The Eucharist: From Corinth to Liege

The Last Supper, by Benjamin West (1786).

Many converts to the Catholic faith are surprised by the lack of devotion to the Eucharist evident among those attending Mass—their poor unconvincing responses to the liturgy, their matter of fact attitude at Holy Communion. As one such convert recently wrote me, “Sadly, so many cradle Catholics are unaware of the glorious gift they have by birthright. For us Protestant converts, the blessing of receiving Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity, for the first time, is a most marvelous and dear experience.”

What is the cause of this Eucharistic indifference? One reason is a seriously defective theology, which, in turn, affected catechetics. The Dominican scholar Fr. Gabriel O’Donnell, OP, stated: “The notion of the sacrificial character of the Mass has been muted in ordinary Catholic teaching in the past few decades. Without clarity on this point, there is no true theology of the Eucharist” (Born of the Eucharist, p. 137).

The results of this deficient preparation is evident in 1 Corinthians 11, where St. Paul laments their poor appreciation of the Eucharist to the point that many were “ill, infirm, and dying.” He is not discussing physical symptoms, but spiritual ones. Weak faith in the Eucharist keeps them from being properly nourished and nurtured by the Bread of Life. This is the same reason why so many today do not attend Mass or have left the Church for other faiths.

When instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper, Jesus clearly indicated what the proper disposition should be for a beneficial participation in the Eucharist: “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). These words are included in the formula of the Consecration. The priest does not say “Do this in memory of Jesus,” but “of me.” He is speaking in the place of Jesus. How many attend Mass for that purpose? How do they keep memory of him alive and fresh in this hectic, noisy world?

That would require prayer. Prayer is the technical term for communication with God. What is the intensity of their prayer life? Are they just acquainted with Jesus, praying occasionally, only when necessary; have they progressed to friendship with Jesus, where they pray to him frequently because they know him better? How many have developed an intimacy with him, praying to him constantly because they love him to that degree? This recalls Jesus’ parable of the grain falling on good soil (Mk 4:8); some produce 30 fold, others 60 fold, while others 100 fold—the same results at Mass—depending on the capacity of the heart.

Masters in spiritual life compared spiritual development to human growth—from infancy, through adolescence to maturity. And so it is with our relationship with our Lord. He himself used a plant’s growth to illustrate progression in the life of faith: first comes the shoot, then the ear, and finally the full grain in the ear (Mk 4:26). At first the eyes of our hearts are opened, then gradually our hearts are enlarged, and finally the eyes of our hearts are fixed on Jesus, especially in his Eucharistic Presence (Eph 1:18; 2 Cor 6:11; Heb 12:2). Therefore, our Eucharistic faith, nurtured by prayer, is not static nor inert, but constantly alive, developing, and producing.

As recorded in the messages of God the Father to Mother Eugenia, approved by the bishop of Grenoble in 1945, people are familiar with the facts of the Gospel. But they are not conscious of the fact that love motivated all of them. These facts are in the head but have not taken root in the heart. Since the Eucharist is the sacrament of Christ’s intense love demonstrated in his Paschal Mystery—his Passion, Death, and Resurrection—that should be firmly implanted in our minds and hearts in order for us to participate effectively in the Mass.

Some do not feel any connection with the saving events of Christ’s life. These might seem distant time-wise. The following account could bridge the time span and help make those ancient Jerusalem events more relevant.

There was a family in my Connecticut parish with whom I was well acquainted. The mother was employed by the parish and frequently invited the pastor and me to dinner at their home. Her children and grandchildren attended the parish school. Eventually I lost contact with the children when a new ministry took me out of state.

Recently the woman told me what happened to her grandson, C.J. He was in a medical unit in Afghanistan. A particularly dangerous mission was scheduled, but C.J. was not assigned to it. But his best friend was. C.J. then volunteered to take that friend’s place because he was married and had a family, while C.J. was not. The convoy was attacked, and C.J.’s vehicle was hit severely, killing him.

