Eucharistic Competence

By Fr. Winfried M. Wermter C.O.

Translated from the German by Dr. William R. Gallagher

Introduction

Nowadays people everywhere talk about competence. It is truly important that people be on familiar ground in their area of expertise, being able to do something, having experience. But why is this buzzword also used here, in reflecting upon the mystery of the Eucharist? Because it is intended as a provocation! Numerous people simply want to have a say in certain areas when they have little or no expertise in them. They simply swim along ― usually unconsciously ― with the flow of general catchphrases and popular opinions. This is also frequently the case when the topics concern the family, raising children, or faith.

One example of this, it seems to me, are concepts such as “hospitality” or “compassion.” The terms are not always well applied and people like to use them in the context of celebrating the Eucharist and participating in Communion. Perhaps for a family occasion, people from different confessions (or even religions) are gathered for Mass. Why not then be “hospitable” and invite all the guests to the table of the Lord? One does not, after all, want to exclude anybody! Numerous people wonder about such questions and similar ones. In this context the concept of “hospitality” even seems to forbid setting limits for ourselves and others. Who wants to be so “uncompassionate,” so outmoded, so close-minded?

There are, however, areas in which a person must be “uncompassionate,” because his competence requires it, such as the doctor who disapproves of a diabetic having a piece of a birthday cake. On the surface he seems uncompassionate, but in reality, his prohibition has more compassion than the host foolishly urging him to take a piece after all. Similarly those teachers who already demand a lot from their pupils at the beginning of the school year seem “uncompassionate.” Later the very teachers or trainers who are so unyielding become the most highly esteemed of all. They are even loved.

One can also notice this seeming contradiction in the context of the Eucharistic celebration. The first section of this essay is an attempt to distinguish factual arguments from superficial buzzwords so that celebrating the Eucharist together becomes more genuine and fruitful once again. In pursuing this we will first mention the “mystery of faith,” i.e. the mysterium, or secret, of the Eucharist (I). Then we will investigate how Saint Paul distinguishes between the worthy and unworthy reception of the Eucharist in his First Letter to the Corinthians (II). Finally, we will show how a proper understanding of the Eucharistic celebration can lead to a life shaped by the Eucharist (III).

Mystery of Faith (Mysterium)

1. THE HEART OF THE EUCHARISTIC CELEBRATION

From time immemorial the priest (or deacon) has called out “The mystery of faith!” to the participating believers. This occurs at the climax of the Eucharistic celebration immediately after the words of consecration. It is an unmistakable indicator that the heart of the Eucharistic celebration can only be understood in the light of faith. Whoever has not been led into the mystery of faith remains an onlooker. To be sure, he can find a reference work and look up the significance of, e.g., kneeling in this context, or raising the host, or breaking it, but he cannot really experience and internalize what is meant. He does not become “co-consecrated” like those who have united themselves with the crucified and resurrected Lord through the gift of faith. The answer of the co-celebrating community to the call of the priest is, “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.” In these few words, the response of the faithful summarizes the meaning of the entire Eucharistic celebration. The response can be divided into three parts.

A. First it reminds us of our Lord Jesus Christ’s life-giving death on the cross. The First Letter to the Corinthians says, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again” (1 Cor. 11:26). This death is the turning point in the history of mankind: Fully aware of what he was doing, the Son of God went onto the cross for humankind in order to redeem them, to “ransom” them from enslavement to their sinful guilt: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). “God put him forward as an expiation by his blood . . .” (Rom. 3:25). Jesus died as an expiatory sacrifice, being a substitute for all of us.

B. The essential part of this redemption message is, however, Christ’s resurrection, which, like his death, is called to mind in every Eucharistic celebration: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (I Cor. 15:17). The awareness of Christ’s resurrection belongs to a Christian’s life. We can and should repeatedly participate in it. In this aspect every Holy Mass is also an Easter celebration. “Professing” the resurrection occurs above all in the joy and peace which a genuine Christian radiates ― while for unbelievers this is a mystery.

