Toward A Eucharistic Spirit
By MOST REV. THOMAS G. DORAN
Bishop of Rockford, Illinois, U. S. A.
Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has called on us as
Catholics, and as the Catholic Church, to make the celebration of the
millennium an occasion of heightened enthusiasm and faith. This great
Jubilee will celebrate the "fullness of time," when God sent forth
His Son for the redemption of the world. The Holy Father urges all of us,
members of the Church, to make the year 2000 "intensely
eucharistic" because "in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the
Savior, who took flesh in Marys womb 20 centuries ago, continues to offer
Himself to humanity as the source of divine life."1
In response to the Holy Fathers call, I write this
pastoral letter to help you prepare for the great Jubilee by a renewal of
our eucharistic spirit.
There is a special urgency about this worthy preparation
because, as the Holy Father often reminds us, there are tendencies in our
day to fail to give the Holy Eucharist its central place in our lives as
Catholics. To intensify our eucharistic spirit we must deal with these
The first of these tendencies, mentioned by the Holy
Father, is the failure of some Catholics to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the
Mass when they are obliged by the law of God and the Church to do so, and
are able to attend. He laments the fact that even though the Mass is
available to them, some of the faithful lack the "interior
willingness" to take part in it according to the precept of the Church.
In this they show "inadequate sensitivity toward the great sacrament of
The second unfortunate trend or tendency is for everyone
to receive Holy Communion at Mass, even when some have not taken care to
purify themselves of serious, that is to say mortal, sin by going to
In this connection, the Holy Father reminds us all of the
serious admonition of St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians (11:28)
that each person must "examine himself" so that he or she may
receive the Body of Christ worthily. A correct sense of moral responsibility
is closely linked to the practice of approaching the Sacrament of
Reconciliation. In this our consciences should be guided by respect for
Christ, "who, when He is received in the Eucharist, should find in the
heart of each of us a worthy abode."3
Another unfortunate sign of diminution of eucharistic
spirit is the undue hurry sometimes shown during Mass, a sort of impatience
which does not honor the Lords presence. The Holy Father also notes that
some few who receive the Eucharist in the hand have shown "deplorable
lack of respect toward the Eucharistic Species."4
With the prayer that the Holy Spirit will enkindle in our
hearts a renewed devotion to our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, I write this
letter about the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in this sacrament, and
about the Eucharist as our Christian sacrifice.
II. The Lord is Truly Present
The presence of God extends to every place and time. In
His divinity, God is present to His every creature, holding each in
existence. He is present also in His knowledge: He knows us intimately,
past, present, and future. Our hearts are fully open to Him.
As true God, Jesus Christ is present everywhere, along
with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Even His sacred humanity, now that it
has entered the realm of Gods glory by the Resurrection, is present
everywhere in the cosmos. He is present wherever "two or three are
gathered" in His name;5 He is present
in His word; He is present in the worshiping community gathered at the
But there is a most sacred presence of Jesus Christ that
is limited to certain times and places. It is the substantial presence of
His Body and Blood, which He offered on the cross for our salvation.
This most holy Body and Blood are not present everywhere,
but only in the Eucharistic Species, that is, under the appearances of bread
and wine. At the Last Supper, Jesus changed bread and wine into His Body and
Blood, and commissioned His Apostles to "do this." The Catholic
Church then has the most serious mission of carrying out the Lords
command. The Church has as its most precious treasure this great sacrament
in which the Body and Blood of Christ are contained, offered, and received.
In the Most Blessed Sacrament are contained, truly,
really, and substantially, the Body and Blood, together with the Soul and
Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.6
There are many ways that the Church expresses its deep
respect for the presence of the Lords Body and Blood. The Church brings
the power of consecration down through the ages and around the world by the
Sacrament of Holy Orders. We erect noble buildings and fashion dignified
altars for our eucharistic worship. We make our responses and sing our hymns
at Mass with fervor. We require those who would receive Holy Communion to be
members of the Church, instructed in the meaning of this sacrament, free of
serious sin, and fasting. We ask communicants to be punctual, attentive,
prayerful, and worthily attired.
All of this is in response to our Catholic faith, which
tells us that the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is truly present in the
There are some ways I might suggest for deepening our
awareness of the presence of our Lord in the Eucharist.
We ought to have a deep appreciation for the ordained
priest. It is the priest who has the sacred mission of bringing the
Eucharistic Presence to the faithful. In union with his bishop, it is the
priest who is the one person in the Christian community who has the
authority, or sacred power, to change the bread and wine into the Body and
Blood of the Lord. As (Joseph) Cardinal Ratzinger recently wrote, Ordination
brings about a change in the very being of the priest, so that he can act in
the person of Christ, especially at Mass.7
In these days, when we are happy to have many lay ministers in the Church,
we must hold in highest honor our priests, those who consecrate and bring us
the Lord in the Holy Eucharist.
