent role in their religious life. And again, it shows that there is still more work to be done, since the Eucharist should be central to every Catholic's religious life.

Yet we should note something that the question does not really account for: we are not at liberty to go to Holy Communion simply because we want to do so, although a desire to always receive Holy Communion when attending Mass is an admirable and spiritually healthy one. However, we cannot approach the Son of God in the Eucharist when our souls are in a state of mortal sin until we have approached the Son of God in sacramental confession. Therefore, there are times when being a conscientious Catholic means not receiving the Eucharist at Mass if we are conscious of being in a state of mortal sin.

Another reason for not receiving Holy Communion at Mass is because we have not observed the one-hour fast previous to receiving.

The breakdown of frequency of reception of the Eucharist as compared to frequency of Mass attendance is as follows:

For those attending Mass weekly or more: Always - 79%; Frequently or usually - 16%; Seldom - 3%; Never - 2% (95% always or frequently).

For those attending Mass less than weekly but at least monthly: Always - 66%; Frequently or usually - 24%; Seldom - 8 %; Never - 3% (90% always or frequently [note: the numbers don't add up to 100%).

For those attending Mass a few times a year or less: Always - 31%; Frequently or usually - 21%; Seldom - 26%; Never - 22% (52% always or frequently).

Again, we see that going to Mass more frequently dramatically increases one's love for Jesus in the Eucharist.

It is also important to note that missing Mass on Sundays without a legitimate reason is a mortal sin under certain conditions (since the sin itself is grave matter, and if the person has full knowledge that it is sinful and deliberately consents to missing Mass). Therefore, for those attending less than weekly who meet the conditions for mortal sin, they should be going to confession before receiving Holy Communion again. However, there is an issue of catechesis here, because most likely the majority of people who don't attend Mass each Sunday also don't believe it to be a mortal sin. (They most likely don't even consider it a venial sin.) As such, the "full knowledge" condition may not be met in such circumstances.

But if we can see that we owe God our love for the love he showed us in the sacrifice of the Son for us, and if we can believe that the Mass is the re-presentation (not the representation or the repetition) of that sacrifice, and if we can believe that the Eucharist is the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, the Sacrificial Lamb of God, then we will understand why we need to be at Mass each Sunday. It's not because of rules; it's because of love.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

CARA Study on the Sacraments among U.S. Catholics

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University conducted a survey in February 2008, the results of which were published in the report, Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice among U.S. Catholics. There are numerous interesting statistics, many of which are heartening, while others show that there is much work yet to be done. I want to focus on the section on The Mass and Eucharist.

Let's start with the question, "How important are each of the following aspects of the Mass to you?" For the aspect, "Receiving Eucharist/Holy Communion," for respondents who attend Mass at least a few times a year, 92% responded "Somewhat" or "Very Important". 74% responded "Very Important" only. This is good news that the Eucharist is such an important draw to Mass for Catholics, even those who attend only a few times in a year. While ideally the number of "Very Important" responses should be much higher than 74%, this is still a good sign. For those who identified receiving the Eucharist as "Somewhat" or "Very Important", the breakdown by how often the respondents attended Mass was as follows: Weekly or more - 97%; Less than weekly but at least monthly - 89%; A few times a year only - 88%. To no one's surprise, the more often one goes to Mass, the more one grows in love for Jesus in the Eucharist.

In the next post I'll continue through the Mass and Eucharist section of the study.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Imperfect Participation in a Perfect Sacrifice

I was at mass this morning with my family, and I was suddenly struck by the importance of one of God's great gifts to us: we are able to partake in the perfect sacrifice of Christ in spite of our our profound imperfection. The thought first came to me as we and dozens of other parents of small children were wangling them like cowboys and their cattle, and as a result, we were not able to keep a fixed gaze on the sacrifice at the altar. And yet, despite the distractions, we are still able to receive the body and blood of Christ, because it is not our worthiness but God's that makes this possible, which we say aloud right before going up for communion: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed."

I have long loved listening to others sing at mass. My wife, Katie, has a beautiful voice, and it is a joy to hear her sing hymns at mass. But most of all, I have relished hearing those in the congregation who do not sing very well but who nonetheless belt out a hymn with unrestrained joy. I appreciate those voices because my own singing can be a bit painful to the ears at times. Most of all, though, I appreciate those voices because they are a good model for me that the important thing is not the beauty of the voice that sings but the majesty and love of who the voice praises and thanks. As the great Quaker hymn says: "Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?" The imperfect voices can sometimes give us the greatest witness to the perfection of God.