C. Not only death and resurrection constitute the “Mysterium” of believing Christians. The orientation of one’s entire life to eternity with God is crucial. That is why it continues by saying, “until you come again.” For a Christian death is not the crushing meaninglessness and hopelessness at the end of life. Consciously and even with his head held high the Christian goes toward the gate which takes him into full community with God in eternity. In the Eucharistic celebration he is reminded again and again that life on this earth is merely a prelude, a preparation for his existence in heaven. For this reason he can meet death with an inner freedom.

Whoever has not integrated or only partly integrated these three aspects of Eucharistic celebration into his life ― the death of Christ, his resurrection, a life oriented to eternity ― this person fails to participate fully in the Holy Mass. One such as this certainly receives the Body of Christ, can share in a certain devout atmosphere, or maybe experience an uplifting and calming feeling from good church music or an interesting sermon. Only those who have more or less consciously been led into the full faith with these three aspects at its heart, are able to experience real participation in Holy Mass and receive fully the transforming vigor which emanates from it. When so much criticism from various quarters is brought against the celebration of the Mass, it often reflects one’s going to Mass as one would go to a concert or any other form of communal entertainment.

Consumer behavior suppresses the sacrificial character of the Holy Mass. The correct attitude of the participants would be something like this question: What can I, what should I bring as a “gift,” something I can present to my host, thus adding to the sacrifice of Christ and participating in His work of redemption. It does not even occur to people with a ― mostly unconscious ― consumer mentality that at every Holy Mass they should give something to the host, like at a birthday party, in order to then become a gift themselves in unity with Christ. This passive consumer attitude often makes people so “incompetent” when it concerns the Eucharistic celebration: They do not know for sure what is actually being celebrated and they often lack the ability to share, to give, to be solidly united. What we need for us to become happy, therefore, is to strive for what is pleasing to God, our own personal gift to Him, and to work for the happiness of others.

2. THE NECESSITY OF INITIATION INTO THE MYSTERY OF FAITH

Before a person can meaningfully participate in celebrating the “mystery of faith,” that is, celebrating the Eucharist, he needs some appropriate instruction, even an “initiation.” This is not merely a matter of conveying secret formulas and rituals (arcane discipline). Everyone who is interested in knowing more about it can find extensive explanations in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, a truly “initiated” person is the one who has caught the spark of faith. That is more than the theological coherence of arguments which concern God or religious services or piety. Good theology is also necessary and helpful, but it is not enough. In order to really be initiated into the mysteries of faith, a person also has to experience how his faith helps to form and even change his life. The life of Christ must be appropriated and made our very own. Then prayer will become a living bridge to God. The Word of God determines the life decisions, lifestyle, orientation and behavior of the believer. Whoever merely learned the catechism but has not (yet) experienced the transforming power of faith, is not really initiated and thus is not adequately prepared (“competent”) for fully participating in the sacraments and in the life of the Church.

The decisive talent of the Christian is shown in his dealing with pain, suffering and “the cross.” Jesus Himself says it very clearly, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Only the person who has accepted that, thus the one who really believes, becomes a disciple of Jesus in the real sense. He follows Him and consciously accepts life’s pain, “his cross,” in order to unite it with the cross of Jesus Christ and in this way to make it useful for the work of redemption. Saint Paul even praises the wisdom of the cross which is admittedly offensive to the Jews and folly for the mentality of the Gentiles (cf. 1 Cor. 1–2). This unity with the redeemer, i.e. complete discipleship to Christ is especially signified, deepened and made steadfast by the celebration of the Eucharist, in order to bring forth fruit in one’s practical life.

It is also the most important, yes, the crucial preparation of catechumens for their baptism. To understand baptism fully, an adult should be open to handling his daily crosses in a Christian manner — lovingly and humbly, imitating our Lord’s own Passion. And this is our great dilemma: most Christians were baptized as children (which is totally good in itself!), but then in their time of maturing they learned the truths of the Faith inadequately or not at all. This leads to inadequate understanding and practice of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, because there is a lack of Eucharistic competence. One need not wonder that so many children, even shortly after their First Communion, no longer come to Sunday Mass! Perhaps they learned in Communion preparation how to bake the Jewish Matza-bread, but they were not instructed in the suffering, passion, death and new Christian life available only in the Eucharist. Thus they are not really “initiated,” so they become bored with the Mass very quickly. This is also the actual, deeper reason for the empty pews and the very numerous people leaving the Church.

