“Woman of the Eucharist”

Our Lady and the Mass

Our Lady of Knock

During his visit to Ireland in August 2018, the Holy Father visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland. The apparition at the origin of this place of pilgrimage speaks of Mary as “Woman of the Eucharist.”

On that rainy evening on the August 21, 1879, a bright heavenly vision appeared outside the gable end of the parish church in the small isolated village of Knock, County Mayo, in the west of Ireland. The Mother of God appeared, flanked by St. Joseph her spouse, and St. John the Evangelist, who was wearing a mitre and holding a book open in his hands. Near them was an altar on which stood the Lamb of God, with a cross at the back of the lamb.

“Around the lamb,” recounts Patrick Hill, one of the witnesses, “I saw angels hovering during the whole time, for the space of one hour and a half or longer.”1 Our Lady did not speak at all during the apparition. As the same witness relates: “I distinctly beheld the Blessed Virgin Mary, life size, standing about two feet or so above the ground, clothed in white robes which were fastened at the neck. Her hands were raised to the height of the shoulders, as if in prayer, with the palms facing each other.”2

This silent apparition is extremely eloquent. It is an icon of the Church: the Eucharistic Body, the Lamb on the altar, is at the centre of the Mystical Body, God’s holy People. The heavenly Church — Our Lady, Saints Joseph and John and the angels — are joined with the pilgrim Church, the group of local parishioners of Knock, in silent adoration of the Saviour of the world in the mystery of his sacrifice.

This beautiful catechesis is profoundly Eucharistic. The Liturgy of the Word (St. John with the book open in his hand) and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (the Lamb on the altar of sacrifice) together form one single event. The angels, saints and the local people — the entire Communion of Saints — are gathered around the altar of sacrifice. Mary’s silent prayer is a model of Eucharistic adoration. The mystery of the Church and the mystery of the Eucharist come together in the person, vocation and mission of Mary.

As Benedict XVI taught: “The Church sees in Mary, ‘Woman of the Eucharist’ . . . her finest icon, and she contemplates Mary as a singular model of the Eucharistic life”. 3

Active Participation with Mary

A human being can do many important things in the course of a lifetime, achieving ambitious goals and making a lasting impact, and sometimes even taking part in great historical events. Nothing however can remotely compare with the value and reach of a single Mass “in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.”4

As Pope Francis taught during his recent catechesis on the Eucharistic celebration: “This is the Mass: to enter this passion, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus; when we go to Mass it is as if we were going to Calvary itself. . . The Mass is experiencing Calvary.”5 Given this reality, in our weekly and daily routine there is nothing more valuable, effective, significant, or meaningful than to take part in the holy Mass. “Here is the Church’s treasure, the heart of the world, the pledge of the fulfilment for which each man and woman, even unconsciously, yearns,”6 as St. John Paul II proclaimed.

To take part in the Mass with a good disposition is to come to experience at the deepest level of our being, independently of our emotional state at the time, “the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge” (Eph 3:18).

We can never deepen our understanding and love for the Mass enough because God’s love poured out in the sacrifice of Jesus, made present on the altar, is inexhaustible. There are nonetheless many ways to increase our knowledge and love for the greatest of all the sacraments. Among the most powerful ways is to “live” the Lord’s sacrifice in communion of mind, heart, and soul with Mary, the Lord’s Mother, and “Woman of the Eucharist.”7 As St. John Paul II taught: “Mary can guide us towards this most holy sacrament, because she herself has a profound relationship with it.”8

In recent times the Church has repeatedly encouraged all the faithful to take part fully and consciously in the Eucharistic celebration.9 This active participation consists in fully uniting oneself with the self-giving love of Christ who offers himself for the salvation of the world. Such participation, not to be misconstrued as necessarily performing some physical activity during the celebration, is rather a full, active, and conscious partaking in Christ’s oblation insofar as we freely associate ourselves and all that we are and do with the Lord’s offering to the Father in the Holy Spirit for the salvation of the world. As Benedict XVI clarified: “It should be made clear that the word ‘participation’ does not refer to mere external activity during the celebration. In fact, the active participation called for by the Council must be understood in more substantial terms, on the basis of a greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated and its relationship to daily life.”10 Active participation, therefore, is to make our own “the mind” of Christ Jesus who “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). Authentic participation in the liturgy is a positive decision and effort of our intellect and will under God’s grace.

Mary was not merely a witness or onlooker at the foot of the Cross. Indeed, “throughout her life at Christ’s side and not only on Calvary, [she] made her own the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist.”11 Mary is mother of the Victim offered on the Cross and on the altar; she is the mother of the eternal Priest who carries out the sacrifice and she fully associates herself with his offering for the sake of the salvation of all her children and for the entire world. As preeminent member of the Church, Mary also offers the sacrifice of the Mass in union with the whole People of God. As Vatican II teaches: “Suffering with her Son as he died on the Cross, she cooperated in a totally singular way by her obedience, faith, hope, and ardent charity in restoring supernatural life to souls.”12 Mary guides and accompanies us as we unite ourselves deeply with Christ’s love-offering on Calvary and in the Eucharist.

