At their fall meeting, the U.S. bishops will have a chance to review, amend and vote on a draft statement titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.”
Much of the media coverage this year has focused on whether it will call out Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. According to the draft sent to the bishops in September and subsequently leaked to The Pillar, it does not.
While this headline-grabbing, click-baiting controversy will again attract press coverage in November, it would be a shame if Catholics miss the real content of the document, a reflection on the church’s teachings on the Eucharist over the centuries.
It contains many moving quotes and passages that all of us could benefit from contemplating every time we go to Mass. Here’s a sampling:
Dorothy Day, while known best as a peace activist, had a profound devotion to the Eucharist. Her reflection is timely, as many Catholics may be slow to return to Mass after the pandemic closures.
“Once, when told by someone she no longer saw the point of going to daily Mass, the servant of God Dorothy Day reflected: ‘We go eat of this fruit of the tree of life because Jesus told us to. … He took upon himself our humanity that we might share in his divinity. We are nourished by his flesh that we may grow to be other Christs. I believe this literally, just as I believe the child is nourished by the milk from his mother’s breast.'”
Dorothy Day was a 20th-century Catholic. St. John Chrysostom was born only 300 years after Christ, yet he shared Day’s sense of the Eucharist as life giving:
When you see the body of Christ, he preached, “set before you (on the altar), say to yourself: Because of this body I am no longer earth and ashes, no longer a prisoner, but free: because of this I hope for heaven, and to receive the good things therein, immortal life, the portion of angels, (and closeness) with Christ.”
The document quotes St. Teresa of Kolkata: “When you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the sacred host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now.”
The draft document notes that “the word ‘Eucharist’ literally means ‘thanksgiving.’ Even our manner of giving thanks comes from God, for we do so by following the command of the Lord: Do this in memory of me.”
It also says that it “is called Holy Communion precisely because, by placing us in intimate communion with the sacrifice of Christ, we are placed in intimate communion with him and through him, with each other.”
St. Justin Martyr was born around the year 100, just a few decades after Christ walked the earth. Yet he was a witness to the early eucharistic faith of the church: “It is not ‘ordinary bread and ordinary drink’ that we receive in the Eucharist, but the flesh and blood of Christ, who came to nourish and transform us, to restore our relationship to God and to one another.”
This communion turns us outward, recognizing our neighbor in the poor and the vulnerable. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “to receive in truth the body and blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren.”
The last word goes to Pope Benedict XVI: The “love that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature, it demands to be shared by all.”
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Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.