And how is such an initiation feasible for 8-year-olds, when they are being prepared for First Communion or when they might even receive early Communion? What competence is to be required for this? Traditionally one stipulates that children may be admitted to receiving Communion when they are capable of distinguishing the “Consecrated Bread” from normal bread. Even such little ones are competent, as the childlike are, to make a “gift” to Jesus ― regardless of age and knowledge. Children also have many opportunities to make sacrifices of love to Jesus in their daily lives. There is homework to do, for example. Mother needs help around the house, they can practice obedience to rightful authorities, and forgiveness and reconciliation with their peers — everything can be made into a gift for Jesus, if one fills the gift with love, thus “making a sacrifice.” The goal is to make these moments into prayers for someone carrying a heavier cross, to strengthen the Mystical Body in order to offer up our own experiences for the living or the dead, i.e., making one’s problems into a gift which alleviates others’ suffering and helps them. There are so many concerns and hardships which we can help alleviate by praying on behalf of others: illnesses, the dying, the dead in their cleansing (purgatory), tests . . . This motivation and the experience of joy in giving lead to a happiness and inner peace “which the world cannot give” (cf. Jn 14:27). When children already learn to deal with their suffering and their own problems in this way ― when they are instructed to transform their losses into gains by genuine prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist, then they have truly been led into the Easter mystery.

Of course this does not only concern children at their first Holy Communion. These Easter mysteries are simultaneously the middle and climax of life for all Christians. This art of Eucharistic living — being an extension, a template of Christ’s own life — most clearly distinguishes the Catholic life from other life blueprints. Because those responsible for preparing and shaping the Eucharistic celebration often concern themselves with items of secondary importance (liturgical demeanor, rites, music, practices . . . ), it becomes boring very quickly for many participants, regardless of age. Also, given the powers of secularism today, most people will not understand, let alone practice, the meaning of the Eucharist merely by regularly participating in it on Sundays or even daily. That is because the cross and the new life promised in Christ is no longer widely understood as the sign of victory for all men and women, the cross being the only tangible reality and strength with which a person can overcome life’s challenges and difficulties.

Here is one more thought on using the so beautiful concept of “hospitality.” Celebrating Holy Mass and especially Holy Communion is something very intimate and has its proper place in the narrower circle of brothers and sisters. A person should not participate in it as an indifferent spectator or a curious observer (as a “voyeur”). Even in family life there are limits to intimacy for well-liked guests: the living room and guest room are accessible, but not, for example, the bedroom of the parents. The mindlessness of some obtrusive media and the photos taken out of pure boredom while someone receives the sacraments, especially Holy Communion, often overstep the limits of what is permissible.

Jesus preached and worked signs and miracles in front of large crowds. The Last Supper, however, was celebrated in the smallest circle. The young Church was not only thinking about security issues when preventing the uninitiated from sneaking into the sacred area of the Eucharist. Even baptized penitents often had to leave the actual Eucharistic celebration after the Liturgy of the Word for many months until they were fully accepted once again into the Eucharistic community. The ostiaries (door guards) had to make sure that no unauthorized person was present at the consecration of the bread and wine and at Communion. However, that is certainly not to be judged as a lack of charity, but rather the opposite: The strictness in admitting people to the celebration of the mysteries strengthened the depth and power of faith in the celebration even more. And those who had to undergo strict admission requirements to the Eucharistic celebration prepared themselves for it much more intensively, which enabled them to take part in it more meaningfully. The false “mercy” or “compassion” of a trainer is not a blessing for his soccer team, because demanding too little of them certainly does not lead to victory.

