The Eucharist, spark and flame of our faith
In my early 20s I was lucky enough to have a group of friends to attend Mass with every Sunday. I often sat next to a woman named Kelly, and on one occasion after we returned from receiving Communion, she was kneeling and quietly weeping. I leaned close and whispered, “Is everything OK?” She nodded and said, “Yes, I just feel Jesus cleansing me of my sins.”
I was astounded; I had never felt anything close to that after receiving Communion. It was clear to me in that moment that there was more to understand and experience with Jesus in the form of bread and wine.
This started me on my lifelong quest to have a deeper faith, a richer understanding, and a stronger devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
Transubstantiation is at the core of our belief in the Eucharist. The substance of bread and wine changes into the substance of Jesus — His body, blood, soul, and divinity.
Jesus is not symbolically in the bread and wine. He is not hanging out on the altar during Mass only to leave after the closing song. Rather, “The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1377). This is why we use the word transubstantiation; the substance is transformed.
We encounter the presence of God in many ways. We can meet Him in creation, when we pray, in the poor, and wherever two or three are gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20). At Mass we encounter Jesus in four distinct ways: in the Word of God; in the people gathered; in the priest (in persona Christi Capitis); but above all of these ways, “He is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species” (CCC 1373).
In the Eucharist we experience Jesus in the fullest way we can encounter Him. Jesus is central to everything we believe as Catholics. He is God, the second person of the Trinity. He became human to reconcile humanity to God to correct the separation caused by sin. The Paschal Mystery, that is, the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, is the event that conquered the power of sin and death.
Baptism and faith bring us into the family of God. Confirmation completes Baptism and seals the gift of the Holy Spirit within us. The sacrament of Reconciliation connects us to God’s mercy and forgiveness. The sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony are how we live out our vocation. And Anointing of the Sick brings comfort, healing, and provisions for the journey to heaven. But, in the Eucharist we receive Jesus Himself and experience intimate communion with God. Nothing can replace going to Mass and receiving Communion.
Recent studies by Pew Research and Catholic Leadership Institute show that belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist among Catholics is lower than we might think. For those attending Mass weekly, the percentage of respondents who believe the bread and wine is actually transformed into Body and Blood is somewhere between 63-72 percent depending on the study. But for people who attend Mass monthly to seldom, the numbers dip to between 13 and 25 percent.
One could be tempted to think this is not all that important, but this is extremely troubling. This is central to our faith, and, more importantly, this is an unprecedented offering of self from God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’” (CCC 1324). This means the Eucharist is where faith begins and where it leads. It is the spark of our faith and the flame. It is the “sum and summary” (CCC 1327). Why is Holy Communion these things? Because it is Jesus!
You may be in a similar situation as I was when I sat next to Kelly as a 20-year-old, in need of a lot of growth in faith and understanding of the Eucharist. Here are a few things I have done over the last 35 years to grow in this area of faith.
Pray for more faith in the Eucharist.
I heard in a homily once that the closest we are to Jesus is right after receiving the Eucharist because Jesus is inside of us, body, blood, soul, and divinity. We were encouraged, when we kneel and pray after receiving, to offer to Jesus our most important intentions. I decided to take advantage of this idea and I dedicated the next year to praying for a deeper faith in the Eucharist every time I received Communion.
Go to Adoration.
Spending time before Jesus in Eucharistic form, whether in a tabernacle or exposed in a monstrance, has an impact that is hard to explain. When I first started going, this seemed a foreign and strange spiritual practice, but I was determined to grow in my faith, so I went and just sat there looking at Jesus.
Adoration is not complicated. St. John Vianney described the prayer form like this: “I look at Him and He looks at me.” You can sit in silence, pray a Rosary, or read the Bible or a spiritual book. What is important is just being in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. His presence is powerful, even if we do not feel anything.
Go to an extra Mass during the week.
I was never a daily Mass person, but then the opportunity arose for me to attend at least one more a week, and I did it. After a year or so of doing this, my experience of Mass changed. I began to see not a collection of parts to move through, but one complete moment of prayer. My participation moved from waiting for the parts “I liked most” and “what did I get out of it” to meeting Jesus in Word and Sacrament.
These simple changes to the practice of my faith have increased my faith in the Eucharist. I have even had one experience of being moved to tears during Adoration, though I have yet to “feel Jesus cleansing me of my sins.” Ultimately the goal is not a specific experience, but a deeper one. Jesus waits for us in the Eucharist. Let’s meet Him there.