This text is merely an attempt to suggest some aspects of the mystery of the relationship between Our Lady and the Sacrament of Love which is the Eucharist.13 It can be seen that Our Lady relates to the Mystery of the Eucharist in the three dimensions of this Sacrament, of “sacrifice, presence, banquet.”14

Sacrifice-Sacrament

As St. John Paul II pointed out in his first encyclical, the Eucharist is “at one and the same time a Sacrifice-Sacrament, a Communion-Sacrament and a Presence-Sacrament.”15 No one like his Mother can show us how to offer ourselves in union with Jesus, how to receive him with gratitude and joy, and how to adore him with the loving gaze of contemplation.16

Before all else the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Passion of Jesus. While “there is no doubt that the most evident dimension of the Eucharist is that it is a meal . . . yet it must not be forgotten that the Eucharistic meal also has a profoundly and primarily sacrificial meaning.”17Our Lady is personally involved in this oblation since she freely and consciously associates herself with Christ’s offering. Her heart, like that of her Son, is pierced (cf. Lk 2:35 and Jn 19:34).

In the words of Benedict XVI, “Mary, present on Calvary beneath the Cross, is also present with the Church and as Mother of the Church in each one of our Eucharistic celebrations. No one better than she, therefore can teach us to understand and live Holy Mass with faith and love, uniting ourselves with Christ’s redeeming sacrifice.”18

Presence-Sacrament

The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ which become present on the altar under the appearances or “species” of bread and wine, are the Body and Blood the Lord received from Mary his ever-virgin mother. The Blessed Mother “bore in her womb the Word made flesh” and thus “became in a way a ‘tabernacle’ — the first ‘tabernacle’ in history.”19

The prophet Isaiah had foretold that a virgin would “conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel,” which means “God with us” (Is 7:14, Mt 1:23). This same Saviour is the God who is with us, really, truly, and substantially present in the Eucharist.

The Body offered on the altar of the Cross and made present in every Mass is the Body Christ received from his virgin-mother by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35). As Venerable Fulton Sheen has written: “When the Divine Child was conceived, Mary’s humanity gave him hands and feet, eyes and ears, and a body with which to suffer. Just as the petals of a rose after a dew close on the dew as if to absorb its energies, so too, Mary as the Mystical Rose closed upon him whom the Old Testament had described as a dew descending upon the earth.”20

Catholics often appeal to Mary: “Show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb.”21 This prayer can take on a Eucharistic meaning as we ask the one most intimately united to Jesus to help us recognise, love, and adore him in the sacrament of his Real Presence. In fact, true devotion to Our Lady always leads to love for the Eucharist. Time and again the history of the Church has shown that “Mary guides the faithful to the Eucharist.”22

Communion-Sacrament

Mary also teaches us how to receive Christ into our body and soul. At the moment of the Annunciation she welcomed the Saviour into her virginal womb. Our Lady freely accepted her vocation to become the Mother of God, and thus “the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us” (Jn 1:14). She teaches us how to receive the Lord with unconditional love and openness to his will: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). The presence of Christ in the body and soul of Mary increased her holiness. Learning from her, we can seek to welcome all the graces arising from Eucharistic Communion with her divine Son.

St. Josemaría Escrivá (+ 1975), founder of Opus Dei, was a great lover of the Eucharist. As a young boy he was prepared for his first holy Communion by a Piarist priest, Fr Manuel Laborda de la Virgen del Carmen, affectionately known as “Padre Manolé.” To help the young Josemaría prepare to receive our Lord, Padre Manolé taught him this spiritual communion prayer: “I wish Lord to receive you, with the purity, humility and devotion, with which your most holy Mother received you, and with the spirit and fervour of the saints.”23 The prayer is simple and very deep. It expresses the desire to welcome Jesus with the loving dispositions with which his mother Mary embraced him in body and soul. There is no better way to desire to receive Christ.

The relationship between Mary and the Bread of Life is beautifully expressed by St. Peter Chrysologus, the “Doctor of Homilies” (+ c. 450): “Christ himself is the bread who, sown in the Virgin, raised up in the flesh, kneaded in the Passion, baked in the oven of the tomb, reserved in churches, brought to altars, furnishes the faithful each day with food from heaven.”24

The Mass and the Gift of our Mother

There is also a specifically Marian dimension to the Mass. Shortly before he died, the crucified Christ gave Mary his Mother to be the mother also of his followers: “Behold your mother!” (Jn 19:27). It is within the context of his Passion that the Lord gives us his mother to be our mother too.