Worthily Receiving Holy Communion

As is generally known, there was great timidity in coming up to the table of the Lord before the Second Vatican Council. In some village parishes the late consequences of Jansenism still have an influence when, for example, older men come down from the organ loft for the distribution of Communion at Easter and Christmas only. (Perhaps, however, this is sometimes only a spiritual laziness or simply fear of people due to the gossip of the neighbors.) Nowadays, however, the other extreme is more worrisome: the “herd mentality” which brings numerous unprepared churchgoers forward to where Communion is distributed.

Both extremes are damaging and miss the essence of the Eucharist. The one has transformed the loving reverence for the Son of God into fear; the other does not recognize that receiving Communion requires a genuine willingness to full discipleship. A momentary spiritual euphoria is not yet enough to make oneself completely one with Jesus, just as the infatuation of being in love does not allow a couple to go to bed with each other! Communion and sexual unity require the resolve for a full and lasting devotion ― “in good times and in bad.” Only this gives the Eucharistic as well as the sexual union its full dignity. And in this respect it is truly more than a question of “hospitality”! This “more” should be elucidated and explained with biblical authority.

1. THE BASIC ADMONITIONS OF SAINT PAUL

The question of worthy as opposed to unworthy Communion must be very old. Saint Paul already speaks about it in his First Letter to the Corinthians, above all in chapters 10 and 11. This issue, however, is not systematically treated, but rather spontaneously in the form of a letter. Yet its essence emerges very clearly. Before Saint Paul speaks about a worthy celebration of Communion, he first refers to the foundation of the Eucharist in his institution narrative: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again” (I Cor. 11:23–26).

Four distinct statements can be seen in this quotation: (1) Saint Paul personally received this instruction from the Lord; (2) Jesus gives Himself in the form of bread for the salvation of his disciples; (3) The content of the chalice is the blood of Jesus Christ (in the form of wine), through which the covenant of humanity with God is renewed; (4) Eating and drinking the Eucharistic gifts means taking part in the work of redemption.

This brings out the high dignity and significance of the Eucharistic sacrificial meal: It concerns something unimaginably large, holy, indeed divine. It requires the most profound reverence if one does not want to bring guilt upon himself through superficiality, routine or un-Christian behavior. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor 11:27–29). It is nothing less than dangerous to eat and drink the body and blood of the Lord without serious self-examination. Paul even sees the numerous cases of illness in Corinth as the consequences of unworthily receiving Communion. “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Cor 11:30–32).

This explanation for the conspicuously numerous illnesses in Corinth as a punishment for the unworthy reception of Communion picks up on something which was already alluded to in the first section of the Eucharistic chapter. Even in 1 Cor. 10:1–13 Paul initially recalls the manna in the wilderness and the saving water out of the rock as anticipations of the Eucharist. After that comes an admonition on the worthy reception of Communion. Just as at that time God’s punishment came upon Israel by their sinful behavior which was inappropriate for receiving the “heavenly food,” so now it is also the case. “Now these things are warnings for us, not to desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to dance’. We must not indulge in immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day” (1 Cor 10:6–8).

This passage makes clear that for Saint Paul, even at this early date, the worthy and the unworthy reception of Holy Communion does not depend on emotional experience. On the contrary, it is above all a question of living according to God’s (always charitable) commandments.

2. SAINT PAUL’S EXAMPLES OF UNWORTHILY RECEIVING COMMUNION

It has already been mentioned that Saint Paul did not compile a systematic treatment of the Eucharist in his First Letter to the Corinthians. Besides the basic warning about receiving Communion unworthily, however, he does point out various specific wrongs which have to be resolved, for they are not reconcilable with a worthy participation in the Lord’s Supper. They shall now be listed in their original order:

  • Idolatry and participating in the Eucharist are mutually exclusive (1 Cor 10:14–22)

In 1 Cor. 10:14–22 Paul makes it clear that one cannot participate in a sacrificial meal to idols and at the same time participate in the Christian celebration of the Eucharist, for such a cultic meal unifies the person with that deity to whose honor the sacrifice was offered: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?” (1 Cor 10:16-18) The chalice of blessing and the Eucharistic bread become the body and blood of Christ. Thus Christians also form a single body with one another, the “mystical body” of the Church. What was started at baptism is deepened and strengthened in the Eucharist, and it is completed in a life which is worthy of the Holy Food. Just as in ancient Israel the meal of the sacrificial animals was united with the altar, the sign of God’s presence, so does Holy Communion unite us with Jesus Christ, the Son of God and through Him with the Trinitarian God.