The priest who stands in the person of Christ ("persona Christi"), fortunately, does not need to be perfect like Christ to transform the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood. Through God's grace and mercy, an imperfect man--even a seriously flawed and sinful man--may consecrate the gifts and bring us Christ. There is a beautiful story about St. Francis being asked by the citizens of a particular town to confront their priest who was living with a woman. St. Francis went to the priest, but rather than scold the priest, St. Francis took the priest's hands in his own, kissed them, and said, "All I need to know is that these hands bring me Jesus." After that, Francis left and the priest reformed his life. There are many lessons to take from this story, but one of them is that the people of the town were still able to partake of the Eucharist before Francis' visit because, despite their priest's immorality, the priest's unworthy hands still brought the people Jesus.

In a similar way, the Church, which we say in the Nicene Creed is the "one holy catholic and apostolic Church" can be holy as an institution created by Jesus but be sinful in its individual members.

So this day let us thank the Lord for not letting our imperfection impede his perfection.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Bread of Life

In this, the third week of Easter, we are working our way through Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John at the daily mass readings. This is the chapter of the Bread of Life discourse, the great Eucharistic teaching of Jesus. Today's reading is this:

The crowd said to Jesus: "What sign are you going to perform for us to see so that we can put faith in you? What is the 'work' you do? Our ancestors had manna to eat in the desert; according to Scripture, 'He gave them bread from the heavens to eat.'" Jesus said to them: "I solemnly assure you, it was not Moses who gave you bread from the heavens; it is my Father who gives you the real heavenly bread. God's bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." "Sir, give us this bread always," they besought him. Jesus explained to them: "I myself am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall thirst again." (John 6:30-35)

Like the crowd, we beseech Jesus to give us life, to satisfy our hunger, to end our thirst. And he answers this prayer, in a way that is baffling to our senses and intellect, and challenging to our faith. But as Jesus told Pilate before his crucifixion: "For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37). So what he is telling us is the truth, however mysterious it is. And he was coming to this from the very beginning. The name "Bethlehem," where Jesus was born, means "House of bread." He was laid in a manger, where animals feed. He is truly the bread of life.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Father Victor Brown and the Importance of Eucharistic Adoration

I just read a very good blog entry by Father Victor Brown about the value of Eucharistic adoration. He is the chaplain to a monastery of contemplative nuns whose primary responsibility is Eucharistic adoration. To those who say, "What's the use of that?", Father Brown responds, "Questions like this betray a failure to understand the very nature of God and man and prayer." He concludes his entry with this wonderful analysis:

Have you ever wondered why the American government pays military personnel
to do nothing but stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington
National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.? Is that a waste of money, and the time
of the ceremonial guard? Those who see no reason for the contemplative life
would say YES! Those who understand adoration, tribute, and prayer say NO! These latter know perfectly well that no one in the world does things more “practical”
than our Sisters here, who sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him. Like
Saint Mary of Bethany, they have “chosen the better part, and it will not be
taken away from them.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you.

You can read Father Brown's entire blog entry here.

Thank you, Father Brown, for reminding us of the importance of these sisters. What a wonderful testimony to the value of such a vocation in particular, and vocations in general.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Different Kind of Reality TV

So-called "Reality TV" is the dominant format of television programming these days. These shows turned out to be relatively strike-proof during the recent TV writers' strike. They are relatively cheap to produce. They appeal to viewers' more voyeuristic interests. These shows range from the harmless to the repugnant.

However, there is a kind of Reality TV that is little known but holds the promise of great benefit for people. That Reality TV is the use of webcams (cameras which are linked to the Internet) to view the Blessed Sacrament in adoration remotely. It may seem rather odd at first, but if we reflect upon it, it makes sense. Through these Eucharistic webcams, we are still seeing Christ with our own eyes in real time; the only difference is that we are doing so from a distance. The effects of grace from Eucharistic adoration are not diminished because distance (even time) is nothing to God. In addition, the tradition of Spiritual Communion tells us that we can receive Jesus spiritually whether we are in the immediate proximity of the Blessed Sacrament or not.

I have found two Eucharistic webcams. One is at and the other is St. Martin of Tours, a parish in Louisville, Kentucky. I have just begun to explore the solace and spiritual enrichment of this form of Eucharistic adoration. I encourage others to try it.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Divine Mercy Sunday

Today is the Second Sunday of Easter. In 2000, the second Sunday of Easter received the second name of "Divine Mercy Sunday." Emphasizing the message of mercy explicit in the Paschal Mystery and the Easter season, and finding a particular expression in the private revelations of St. Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy Sunday is a wonderful celebration of the Lord's infinite love and his restorative forgiveness.

