If someone were to ask me what I think is the biggest single problem facing the Catholic Church today, I would answer that it is the widespread loss of faith in Our Lord’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
When you receive Holy Communion, the priest presents the sacred Host and says, “The Body of Christ,” and you say, “Amen.” That word “amen” is not just a ritualistic response but an affirmation of the truth of the priest’s declaration. When you say “amen,” you are acknowledging before God that you believe that what you are receiving is, in fact, of the Body and Blood of Christ hidden under the appearances of bread and wine. You are affirming that in the Holy Eucharist you receive Jesus Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
The Holy Eucharist is the greatest of the seven sacraments because in it we are receiving not just the grace of Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ Himself. The Eucharist is “the source and summit of Christian life.” As Archbishop Sheen was fond of saying, without Christ’s Eucharistic Presence, the Catholic Church is just another Christian denomination among thousands.
We must make an extremely important theological distinction in regard to the ways in which God is present. Obviously, God is present everywhere; He is omnipresent. There is no place in the heavens or on the earth where God is not.
But, in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word made flesh, true God and true man, is uniquely present. He is not only spiritually present: He is also substantially present and bodily present. In the Most Blessed Sacrament, He is present in His divinity and His humanity! By the Will of God the Father, the sacred humanity of Christ is the greatest source of graces, blessings, strength, divine assistance, and consolation given for our lives — for those who believe!
The Power of the Mass
“This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
When Our Lord said those words, He instituted the priesthood of the New and Everlasting Covenant. By the sheer power of His word, Jesus Christ changed bread and wine into His Body and Blood and commanded the Apostles to do the same thing — the only thing He would ever command them to do in memory of Him. And down through the centuries God continues to command His faithful people — His New Covenant People — to eat the Flesh of the Lamb.
Christ’s Eucharistic Body and Blood are the sacrificial meal by which God frees His new chosen people from a far more insidious form of slavery than even that imposed by the Egyptians — slavery to sin. The Old Testament Passover became the New Testament Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. The Mass, therefore, is the sacrifice of the New and Everlasting Covenant. That is why the Mass is the greatest act of worship the world has ever known or ever will know.
The Mass is the one, supreme, eternal act of worship of the Son of God. The Mass is the mystical renewal and re-presentation of Our Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary. It is Calvary made present again, where the merits of His Passion and death are applied to our lives. This means that all the graces and all the blessings and all the power that flow from His Sacrifice — His perfect obedience to the Father’s Will, the shedding of His Precious Blood, His atrocious agony at Calvary — are all applied to our lives and for our needs, the needs of the entire Church, and the needs of the whole world.
That is the power of the Mass. The Mass is the miracle in which Jesus calls Christians of every age and every time and every nation to be present at the Last Supper and, in a mystical way, to come to Calvary to stand at the foot of the cross, to relive the hour of His Passion, and to be fed with the Bread from Heaven that becomes His Sacred Body by the power of God’s Word — the same Divine Word that brought this world into creation out of nothing. We’re saved by the Blood of the Lamb and nourished by eating the Flesh of the Lamb as we continue on our spiritual journey to the True Promised Land, which is God’s Heavenly Kingdom. This is the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist, the center and the source of true Christian worship for all time.
Spirit and Life
The Mass is Spirit and Life. If we claim that we don’t get anything out of it, it can only be because we don’t put anything into it. I always pray that God would give every Christian the grace to be able to see the Mass for what He intended it to be — a personal encounter with the Living Jesus Christ. One of the great tragedies of our time is that, in so many of our churches and even seminaries, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is surrounded by so much indifferent and ingratitude and even neglect. It is devastating to think of all the graces that are lost due to this nonchalance about Christ’s Eucharistic Presence, and how so many souls are suffering because so many Catholics ignore His Real Presence every day of their lives.
I can’t tell you how disappointing it is to see that, in so many of our churches, the faithful don’t bother to genuflect or to make any gesture of reverence toward Our Lord in the tabernacle. It’s as if they don’t have any idea Who is present in the tabernacle, as if they have no idea about the truth of the Real Presence. When I see all the chitchat and laughing and carrying on before Mass — it’s as if Our Lord were not even there.
When I see all this irreverence, I can’t help but think: Is it any wonder we have a vocations crisis? Is it any wonder that so many of our seminaries are empty or shut down? Do we honestly believe that God is going to reward us by sending good and holy vocations to the priesthood and religious life when His Son is surrounded every day by sacrilegious disrespect in His own House? It’s not going to happen unless we change, unless we restore reverence in our churches and to the worship of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11).
As Catholic men and women, we are supposed to be filled with the love of Christ, and what could be more natural than to want to be with the one you love? If you really love someone, you always want to be present to that person; when a man and a woman are truly in love with each other, they always want to be together. And here’s the beautiful thing: Jesus is always present to us in the Blessed Sacrament. He is here, an extension of His glorified life in Heaven.
We have the Living Risen Lord Jesus Christ truly and substantially present. In His glorified state He is not subject to the limitations of space and time, so He can be and is present in all the tabernacles of the world.
Seven centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaiah foretold His coming: “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (Isa. 7:14, Douay-Rheims). “Emmanuel” means “God with us.” The Holy Eucharist is God with us and among us; He is the Source of all graces. The Eucharist is Jesus Christ waiting for us to come to Him day and night, waiting to share the treasures of His grace with us and with the people we love.
A Personal Relationship
When we come before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and trust in the power of prayer, we draw strength from His inexhaustible strength. We draw power from His inexhaustible power. We draw peace from His inexhaustible peace. He is the one who makes all our prayers and all our efforts bear fruit. Many times throughout his pontificate, Pope St. John Paul II directed the faithful to make the Eucharist the source of our strength. And St. Maximillian Kolbe is said to have remarked that “if Angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.”
At the Last Supper, when Our Lord gave us the Holy Eucharist, He said to the Apostles, “Apart from me you can do nothing. . . . If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:5, 7). Without Him, we can do nothing. Without Him, we are nothing. But thanks be to God, He is the one who makes something out of nothing.
It has always been true to say that every one of us needs to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s a constant theme in Evangelical Protestantism: the need to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. But whenever I hear that, my response is to thank God that I’m a Catholic, to thank God for the Apostolic Church, and to thank God for the Holy Eucharist because the summit of that personal relationship with Christ is when we are united with Him spiritually and physically in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood — in Holy Communion, where Jesus is present to us in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Remember this, and never forget it: It just can’t get any more personal than that.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Casey’s Making a Holy Lent: 40 Meditations to Prepare You for the Church’s Holiest Season, available from Sophia Institute Press.
image: Eucharistic Shepherd, photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)