Our church buildings ought to foster a sense of the
sacred, so that the presence of the Lord is more easily recognized. The
works of art and music should help us to capture the awesomeness, the
mystery, the transcendence of the Lords being with us. We should try to
recover the prayerfulness and silence that used to be characteristic of
Catholic churches. Everything in our sacred buildings should draw our
attention to the One we worship there, in His Body and Blood.
The way we approach Holy Communion is very important. Our
external behavior can either help or hinder our internal dispositions and
our keen awareness of the Real Presence of Jesus. Most important, we must
never come to Communion just because others are doing so. We must abstain if
we are conscious of unconfessed serious sin. I draw your attention to the
offense that is offered to God when a person who has deliberately missed a
Mass of obligation receives Holy Communion without being absolved in the
Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our Lord clearly taught that our consciences
must be clear before we come before the Lord in worship.8
In receiving Holy Communion, we are entitled to receive
the Sacred Host on the tongue, or in the hand. At some Masses we are invited
to receive the Precious Blood. These are the most sacred actions we perform
from week to week, even daily. To perform them as they deserve, we should
certainly think of what we are doing, and let our faith be expressed in true
reverence. The Holy Fathers words about the lack of respect for the
Eucharist show his deep concern about the manner in which we receive
Those who come to Communion should possess an awareness
of the great privilege we have, to be in such intimate contact with the Lords
Body and Blood, the food that gives us never-ending life. It would be good
if we look upon the Sacred Species, receive the Lord with authentic
reverence, then step to the side for a moment. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, one
of the early fathers of the Church, beautifully describes how we should
receive Holy Communion:
"When you come forward, do not draw near with your
hands wide open or with the fingers spread apart; instead, with your left
hand make a throne for the right hand, which will receive the King.
Receive the Body of Christ in the hollow of your hand and give the
Catholics believe that the bread and wine, once
consecrated, do not cease to be the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus until
the appearances of bread and wine are gone. To express our faith in this
truth, Catholics honor the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist even apart
from Mass and Holy Communion. The Church provides that we construct a solid
and dignified repository for the consecrated Hosts. Then, when Communion is
to be brought to the sick, the Blessed Sacrament can be taken from the
tabernacle. The Lords presence in the tabernacle should make a profound
impression on us. We should enter the eucharistic presence with joy and
faith. We should greet Him and pray to Him as truly present. Our kneeling
and genuflections (if we are able) and our refraining from distracting
noises or conversation will help deepen our respect for Jesus presence in
His Body and Blood.
III. The Holy Sacrifice
At every Mass the bishop or priest asks the people to
pray that the sacrifice his and theirs may be acceptable to
God. And as you know, the people respond with the prayer: "May the Lord
accept the sacrifice at your hands. . . ."10
The offering of sacrifice goes against the grain of a
secular, materialistic, and individualistic society. In our day, the things
that capture our attention are all the human problems, aspirations, and
pleasures. In times when people thought of God as the Supreme Being who
created all things, and as the One for whose glory we were all made, it
seemed so "natural" to offer Him a gift, that is a sacrifice.11
Sadly the secularism of our days is keeping even some
Catholics from appreciating the place of sacrifice in our religion. This
leads to a diminished understanding of the central act of our faith, which
is the loving sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and a lessening in our
perceived dependence on God. And that same failure to understand sacrifice
can lead us to forget that in the Mass, the very sacrifice of Jesus is made
present, and we are now called to give ourselves to God with Christ.
Before the Word became Flesh, God prepared a people of
His own who would acknowledge Him as Lord of all, by offering Him sacrifices
of many sorts. The Old Testament people of God were solemnly commanded by
the Lord Himself to offer sacrifice. Hundreds of verses in the Bible refer
to the tribe of priests, the temple, the altar, the sacred vessels and
vestments, the things to be offered, and especially in the prophets, the
proper interior dispositions. No one was to appear before God empty-handed.12
This was because sacrifice is the opposite of
disobedience. Every sin says "No" to God; it is a refusal to
acknowledge His holy supremacy. But every sacrifice expresses ones
submission to Gods will. So while sin creates an abyss of immense
proportion separating the sinner from the all-holy God, the rupture is
healed by the offering of sacrifice. When the offered gift truly represents
the interior surrender, submission, and loving obedience of the sacrificer,
sin is expiated, God is honored, and a marvelous unity of love takes the
place of the break caused by sin.13
The material offered in the Old Covenant sacrifices was
nearly always items of food. In the holocaust, the entire offering was
consumed by fire to show that the gift was truly passed from the sacrificer
into the possession of God. But in the most common form of sacrifice, only a
portion was burnt, while another portion was given to the priests, and a
third portion was returned to the one who presented the gift for sacrifice.
