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Faith Alive

Catholic News Service


  • Image Credit: CNS photo/Simone Orendain


    IN A NUTSHELL

    Any discussion of the Eucharist as a sacrament has to address more than the reception of the Lord in Communion. It begins with understanding the Mass itself.

    Eucharistic adoration has been a Catholic worship practice for nearly 1,000 years.

    Church teaching on the sacrament of the Eucharist is anchored in Scripture.

    END

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    MIDST

    The body of Christ

    By Father Herb Weber

    Catholic News Service

    It was Sunday morning in the village of Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, and I was concelebrating Mass with the pastor.

    Almost all those at the Mass were Tz'utujil Mayans, sharply dressed in their Tz'utujil traditional clothing, women in bright colored woven skirts and embroidered blouses, and the men in their vertical-lined white "pantalones," often embroidered as well. The men also sported great bright colored sashes around their waists and wore big cowboy-style hats to and from church.

    Right after Communion, several men came up to the altar. Each received a pyx with a Communion host to take to the sick. They then walked out of the church and into local neighborhoods, each accompanied by another person with a votive candle, heading for some homebound individuals. The Mass had ended, but the celebration of Communion continued.

    Of course, we don't have to go to Guatemala to see extraordinary ministers of holy Communion take the Eucharist to the sick. But seeing these men walk the distance and carry the hosts throughout the streets was especially inspiring.

    Any discussion of the Eucharist as a sacrament has to address more than the reception of the Lord in Communion. Like the ministers whose ministry flowed from the Sunday Mass, understanding this sacrament begins with understanding the Mass itself.

    Every year I take the time to interview every first Communion recipient in the parish during the weeks ahead of their big day. This is not meant as a test but an opportunity to discuss the sacrament with their parents present.

    The children are often primed by their parents to say that the bread becomes the body of Jesus and the wine the blood of the Lord. But I also address the Mass itself, talking about the Liturgy of the Word as well as the eucharistic prayer.

    We talk about songs at Mass and even the artwork and visuals that present themselves to the kids in church. In doing so I am reminding the children and their parents that knowing and participating in the Mass is necessary for appreciation of Communion. Understanding the Eucharist as Mass is necessary to understand the Eucharist as sacrament.

    With adult groups like the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, I also address the full power of the words of consecration. What the priest speaks are not static words but involve the redemptive action of Jesus. He says, "For this is my body, which will be given up for you" and "for this is the chalice of my blood ... which will be poured out for you and for many."

    Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine become the true body and blood of Jesus, which are also the same body and blood given up and poured out on the cross. Participation in the Eucharist is participation in Jesus' redemptive self-giving at Calvary.

    Reception of the Eucharist, then, is participation in both the Last Supper and the sacrifice on the cross, both Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

    As the Mayan men in Santiago Atitlan made so clear, the Eucharist that they carried to the sick was an extension of the Mass that had just been celebrated. They gave testimony to the reality that Christ is active on earth through their desire to share Christ's sacramental presence with those who could not come.

    As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, in the Eucharist we become what we consume. Those men who had received and accepted Jesus in the Eucharist, along with the rest of the faith community they represented, were actual extensions of the body of Christ. They didn't simply carry the body or even share the body; they became the body.

    The Eucharist unites and calls for ways to reach out to others. It can't be simply about someone "getting" Communion; it is being in communion with the Lord and with others who are also with the Lord.

    I especially felt that unity during the five years I ministered to Catholics on death row in the state of Ohio. That was evidenced by inmate Glenn, had just been baptized by my predecessor when I first met him. He had grown up with no faith or religious practice. For him baptism was truly the beginning of a new life.

    Each week I would talk with Glenn and share the Eucharist. Since I had five different sections to visit, I would rotate Mass and then take the Eucharist to those in the other sections. Glenn impressed me with his deep love for the Lord in this sacrament.

    As Glenn's execution approached, he asked me to accompany him to his death. The night before he was to die, I had some personal time with Glenn. After a final celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation, he and I and another friend celebrated Mass as the guards looked on. It would be his last meal. It was also one of the Masses I recall best. He received the redeemer Lord with a smile and complete trust in a God of mercy.

    Somehow that Mass and that final Communion highlighted that through this sacrament we are all made one in Christ, who gave up his body and whose blood was poured out for us.

    (Father Weber is the founding pastor of St. John XXIII Parish in Perrysburg, Ohio.)

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    STORIES

    Eucharistic adoration experiences a gradual comeback

    By Kurt Jensen

    Catholic News Service

    Eucharistic adoration has been a Catholic worship practice for nearly 1,000 years. Perpetual adoration, where the Eucharist is exposed 24 hours a day, is not usually done in individual parishes, but rather practiced by religious communities "and other pious associations," according to "Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass," No. 90.

    St. John Paul II hoped for perpetual adoration chapels in parishes throughout the world, and in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI instituted five places for perpetual adoration for the laity in the five sectors of the Diocese of Rome.

    There is a website that directs the faithful to perpetual adoration chapels across the United States: http://www.therealpresence.org/states/perp.htm.

    The practice of eucharistic adoration has been making a gradual comeback since nearly disappearing after the Second Vatican Council, says Sister Joan Ridley, superior of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration monastery in Clyde, Missouri, and author of the book "In the Presence: The Spirituality of Eucharistic Adoration."

    "My religious congregation began in America in 1874, from Switzerland. Our foundress, Mother Mary Anselma Felber, found that in America, nuns and monks were asked to teach and run orphanages for immigrant populations. While doing that, she believed that the people of America most needed prayer, specifically eucharistic prayer and adoration.