While elsewhere Paul emphasizes that there are no other Gods at all apart from the true Creator God (cf. 1 Cor. 8:4–6), in this passage the Apostle to the Gentiles points out a very real danger: Whoever takes part in a sacrificial meal to the idols makes himself vulnerable to the influence of demons who stand behind these idols. Paul therefore warns very clearly: “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Cor. 10:19–22)

What does this warning against demons mean for us today? The battle between good and evil continues to rage. The allure of evil seems to make a greater impression than our conventional religions and traditions, too many Christians having become cold in their faith. There are of course religions explicitly hostile to Christianity, not to mention satanic cults and other groups dedicated to the destruction of life and God’s ways. Out of an unhealthy curiosity or with the pretense of interest in the culture, not a few Christians participate in rituals which involve an opening to the world of demons. In this context certain “alternative” healing methods and meditation exercises may be included. Because alien religions can be behind apparently innocuous rituals like horoscopes and, some will argue, even extreme forms of yoga, they can involve the danger of a person (often not wanting it and unknowingly) opening himself up to demonic powers by means of these practices.

  • Sharing responsibility and being considerate of the “weak” (1 Cor. 10:23–11:1)

As strict as Saint Paul is on the question of partaking in sacrificial meals to idols, so is he generous about the meat which could be bought more cheaply on the market at that time. What was not consumed at the sacrificial meals was sold in this manner. In consideration of others, however, he was careful: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.’ If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. (But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then out of consideration for the man who informed you, and for conscience’s sake I mean his conscience, not yours do not eat it.)” (1 Cor. 10:23–29)

This is also an important requirement for the worthy reception of Holy Communion: Consideration of other people’s consciences. It would truly be unloving to cause offense or to annoy another person, merely because one has a larger breadth of conscience. In the Letter to the Romans Paul even goes as far as saying: “As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls” (Rom. 14:1–4).

It is so refreshing to see how tolerant Saint Paul is and how he requires tolerance from his fellow Christians. That is, however, not to be confused with a certain kind of lukewarm liberalism. It is rather an expression of genuine brotherly love. For this reason, this problem is relevant to the requirements for worthily partaking of Communion. To mention an example from our times: how sad it must make people that in some places heavy pressure related to the Eucharistic celebration is placed on them in matters such as standing and not being able to exercise their right to kneeling, to receive in the hand and not allowed to receive directly by mouth . . . This is unworthy pseudo-liturgical behavior! Instead we should adhere to Rom. 15:1–3: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him. For Christ did not please himself . . .

  • Decency, customs, proper behavior (1 Cor 11:2–16)

What Paul then writes in 1 Cor. 11:2–16 appears to be completely out of date. As it happens, his theological interpretation of the relationship between man and woman is hardly explicable any more, and indeed the division of roles in our liturgy is often different from Paul’s own time, so what meaning could this chapter possibly have for us? It is a question of the fundamental attitude behind Paul’s instructions. He is writing about the hair style and head coverings of men and women of that period, but these are not statements of faith; rather, they are connected to the current customs and sensibilities of a certain epoch and setting. For example, when we observe the present attitude of Muslims toward the role and head covering of the woman, they seem to stand closer to this chapter of the New Testament than our modern perception and practice. Nevertheless, is there perhaps something valid in this section of St. Paul which transcends time and could even be relevant to a worthy partaking of Communion? I believe there is.