I put myself in the shoes of his buddy at the moment he got the news about C.J. That should have been he! His buddy suddenly realized that he had a future, while C.J. did not; that his wife and children would have a future with him included, while C.J. would never be a husband or father. All C.J. got from this was a grave.

How does a person reciprocate such love? That man’s obligation to C.J. is very apparent. Justice demanded that he not be forgotten, but kept in memory. The man would have to tell his family and children that he was with them due to the extraordinary friendship of C.J. Wouldn’t it be appropriate to have a photo of C.J., probably the two of them together, placed in a prominent place in their home to recall that each day they had together was due to this memorable, benevolent relationship? What about the anniversary of that event? How could it be lived as an ordinary day? That day was like a new “birthday” coming to a life that ordinarily should not have been.

I try to imagine C.J. meeting our Lord at the time of judgment. What immediately comes to mind is “No greater love does a man have than to give his life for his friend” (Jn 15:13)—but more forcefully “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me” (Mt 25:40). St. Paul points out how difficult it is to find someone willing to sacrifice his life for another person (Rom 5:7). In many ways, C.J. was very Christ-like in his sacrifice—in a certain way, an icon of life and love. Jesus took upon himself the assignment of the Lamb of God—meant to liberate each person from the consequences of sin, a liberation not merely for a natural life on earth, but the beatific life with God.

Do we not have the same obligation to Jesus for the gift of our eternal future, as that friend has towards C.J.? As that dangerous mission revealed the strength of friendship between those two men, so, too, does Calvary enlighten us about the depth of Christ’s love for each of us. As Pope Benedict elucidated it in Spe Salvi §3, Jesus knows us, loves us, wants us, and awaits us—especially in his personal presence in the Eucharist.

Our Lord left us a sacramental celebration of his total self-sacrifice in the Eucharist. St. Paul makes that very personal: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). That “for me” is renewed in each Mass. We should be conscious of that fact at each Consecration of the Eucharist.

Should that not enkindle great “amazement and gratitude” when participating in the Mass, as St. John Paul II expressed in Ecclesia de Eucharistia? Would not the epidemic affecting those “ill, infirm, and dying” from Eucharistic famine quickly subside and bring them ever closer to the fullness of life promised by Christ?

Let us also recall that the last book of the Bible, Revelation, opens with the castigation of seven Churches (dioceses) for their lack of fervor, admonishing them to return to their original devotion or be “vomited” out of the Lord’s mouth (Rv 3:16). The lack of priestly vocations could be indicative of a similar condition in our times. Empty pews are due to empty hearts, consequences of disinterest.

In his general audience conference on November 17, 2010, the then Pope Benedict XVI described a diocese noted for its Eucharistic focus. Liege was gifted with eminent theologians, exemplary priests, and groups devoted to Eucharistic worship and charity. The Holy Father described that Belgian diocese in the 13th century as a veritable “Eucharistic Upper Room.” The pope presented Liege as a model Eucharistic diocese for our times—possible only when the same type of leadership is available: enlightened and ardent Eucharistic evangelizers.

The Feast of Corpus Christi originated there through our Lord’s communication with St. Juliana of Liege. Pope Urban IV, a former archdeacon of Liege, made it a universal feast on the occasion of the Eucharistic miracle of Orvieto-Bolsena.

Corpus Christi, the feast of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, was instituted at the request of Christ to emphasize the importance of doing this “in memory of me.” C.J.’s friend would certainly be cold-hearted if he did not keep the memory of the gift of life and love which he received from his true friend—a sacrifice he had to admit was truly “for me.” How much more are we obliged in justice to keep a fervent and constant memory of our Savior in this Eucharistic Sacrament of Love, becoming true worshipers and witnesses as God the Father desires and deserves (Jn 4:23), fruitful branches on the Eucharistic Vine (Jn 15).