The portion returned, usually the meat of cattle, sheep, or goats, was then
used for a holy meal with relatives and friends. The meal was shared with
joy; it was the way to "make merry" before the Lord.14
The meal after the sacrifice had very deep meaning. The
thing offered to God had become His possession. Then He "returned"
a portion to be used in the holy meal. Those at table shared what belonged
to God. To eat together meant that they were at peace with God, and were
joined together in the surrender of themselves to the Almighty. The meal
meant unity and peace.
A. The One Great Sacrifice
Jesus saved the world by His sacrifice on the cross. He
was and is the light of the world, the way to the Father, the truth, the
life of the world. All this was won by His death in obedience to His Fathers
will. His obedience unto death reversed the disobedience of our first
parents. The moment of Jesus sacrifice is the central moment of all human
history. After that offering on Calvary, no more sacrifices are necessary.
In Heaven, Jesus, our great high priest, continually presents that
sacrifice, the effects of which have the power to save every sinner.15
To bring that saving power to people of every age, the
Lord Jesus gave His Church the Eucharist, by which believers could join Him
in the complete offering of Himself that He made on the cross. The central
moment of all history is made present to us in the Holy Eucharist until
Christ comes again.
When the Lord instituted this Most Blessed Sacrament, He
said, "This is my Body, given up for you." "This is
the cup of my Blood. . . . which will be shed for you. . . ."16
The very Body and Blood which won our salvation is now the Christian
sacrifice for every age. In the Mass, which is truly the Holy Sacrifice, we
are present for the unbloody re-presentation of Jesus saving sacrifice.
It is now in sacrament, in a form in which we can participate, by offering
ourselves to God along with Christ, and by sharing Christ, the Bread of
Life, in a holy meal.
B. Toward A Eucharistic Spirit
The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides us
with a very rich treatment of the Holy Eucharist. I heartily recommend that
you read it carefully, for your study will surely deepen your eucharistic
One of the truths emphasized by the Second Vatican
Council and faithfully set forth in the Catechism is this: The summit
of the Churchs activity is the Mass. Think for a moment of all the
activities and offices of the Church: Pope, bishops, priests, deacons,
teaching, missions, prayer, religious life, Scripture study, works of
charity, acts of virtue, Church law, holy marriage, and all the rest.
Everything the Church does is intended to bring its members to give
themselves to God in union with the supreme gift of Jesus on the cross.18
Since the Holy Father has asked the Church to intensify
its eucharistic spirit, I offer the following possibilities for deepening
our appreciation of sacrifice, of Jesus sacrifice, and of the Holy
Sacrifice of the Mass.
First, meditation on the Passion of Christ has proven to
be a powerful means of appreciating His sacrifice. Through the ages,
especially since around the time of St. Francis of Assisi, the Catholic
people have learned to treasure the sufferings and death of the Lord as a
most excellent way to grow in love of God, and so to offer themselves with
Christ in the Mass. And to this end, I urge everyone to do some penance on
Friday, to pray the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary with devotion, to make
the way of the cross, to read the Gospel narratives of the Passion, and to
unite ones personal sufferings to the sacrifice of the Lord. This will
help to emphasize the Mass as the Holy Sacrifice of Christ and His Church.
When you prepare your gift of money for the offertory,
you could think of your gift as an expression of the gift of yourself to
God. The money you contribute in the spirit of stewardship will help the
poor, and it will keep the Church afloat, and that is important. But if you
"feel the pinch" and make a really "sacrificial" gift,
it will be easier for you to remember how the Lord suffered when he made the
supreme sacrifice. After Calvary, we need not bring cattle, goats, or lambs
to be slaughtered in sacrifice. We bring ourselves to be given to the Lord.
We should try to make our gift correspond to our interior self-surrender to
At Mass, we should give great attention to the moment of
consecration. This is the time of transubstantiation, when the Body and
Blood, and therefore the sacrifice of the Lord, is made present. Concentrate
on the elevated Eucharistic Species. Adore the Blessed Sacrament in your
heart. Make this a moment of loving praise, thanksgiving, and self-oblation.
Consider yourself a witness to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. You
might say, in your heart, with St. Thomas the Apostle, "My Lord and my
God."20 Or you might use the words of
St. Alphonsus in his stations of the cross "Grant that I may love thee
always, then do with me what thou wilt."