You can find a very helpful document from the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy
(an apostolate of the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception, based at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Eden Hill, Stockbridge, MA) which discusses Divine Mercy here. Let me highlight one portion of that document that deals with the Eucharist:

Rev. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, explains to us clearly in his booklet The
Divine Mercy
: Message and Devotion another, pastoral intention that the Lord
seems to have had in promising extraordinary graces on this Feast day:

Our Lord is also emphasizing, through this promise, the infinite value of Confession and Communion as miracles of mercy. He wants us to realize that since the Eucharist is His own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, it is the “Fountain of Life” (Diary, 300). The Eucharist is Jesus, Himself, the Living God, longing to pour Himself as Mercy into our hearts.

Why would Our Lord feel the need to emphasize this? Because so many people do
not really understand it. They either see no need to receive Holy Communion, or
they receive it simply out of habit. As St. Paul explains in his letter to the Corinthians, they eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, “without recognizing the body of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27-29).

In His revelations to St. Faustina Our Lord makes it very clear what He is
offering us in Holy Communion and how much it hurts Him when we treat His
presence with indifference:

My great delight is to unite Myself with souls. … When I come to
a human heart in Holy Communion, My hands are full of all kinds of graces which I want to give to the soul. But souls do not even pay any attention to Me; they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. Oh, how sad I am that souls do not recognize Love! They treat Me as a dead object (1385; also see 1288 and 1447).

So, Our Lord’s promise of complete forgiveness is both a reminder and a call.
It is a reminder that He is truly present and truly alive in the Eucharist, filled with
love for us and waiting for us to turn to Him with trust. And it is a call for us all
to be washed clean in His Love through Confession and Holy Communion — no matter how terrible our sins — and begin our lives again. He is offering us a new start.

There is much here, but the part that most grabs my attention is: "But souls do not even pay any attention to Me; they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. Oh, how sad I am that souls do not recognize Love! They treat Me as a dead object." How true this is, for myself as well as others. I find many things to busy myself with during my days rather drawing closer to the Lord. Often times when I think about going to Eucharistic adoration I don't go because I think "I have too much to do." This is especially true when I am work. I try to get to adoration periodically on my lunch hour, but too often I don't go because I feel that there are more pressing things to do. It is also frighteningly true that we do not recognize love. Think of how often we look for love in all the wrong places, as the country song goes. And most penetrating to me is the comment that we treat him as a dead object. If only we could see him with eyes of faith. So hard to do, yet so essential.

The Gospel reading for today is taken from John. It speaks of mercy, since it includes Jesus' giving the apostles the ability to forgive sins (John 20:21-23). It also contains the passage about Thomas' refusal to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead "without putting my finger in the nail-marks and my hand into his side" (John 20:25). When Jesus comes a week later and Thomas finally sees him, Thomas gives the response that we give silently at mass during the elevation of the body and blood during the consecration: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). Jesus is pleased with Thomas' act of faith, but he lets Thomas and us know that we are asked to have a still deeper faith: "Jesus said to him, 'Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.'" (John 20:29).

So hard to do, yet so essential.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Lex orandi, lex credendi

"Lex orandi, lex credendi" literally means "the law of praying [is] the law of believing." Another way that this phrase is rendered is: "How we pray is how we believe." This statement indicates the power of gesture, ritual, and symbol. These are a reflection of belief, but they also shape belief, for good or for ill.

How we enter a church is a good example of this principle. If we come in and simply walk into a pew, our gesture indicates that we do not believe (either explicitly or implicitly) that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle. But if we genuflect before entering the pew, and specifically genuflect toward the tabernacle (wherever that may be), then we are reminding ourselves, and acting as a witness to others, that we believe Jesus is physically there. But if we genuflect toward the front (in effect, toward the altar) when the tabernacle is not situated there, then our way of praying is a habit rather than an assent, an affirmation.

After mass, my family and I go up to the tabernacle to pray. (We never used to do this, but have been doing so for a while now.) Although we have received Jesus, although we ourselves are for the moment "tabernacles" (since we actually, really, physically carry Jesus within us), going up to the tabernacle reinforces this. Think about Jesus, at the Last Supper, where he is both physically present in his human nature and then also Eucharistically present in the bread-turned body and the wine-turned blood. That act is not redundant, it's not superfluous. Rather, it's super-abundant. But if we receive communion and immediately leave, what are we saying about what we have just received? Are we treating communion as a kind of "fast food"? Are we saying, "this is merely bread, this is merely wine"?