In 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon which fueled the Great Awakening in Puritan New England. St. John Paul II desired a similar response from Ecclesia de Eucharistia. The main responsibility for this is with the clergy. Canon 387 insists that bishops see to it that the people know and live the Paschal Mystery. St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI taught that the Paschal Mystery is “expressed” and “concentrated” in the Eucharist. Therefore, the Church is to know and live the Eucharist, an important point in Sacramentum Caritatis. Vatican II asked the priests to so live the Paschal Mystery (the Eucharist) themselves so as to lead their flock to do the same (Optatam Totius §8).
With such a “Eucharistic springtime in every parish,” as Pope Benedict expressed in his conference on Leige, many parishes and dioceses in our time would progress from the condition of Corinth, with its Eucharistically “sick, infirm, and dying” to that of Liege, a veritable “Eucharistic Upper Room.” Should not this be the focus of the New Evangelization?

During the Last Supper, Jesus expressed how ardently he looked forward to instituting the Eucharist, the New Covenant in his blood (Lk 22:15,20). Should not we have similar joy at each of our Masses? As St. John Paul II expressed it: “This amazement should always fill the Church assembled for the celebration of the Eucharist” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia §5). That all depends on our individual responses to the Real Presence of Calvary celebrated in each holy Mass. Our Lord told a privileged soul, “Extraordinary love of the Eucharist should be ordinary.”

May Mary, Woman of the Eucharist (Ecclesia de Eucharistia) and Star of the New Evangelization (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), guide us to the Eucharist (St. John Paul II), the source and summit of our Christian life (Catechism of the Catholic Church)!

Fr. Stanley Smolenski, SPMA About Fr. Stanley Smolenski, SPMA

A priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford, in the service of the Diocese of Charleston, for Eucharistic Evangelization, Fr. Stanley Smolenski, SPMA, is a Baptistine Canonical Hermit, and diocesan director of the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina, Our Lady and Mother of Joyful Hope.


  1. Thank you, Fr. Smolenski, for this article. Devotion to the Blessed Eucharist is so very important to the spiritual life of a Catholic Christian. When my family and I visited the Shrine that you direct, you introduced yourself as Fr. Stan – so I will continue, with respect, with that more personal address:

    Fr. Stan, this call for heightened and deepened devotion to the Eucharist stirs in me, I confess, great emotion. Yes, such devotion ought to be! You write, “The main responsibility for this is with the clergy. Canon 387 insists that bishops see to it that the people know and live the Paschal Mystery.” There, I believe, is the point upon which your call hinges. Every study of Catholic attitudes and beliefs that I see, presents the same tragic condition: many, many of the people neither know nor live the Pascal Mystery. Secular and temporal attitudes threaten to overwhelm spiritual and eternal ones today, invading and seizing territory in the minds and hearts of unformed, uncatechized, non-discipled Catholics in this land.

    Knowing and living – knowledge and devotion – mind and heart – yes the full person, intellect and will, is called into Christ! The making of a disciple of Jesus Christ requires the full authentic formation of the whole person, and regardless of canonical insistence, such formation is not happening. If a sincere attempt is being made to make disciples, to truly form faithful Catholics throughout the parishes of some diocese, I have not seen it and I would be deeply grateful to hear of it – to learn such happy news. Every diocese ought to be characterized by such zeal, such attentiveness to the mission of, the reason for, the Church!

    I join you in your prayer: May Mary, Woman of the Eucharist and Star of the New Evangelization, guide us to the Eucharist, the source and summit of our Christian life!

  2. Dear Fr. Smolenski, thank you for this article, reminding us of the precious gift of the Blessed Sacrament. “Humanae vitae” brought me to look at the Catholic Church 42 years ago. The Eucharist confirmed in me the longing to be accepted as one of her members. As a Protestant, I knew nothing of the wonder of His Flesh and Blood on my hand and tongue. Perhaps people do not speak of their love for Jesus in the Eucharist because it is so intimate a love, so close to our hearts.


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