The Mass is the “memorial” of the Cross. The liturgical action makes present the work of salvation carried out by Jesus in his life, death and resurrection.25 In his encyclical on the Eucharist, St. John Paul II pointed out that “in the ‘memorial’ of Calvary all that Christ accomplished by his passion and death is present. Consequently all that Christ did with regard to his Mother for our sake is also present. To her he gave the beloved disciple and, in him, each of us: ‘Behold, your Son!’ To each of us he also says: ‘Behold your mother!’ (cf. Jn 19:26–27). Experiencing the memorial of Christ’s death in the Eucharist also means continually receiving this gift. It means accepting – like John – the one who is given to us anew as our Mother.”26

To take part in the Mass is to welcome Our Lady once and again as our beloved mother, and devotion to Mary leads us to the Mass. Indeed, “the piety of the Christian people has always very rightly sensed a profound link between devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the worship of the Eucharist.”27 This is borne out by the prominence of the Blessed Eucharist in every Marian shrine. Indeed the Eucharist has been called “the source and crown of all Marian piety and spirituality.”28

A Mystery to Explore

A great deal more could be said regarding the relationship between the Blessed Mother and the Eucharist. It could be a fruitful theme for study and prayer. In any event, reflection on the holy Eucharist from a Marian perspective can only go to show how Christocentric true Marian devotion is, since the person and vocation of Mary are shown to be inseparable from that of the one and only Saviour. In the light of the Eucharist Mary is seen as the New Eve who collaborates in a unique way with the Redemption carried out by the New Adam, Christ Jesus.

  1. Testimony of Patrick Hill, in The Official Testimonies of the Fifteen Witnesses to the Knock Apparition on 21 August 1879, knockshrine.ie/history/witnesses-accounts/.
  2. Patrick Hill, in Official Testimonies.
  3. Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis 22 February 22, 2007, no. 96.
  4. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1323, quoting from the hymn “O Sacrum Convivium,” attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas.
  5. Francis, Audience, 22 November 2017.
  6. St. John Paul II, Encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 17 April 2003, no. 59.
  7. The final chapter of St. John Paul’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 17 April 2003, is entitled: “At the school of Mary, ‘Woman of the Eucharist’.”
  8. St. John Paul II, Encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 17 April 2003, no. 53.
  9. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 4 December 1963, no. 111.
  10. Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, 22 February 2007, no. 52.
  11. St. John Paul II, Encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 17 April 2003, no. 56.
  12. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen Gentium, 21 November 1964, no. 61.
  13. Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Love) is the title Benedict XVI gave the apostolic exhortation which he wrote after the Synod on the Eucharist, and dated 22 February 2007.
  14. St. John Paul II, Encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 17 April 2003, no. 61.
  15. St. John Paul II, Encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, 4 March 1979, no. 20.
  16. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2715.
  17. St. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Mane Nobiscum Domine, 7 October 2004, no. 15.
  18. Benedict XVI, Angelus, 11 September 2005.
  19. St. John Paul II, Encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 17 April 2003, no. 55.
  20. Ven. Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ (New York: McGraw-Hill 1958), 18.
  21. From the “Hail Holy Queen.”
  22. St. John Paul II, Encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, 25 March 1987, no. 44.
  23. A. Vázquez de Prada, The Founder of Opus Dei. The Life of Josemaría Escrivá, vol. 1 (Princeton, NJ: Scepter Publishers, 2001), 33.
  24. St. Peter Chrysologus, Homily, 67.
  25. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church nos. 1356-57, 1409.
  26. St. John Paul II, Encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 17 April 2003, no. 57.
  27. St. John Paul II, Encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, 25 March 1987, no. 44.
  28. Theological-Historical Commission for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, The Eucharist, Gift of Divine Life, Official Catechetical text in Preparation for the Holy Year 2000 (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999), 126.
Fr. Donncha O hAodha About Fr. Donncha O hAodha

Fr. Donncha O hAodha is a native of County Galway in Ireland. After studying liberal arts at the National University of Ireland in Galway and Dublin, he worked as a secondary school teacher for a few years, before obtaining a doctorate in theology at Santa Croce University in Rome and being ordained for the Opus Dei Prelature in 2001. He lives and works in Dublin, Ireland.

Comments

  1. Avatar Bernadette. Fakoory says:

    When I read written work such as “ woman of the Eucharist” I get a glimpse of the the light ,beauty and glory of God being revealed in each soul who truly attends the Eucharist in the posture and stance taken by Our Lady at the foot of the Cross.

    I believe Is building something new. It is not necessarily a new Church building but He is making the committed members of His Church to become a Holy living temple where the Holy Spirit overshadows us to make the Word of God alive in each of us. God is making each of us Christ conscious. Amazing stuff.

    Written work such as this should be made available through the whole universal Church.

    Thank you.

    • Avatar Mrs. Laci Meszaros says:

      Christus Vere Resurrexit! Alleluia! Alleluia!
      God Bless You All!
      Bernadette! I agree with Your insight, and the coming “2nd Pentecost” will “recreate” us, as Our Lord and Our Lady have said in the approved Messages of the Flame of Love in Hungary. Then we can say with St. Paul, “I live now no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”

All comments posted at Homiletic and Pastoral Review are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative and inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.

Speak Your Mind

*