The thing in this chapter which is and will remain generally valid is the insistence on decency and good morals in the assembly at the Eucharistic celebration. Although we have to reckon with customs and the rules of decency inevitably changing in the course of time, the fact still remains that there will consistently be rituals which are accepted and respected by the public at large. That holds true not only for ceremonies in political frameworks, but even in the area of sports, funerals and weddings, attending the theater and barbecue evenings. All occasions require consideration of the setting and the sensitivities of the guests.

In the young Christian community, many of the baptized seem to have given themselves over to a certain exhilaration in their freedom. “To the pure all things are pure” (cf. Titus 1:15) said the new Christians joyously, who were freed from the numerous rules of the Old Covenant. One may assume that some people in this situation also carried it too far. Paul always emphasizes the freedom of conscience, but in this passage, he also demands decency and respect for the current customs in consideration of the sensitivity of others. Even nowadays this is not insignificant, when one, for example, thinks about the “impossible” clothing of some people in a religious service and especially at Holy Communion or when reading from the ambo. When someone thinks that he has to take part in every gimmick in fashion, the dignity of the room and the occasion still requires consideration of the feeling of the setting. Without respect and reverence for one’s fellow man there is no worthy Communion.

  • Avoiding division between the rich and poor (1 Cor 11:17–22, 33–34)

Finally Saint Paul moves on to a problem which recurs up to the present day, namely the poor and the rich being together in the religious services. In this passage Paul does not interfere in the private lives of the prosperous. However, the Apostle becomes quite annoyed when the differences become all too clear in the Eucharistic celebrations and especially in the common meals (agape). Occasionally this became apparent when people consumed the food they had brought with them. The poorer ones were not allowed to be humiliated by others who were able to afford a more opulent meal: “When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not” (1 Cor. 11:20–22).

The Letter of James also addresses the topic of social differences, which are not allowed to play any role in the Eucharistic celebration: “For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘Stand there,’ or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man” (James 2:2–6a).

In this passage it becomes obvious how especially the celebration of the Eucharist is the appropriate place to cultivate true and lasting brotherly unity. That also means being considerate of others by avoiding the extremes: i.e. very poor, frugal clothing and showy, fashionable, rich clothing. It is due to such economic inequalities that the Offertory in the Eucharistic celebration has a double orientation. It is not only for preparing the necessary gifts on the altar, but for preparing gifts for the needs of the poor and deprived at the same time. Even so, the luxurious food of a few people which not everyone can afford does not reconcile itself with the spirit of the Eucharistic celebration: “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home lest you come together to be condemned” (1 Cor. 11:33–34a). So dangerous, therefore, is the unworthy celebration of the Eucharist!

The chapter on the unworthy celebration of the Eucharist ends with the sentence: “About the other things I will give directions when I come” (I Cor. 11:34b). This remark makes clear that Paul had not yet said everything he felt moved to say about the Eucharistic celebration. What he sent out here in advance was the most important part of the teaching. The more complete exposition would follow later.

The Eucharistic Way of Life

1. THE EUCHARIST AS A THREEFOLD THANKS TO GOD THE FATHER

For Christians the Eucharist is not only a liturgical celebration ― it should become a basic attitude which increasingly influences one’s entire life. The original meaning of the word “Eucharist” ― “thankfulness, gratitude”― plays a decisive role in this. All the reports on the institution of the Eucharist emphasize that Jesus spoke a prayer of thanks before he consecrated the bread and wine. Thankfulness should be a basic attitude of a disciple of Jesus. Saint Paul’s writings repeatedly emphasize it: “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him . . . abounding in thanksgiving” (Col. 2:6–7); “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). The liturgy shows this basic Eucharistic attitude of thankfulness in three main points which should find their counterparts in practical life. The three main points can be summarized in these three key words: obedience, devotion, and worship.

  • The Eucharist as Obedience (Reconciliation and Liturgy of the Word)

To be able to come into God’s presence, to please Him, to honor Him, to be able to bring our gifts to Him in a proper manner, an important condition has to be fulfilled: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23–24). At least a person has to have tried everything which might reasonably be necessary and possible for reconciliation in order to really be able to participate in the religious service. Admittedly reconciliation also depends on the others with whom one has, for example, been quarreling. And we cannot force the other person to reconciliation! However, forgiveness only depends on us. And that is the entry ticket for being able to take part in Holy Mass at all.