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass is a
worthy practice of great devotion. The act of taking time out from ones
normally busy schedule, if only for a brief period, expresses the
wholehearted offering of self to God who is truly present and gives honor to
the First Commandment. Our time spent before the Blessed Sacrament in humble
adoration places us at the foot of the cross with the Blessed Virgin Mary
and St. John and extends our adoration of the sacrifice which is offered at
every Mass we prayerfully and faithfully attend.
The next suggestion may require a rather advanced level
of spiritual awareness. It is based on the Catholic belief, founded in the
New Testament, that by our Baptism, we all have a share in the priesthood of
Christ. Only the ordained priest can consecrate the Eucharistic Species, but
every baptized believer can be united with Jesus, our high priest, to such
an extent that it can be said that we all offer the Mass. We form one
body with Christ, the priest, and so we can say we offer the sacrifice. This
is a noble thought indeed. If on the way to Mass you realize that you are
truly priestly by your Baptism, you may better appreciate the Mass as a Holy
Sacrifice in which you play a vital part.21
Finally, here is a suggestion that will help us avoid
falling into an excessive individualism when we come to Mass. We celebrate
our Eucharistic Liturgy as a Church, a community, a People of God. And so
when you prepare for Mass, it would be very helpful if you would think of
yourself as about to intercede for the whole world. The fact is that Jesus
offered Himself in sacrifice for all of humanity. Each Mass has the same
infinite value as His offering on the cross, which opened the way to
forgiveness for every human being. So when you join with your neighbors in
offering the Holy Sacrifice, bring to the altar the agonies, the
desperation, the poverty, the hostility, the suffering, and the terrible
sins of all our race. Make your Mass an earnest appeal for Gods mercy,
and a prayer that His Kingdom may come, and His will be done.
I pray that this will help you see the Mass as important
for the world, since it is the sacrifice that brings God and mankind
together in the unity won by Jesus Christ. The importance of the Mass for
all time is seen in the pious practice of having Mass offered for the
faithful departed, for personal needs, and in thanksgiving for favors
This letter is written with the fervent hope and earnest
desire that all of us as Catholics in the Diocese of Rockford will examine
our own hearts as to our belief in the Eucharistic Mystery and our devotion
to our Eucharistic Lord.
About this Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, St. Paul
writes: "Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread
and drink of the cup."22 In this year
of preparation for the Great Millennium, we are looking in a special way to
God the Holy Spirit of hope for the future. The Church teaches us that:
"It is by the conversion of the bread and wine
into Christs Body and Blood that Christ becomes present in this
sacrament. The Church fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in
the efficacy of the word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to
bring about this conversion."23
May all of us ask this Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the
Spirit of truth, so to inflame our hearts with love for Christ in the
Eucharist and enlighten our minds to the beauty and purpose of this
Eucharistic Mystery that we will all lovingly celebrate this sacred banquet
in which Christ is worshiped, His Passion is recalled, and we receive a
pledge of our future glory.
1 On the Coming
of the Third Millenium, nn. 1, 55.
2 Mystery and Worship of the Holy Eucharist, n. 11.
5 See Matt. 18:20.
6 Council of Trent, session 13, canons on the Sacrament of
the Most Holy Eucharist, c. 2 (cf. Denzinger-Schönmetzer, n.1642;
cf. N. 1636).
7 "The Ministry and Life of Priests," by Joseph
Cardinal Ratzinger, in Homiletic & Pastoral Review
(August-September 1997), pp. 7-18.
8 See Matt. 5:23.
9 St. Cyril of Jerusalem (catecheses 23: section 22).
10 "Suscipiat Dominus sacrificium de manibus tuis.
. . ," Ordo Missae, n. 25.
11 See St.
Thomas Aquinas, the Summa Theologiae, IIa-IIae, q. 85, "Of
sacrifice," and IIIa, q. 22, "Of the priesthood of Christ."
12 Deut. 16:16.
13 Summa, IIa-IIae, a. 85.
14 Deut. 16:14.
15 Mystery and Worship of the Holy Eucharist, n. 9.
16 See Matt.
26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; 1 Cor. 11:23-25.
17 The Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 1322-1405,
and especially nn. 1373-1381, on the presence of Christ by the power of the
word and the Holy Spirit.
18 Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 10.
19 Summa, IIIa, q. 82, a. 4.
20 See John 20:28.
21 1 Peter 2:9, 4:5; Sacrosanctum Concilium,
22 1 Cor. 11:28
23 The Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1375.
December 26, 1997
Feast of St. Stephen Protomartyr
(We thank His Excellency Bishop Thomas G. Doran for giving
us the permission to reprint his pastoral letter. 8/31/98)