When my family and I pass a Catholic church while driving, we acknowledge Jesus' presence there. My wife and I make the sign of the Cross, while our children, who are 5 and 4, say "Hi, Jesus." I try to do this even when I am in a car with other people (although I am still somewhat self-conscious about it). This can be a very important witness to others, even other drivers simply passing by when you are doing this. We want our children to internalize and reinforce belief in the Real Presence. If we can instill reverence for the presence of Jesus outside of the church building, perhaps that will increase our reverence even further when we are inside the church and in close proximity to Jesus himself.

I don't mean to imply that I and my family do this perfectly and that others are don't. This is a reminder to myself that I can and need to do better, to do more. We cannot show Christ too much reverence, reverence which is due to him because of his nature (for he is God) and because of his sacrifice (for he is our redeemer).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Glorified Body

The Gospel reading for today at mass is the passage immediately following the Emmaus account:

"Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, 'Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.' And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, 'Have you anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them" (Luke 24:35-43).

We move from the reference to Jesus' body in the Eucharist at Emmaus to his glorified body in Jerusalem with the Eleven. Both are Jesus' body; both are not what we typically expect bodies to look like. Jesus suddenly appears in their midst in Jerusalem, making them think they are seeing a ghost. We are not used to bodies simply showing up rather than walking into a room. He allows the disciples to touch him, and shows him that he can eat. Jesus' glorified body is similar to the natural body, but also is different. In the Gospel reading for mass on Easter Tuesday, we read the account in John where Mary Magdalene sees Jesus for the first time after the Resurrection. However, like the two disciples heading toward Emmaus, she does not recognize him (John 20:11-18). She thinks he might be the gardener. Clearly, Jesus looks different than he looked before his resurrection. But she recognizes him when he calls her name.

Both these passages are about how we recognize the risen Lord. He reveals himself to us through relationship and through the Eucharist. He calls us by name, and he gives us his body and blood. The Eucharist is the preeminent way that Jesus gave us to build up our relationship with him. And the Eucharist is the preeminent sign of our hope in our own resurrection and the glorified body to come.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On the Road to Emmaus

The Gospel reading from today's mass is the story of the two disciples who unknowingly meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. During their journey together, Jesus showed them how the scriptures foretold of the Messiah. Then:

"As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, 'Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.' So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, 'Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?' So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, 'The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!' Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24:28-35).

We often overlook the Eucharistic aspect of this passage. "...while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them" is very similar to the institution narratives in Matthew ("Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples" [Matthew 26:26]), Mark ("And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them" [Mark 14:22]), and Luke ("And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them" [Luke 22:19]).

It was at the breaking of the bread, at Jesus' act of consecrating the Eucharist, that the two disciples recognized him. This recognition connects well with the words of Blessed Mother Teresa which I quoted yesterday. We must recognize Christ in the Eucharist, and when we do, we will not be able to stop ourselves from telling the joyous news to others. Then, too, we will recognize others for who they are: those for whom Jesus gave his body and shed his blood.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mother Teresa on the Eucharist

Here is Blessed Mother Teresa on the Eucharist:

"Our lives have to continuously feed on the Eucharist. If we were not able to see Christ under the appearance of bread, neither would it be possible for us to discover him under the humble appearances of the bruised bodies of the poor" (Mother Teresa: Her Essential Wisdom, edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi, p. 115).

This passage is in a section of the book entitled "The Religious Life." Mother Teresa often talked about how the Eucharist (especially in Eucharistic adoration) was the source of strength for herself and her sisters, and she often distinguished what the Missionaries of Charity do from what social workers do. We should all be aware of the crucial relationship between the Eucharist and religious vocations.

However, we would also miss an important lesson that such devotion to the Eucharist is not exclusively for priests and religious sisters and brothers. Mother Teresa makes clear here that there is no dichotomy between faith and justice, between morality and social action, between piety and praxis. She so succinctly links the idea of "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7) to our interactions with others. Think of the story of the Good Samaritan,. The Samaritan did not see a Jewish person, he did not see people from communities in conflict. Instead, he saw a fellow human being, a fellow child of God. He knew he was his brother's keeper. Or think of the story of the woman taken in adultery. Jesus saw a woman who, yes, had harmed her husband, family, and the community by her actions. But he also saw a person who had wounded herself, and he could help heal her, and thereby heal the others.

Faith in the Real Presence is a gift of grace from God. We cannot will ourselves to believe or reason ourselves to "understand" it. We are generally well aware of how difficult it is to believe in the Real Presence because it seems so contrary to what our senses tell us. But we usually are not as aware of how difficult it is to see people as God sees them. We see others as petty, as annoying, as stupid, as hateful, as inferior, as ugly, as cruel. And they probably are. But we don't often see them as ill-used, as miseducated, insecure, as wounded, as lonely, as defeated, as hopeless.