    "As soon as feasible, the pioneer sisters began perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, exposed on the altar."

    Vatican II emphasized active participation in the sacraments. Following the council, "eucharistic adoration seemed to disappear from the church's life," she observes. "My religious order stopped perpetual adoration and began to also focus on adoration of Christ in the persons around us, as St. Benedict set forth in his fifth-century Rule."

    The practice gained popularity in the 1980s among religious and the lay faithful.

    "Sometimes certain days of the week, sometimes perpetual," she reports. "My monastery in Tucson, Arizona, has had the Blessed Sacrament exposed most daytime hours of most days, with the laity joining the sisters for periods of adoration."

    Why the comeback? "People hunger for quiet and solitary times of eucharistic prayer, in addition to the celebration, which is a verbal and communal expression of worship."

    The Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Cleveland, Ohio, teach for their apostolate. But Sister Jeanette Marie Estrada observes, "It is an education that finds its source in the eucharistic presence of Jesus. We want our pupils to be enamored of Jesus in the Eucharist, to the point that every science, every event be seen through this lens."

    The Mercedarian Sisters were founded in Mexico City in 1910 by Maria del Refugio Aguilar, whom Pope Francis declared "venerable" in 2015, advancing the cause for her sainthood. In the organization's constitution, "she tells us that we are to attain perfection 'loving, in the most intense way, our sweet Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.'"

    Sister Jeanette agrees with the power of quiet prayer and solitude, comparing visiting Jesus in the Eucharist to "going to the beach and getting tanned. When you are at the beach enjoying playing in the water, you do not feel that you are tanning, but what about the next day? You not only look darker, if you were not cautious, you even feel it.

    "Well, Jesus is our sun. When you are spending time with him, you do not have any idea of the beautiful work of art that Jesus is performing in your soul, the embellishment that your whole person is getting; but it is happening."

    Quoting Luke 12:14, a favorite passage of her mother foundress in which Jesus says, "I have come to set the world on fire," Sister Jeanette advises, "Go tan your soul under the divine sun. Do not be afraid to get burned, do not be afraid to become a ball of fire of love."

    (Jensen is a freelance writer.)

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    BIBLE

    The sacrament of the Eucharist: Church teaching and Scripture

    By Barbara Hosbach

    Catholic News Service

    "He said to them, 'I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it (again) until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.' ...

    "Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.' And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you'" (Lk 22:15-16, 19-20).

    Church teaching on the sacrament of the Eucharist is anchored in Scripture. Gospel accounts of the Last Supper are central to the church's understanding of this sacrament. Other references from both the Old and New Testaments deepen that understanding.

    Instituted at a Passover meal on the eve of Jesus' passion, the Eucharist connects the sacrifice of his body and blood "for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28) with God's deliverance of the Israelite slaves from death through the sign of the blood of sacrificial lambs (Ex 12:3-13).

    Jesus, "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29), established the New Covenant at that first Eucharist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms that the sacrament "completes and surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant" (Heb 9:11-15; No. 1330).

    As God provided manna, bread from heaven, for the Israelites in the desert (Ex 16:4-5, 13-15), so Jesus revealed himself as the true, life-giving bread from heaven that promises eternal life (Jn 6:35, 51). "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (Jn 6:54-56).

    Understanding that Jesus' words were no mere metaphor, many abandoned him, scandalized by the idea of eating flesh or drinking blood. His disciples remained faithful, however, while taking Jesus at his word -- as does the church today.

    The catechism states: "In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist 'the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained'" (No. 1374).

    And the church teaches that "by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of" both the bread and the wine into the substance of the body and the blood of Christ (No. 1376). This change is called transubstantiation.

    Also known as holy Communion, the Eucharist unites those who receive it with Christ himself -- and with all those who share "one body and one Spirit ... one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph 4:4-5).

    Scripture-based church teaching affirms that the sacrament of the Eucharist is an opportunity for the faithful to be nourished by and united to the body of Christ.

    (Hosbach is a freelance writer and author of "'Your Faith Has Made You Well': Jesus Heals in the New Testament.")

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    FOOD FOR THOUGHT

    The "Anima Christi" ("Soul of Christ") prayer is often recited by individuals after receiving Communion. The prayer appears in the opening words of St. Ignatius of Loyola's "Spiritual Exercises" and is often attributed to St. Ignatius, but the prayer was widely known in the 15th century, and several 14th-century manuscripts contain the prayer. The author of the prayer is unknown.

    Franciscan Father Jack Wintz writes that "this sacred prayer is sublime and seems to transcend all time, all centuries."

    "With the Spirit's help," the words of the prayer can lead us into union with Christ, he says.

    Try reciting the prayer the next time you receive Communion.

    Anima Christi

    Soul of Christ, sanctify me.

    Body of Christ, save me.

    Blood of Christ, inebriate me.

    Water from the side of Christ, wash me.

    Passion of Christ, strengthen me.

    O good Jesus, hear me.

    Within your wounds, hide me.

    Let me never be separated from you.

    From the malignant enemy, defend me.

    In the hour of my death, call me.

    And bid me come to you,

    That with your saints I may praise you

    Forever and ever.

    Amen.

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About Faith Alive
Faith Alive is a service from Catholic News Service (CNS). CNS, the oldest and largest religious news service in the world, is a leading source of news for Catholic print and electronic media across the globe. With bureaus in Washington and Rome, as well as a global correspondent network, CNS since 1920 has set the standard in Catholic journalism.

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