Why We Need a Year of the Eucharist
Beginning today, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we in the Archdiocese of Baltimore begin “The Year of the Eucharist.” This is important, and not simply a reason to print new holy cards or set up pretty banners. One year ago, on this same feast, we emerged from COVID lockdowns to gather as a worshipping community once again. Remember our parking lot Mass? That was a year ago! But with the distance that many still kept from in-person Mass, the prevalence of “spiritual Communion,” the social distancing, Communion in the hand, focus on sanitary practices, and the suspension of the Sunday obligation, perhaps we have allowed our appreciation and reverence for the Blessed Sacrament to wane a little.
That’s not to say that as a Church we haven’t been allowing that reverence to fade for some time now. In a recent study, it was discovered that only about one-third of Catholics – even those who come to Mass – believe that Jesus is truly present in the Bread and Wine that we share. How can this be? How have we failed our Lord in reinforcing His true Presence among us? How can we regain that appreciation and reverence? This is what a Year of the Eucharist is all about.
The Feast of Corpus Christi places the Eucharist directly in front of us – to adore, to appreciate, to love. In the Body and Blood of Christ, all the ancient sacrifices of Israel as they worshipped God come to perfect completion. Not only that, Christ accompanies His Church on the journey through history and He transforms the world. However, He is not alone; you and I are invited for that journey and we are included in that transformative work. The Eucharist is at once the source of our strength and the home to which we return for refreshment.
Jesus is clear when He gives us the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, knowing that He was about to offer Himself in that perfect sacrifice to the Father, He gave His Church the way in which we can share His work – how we can participate in His sacrifice. “This is my Body,” Jesus says. “This is my Blood.” He does not make metaphors or analogies. The Eucharist is Jesus!
If this is true, then it demands our attention and reverence. The Lord is present here – in every tabernacle in the world. On the altars of the greatest cathedrals and on a desert battlefield. In the hand of the greatest saints and on the tongue of a dying woman in a hospital. Jesus wants to be with us – He deeply wants to be with us – wherever we are. St. Alphonsus of Ligouri said, “The rulers of the earth do not always grant audience readily. On the contrary, the King of heaven, hidden under the Eucharistic veils, is ready to receive anyone.” Padre Pio said, “If people knew the value of Mass, there would be policemen at the door, to regulate the access to the church, every time that a Mass was celebrated.” Imagine the riot we could start with Jesus present! St. John Paul II taught, “This is the wonderful truth, my dear friends: the Word which became flesh two thousand years ago is present today in the Eucharist.” Mother Teresa said, “We all know when we look at the Cross how Jesus loved us. When we look at the Eucharist, we know how much He loves us now.”
This is the witness of the saints; there are many others. We can add our own appreciation as well. I encourage you to do that! But also, we must recapture the reverence and awe that we should have in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Let’s make our church a holy place of prayer that invites others in to rest and know Christ’s presence. When we approach the altar for Communion, don’t walk up like your in line for the movies; know that Jesus is waiting to encounter you in a real physical way. Deliberately hold out your hand to receive Him tenderly, and care for Him as you hold him. Take time to prepare for that encounter each week. Observe the eucharistic fast; prepare your soul through the Sacrament of Reconciliation; read the readings ahead of time; dress for church; share your joy!
How has it come to two in three Catholics not believing in this beautiful reality of the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? Perhaps it is our fault. Maybe we have taken the Gift for granted. Maybe we have had comfortable excuses and been given too many “passes.” Well, that can end today. Know that Christ is here – truly, really, physically. At the Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving,” let’s practice gratitude for Christ’s love and His complete gift of Himself in the Blessed Sacrament. A man whom I consider a saint, Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan, once said, “Jesus began a revolution from the Cross. Your revolution must begin from the Eucharistic table and has to be carried forward from there. In this way you will be able to renew humanity.” Let’s make this place a place of true encounter with the Lord. And from here, let us go and encounter our brothers and sisters to work together to change the world!