Let us pray for the grace to see Jesus in the Eucharist. And let us pray to see others as God sees them. With St. Paul, let us reflect: "At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday

He is risen, Alleluia.

Last night at the Easter Vigil, one of the readings presents a foreshadowing (a "type") of the Eucharistic banquet: "Thus says the Lord: All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David" (Isaiah 55:1-3).

This Easter, and every day, let us spend our time, treasure, and talent, on what does not fail to satisfy. As we eat well today at our rich fare of the food which perishes, let us remember to listen to the Lord, and to seek the food of the new covenent, which will give us everlasting life.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Saturday

On this Holy Saturday, let us pray for the catechumens who will receive the sacraments of initiation tonight at the Easter Vigil - Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation. Let us pray, too, that the desire for and the joy in receiving the Eucharist which these catechumens will experience tonight will continue to inspire them the 100th time they receive the Eucharist, the 1,000th time, or the 10,000th time. And for those of us who received our first Eucharist long ago, may the fresh zeal of the catechumens help us to renew our faith in the Real Presence and open us further to the grace that Jesus offers us there.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Good Friday is the only full day of the year in which the Eucharist is not consecrated and thus there is no mass. All communion services on that day are with previously consecrated hosts (usually from mass on Holy Thursday). Mass is not celebrated again until the Easter Vigil on the Saturday night before Easter. We commemorate the death of the Lord by removing his living body in the Eucharist from its usual place in the tabernacle and not consecrating new hosts again until the Easter Vigil. A good summary of the Eucharistic practices over Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter (what is called the “Easter Triduum” or “Three Days”) was created by the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey (

Let us pray for vocations, especially vocations to the priesthood. Good Friday reminds us that without priests, every day would be a day without the mass, and after a short time every day would be a day without the Eucharist.

The seventeenth-century English poet, George Herbert, wrote a poem about Lent that on this fast day is appropriate. The last stanza of the poem reads:

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sinne and taking such repast,
As may our faults controll:
That ev’ry man may revell at his doore,
Not in his parlour; banquetting the poore,
And among those his soul.

Herbert reminds us that we give up the food which perishes to focus on higher things and to help those who fast because they do not have enough to eat. My family is practicing almsgiving this Lent by donating to Catholic Relief Services’ Operation Rice Bowl ( It has been a good experience in helping to teach our young children (ages 4 and 5) to help those in need. Each week during Lent they received four quarters; two they could save and two they had to donate to the Rice Bowl.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Why a blog on the Eucharist?

Why write a blog on the Eucharist? I have felt drawn more and more towards Jesus in the Eucharist. This blog is to help me explore that inspiration more, as well as provide a place to help others to love the Eucharist more. I want to include links to other sites that I find informative. I also want to hear from others about their experiences. Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we need to tell others about our journey with the Lord to help us all draw closer to him: “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them by the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). I chose to call this site “The Food Which Endures” because of the passage from Chapter 6 of the Gospel of St. John: “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal” (John: 6:27). Chapter 6 is the most beautiful, most profound explanation of the Eucharist in the scriptures. We can never exhaust the riches there. As we approach Good Friday, we are reminded of how Jesus gave himself, his whole self, for us, so that we might have eternal life. Also, as we fast on Good Friday, we can remember that the food which we are giving up that day perishes, but the food that is the result of Christ’s death and resurrection endures to eternal life.

I wanted to start this blog on Holy Thursday, when we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist. It is a good time to recall that we are privileged to have access to receive communion every day if we are able to do so. So often we take even weekly mass for granted, not reflecting on the miracle of grace that we are given there in receiving Jesus. When we can’t make it to mass, we can go to a church or chapel for Eucharistic adoration. If we aren’t able to get to Jesus in the Eucharist, we can make a spiritual communion. During the day I try to think of the tabernacles that I visit and briefly “go” to one of those in my mind to be with our Lord. I had a wonderful experience on Passion Sunday. I was standing in line going up to communion and in front of me was a man holding his very small and very new baby. I recently had heard someone on Catholic radio talking about how we need to think of Jesus as being truly alive in the Eucharist. So I reflected on how the Jesus who would be in my hands in a few moments would be as alive and as real as the baby in this man’s hands. I found that image very helpful.

While this blog is explicitly Catholic in its focus, I invite people of all faiths or no faith to visit and comment if they feel moved to do so. St. Paul engaged all people in dialogue. Sometimes Jesus found more faith among Romans and Samaritans than among some externally pious people of Israel, and we all need to be humbled by that fact.