The initial, longer part of the Eucharistic celebration mainly consists of Biblical readings with their corresponding interpretations. Thus for a start, one important thing is to listen, although that alone is not yet enough. Hearing should lead to listening; listening should lead to obedience, i.e. turning words into action. Jesus says this very clearly when the “woman in the crowd” called out about His mother in pure joy: “‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it’” (Lk 11:27–28).

To really participate in the Eucharistic celebration, a nice feeling from a ceremony which happens to be on offer is not enough. Pondering over an interesting, well-prepared sermon is also too little. For the first part of Holy Mass to really be a Liturgy of the Word, there has to be a willingness to put what you hear into action, that is to say, to orient your life to God’s will as revealed in how he chooses to speak to us, the Bible and Church tradition. Whoever is unwilling to change something in his life according to these teachings of Jesus Christ, whoever merely seeks recognition for his earlier devout practices and behavior, whoever is unwilling to occasionally experience uncomfortable surprises or to set out for new horizons, is not in the position to take part in the celebration of the Eucharist truly and unqualifiedly. Does such a divided soul lack the necessary Eucharistic competence? Lest we think this too harsh, the very clear direction remains: “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him . . .” (Col. 2:6).

Without a sincere striving to obey the faith, there is no real Eucharistic faith. Faith is, however, a requirement which sometimes leads beyond our understanding. Jesus also experienced the dark side of obedience: “‘Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling upon the ground” (Lk 22:42–44). In this passage the entire human weakness of Jesus is revealed. He, too, has to wrestle with the will of the Father. He, too, feels fear and needs help from heaven. This help is granted to Him for the very reason that He entrusted Himself to the will of the Heavenly Father. In another passage Jesus makes it even clearer how important God’s will is for Him: “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work’ ” (John 4:34). That is the sum of Jesus’s life, the thing which gives him nourishment and strength, namely to do the will of God.

Nor can the disciple of Jesus live from other sources or receive help and strength from them. His belonging becomes downright contradictory if he does not at least strive for this ideal. In the end it is also written: “He who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 Jn 2:6). This is the most fundamental point in every celebration of the Eucharist: Making yourself one with the will of God. That is the summary of the entire Liturgy of the Word.

  • The Eucharist as Devotion (Offertory and Consecration)

I denote the second main part of the Eucharistic celebration as beginning with the Offertory (the presentation of the gifts) and ending with the Doxology. This section I choose to label “devotion.” The Offertory does not only concern the symbolic gifts of bread and wine for the altar. All the faithful are invited to give a donation for the poor and the maintenance of the church building, but even this is only part of it. Also very important is that every participant in the celebration places his own personal, spiritual gift onto the paten or into the chalice: joy and suffering, disappointments and magnificent plans, work and relaxation, sickness and health . . . we can and should make all of this into a gift and put it into service for God (“sacrifice,” “offering up”). The Offertory invites us to this again and again. It does not merely begin when the collection basket makes the rounds. Rather, it already begins at home when we prepare to set out for the Eucharistic celebration. Then we should already be pondering over the question: What am I bringing with me for Jesus today?

After the Offertory comes the Eucharistic Prayer, beginning with words of praise from the Preface and Sanctus, followed by the consecration of the Eucharistic gifts. Throughout the consecration and beyond, the Eucharistic prayer continues. The Body and Blood of Christ are now physically present and they are brought before the heavenly Father. “We offer you his Body and Blood, the sacrifice acceptable to you which brings salvation to the whole world. ( . . . ) and grant in your loving kindness to all who partake of this one Bread and one Chalice that, gathered into one body by the Holy Spirit, they may truly become a living sacrifice in Christ to the praise of your glory“ (Eucharistic Prayer IV). Our personal offering is we ourselves, who make ourselves one with the redeemer. God does not so much want our possessions, work or beautiful words ― even if they can be a very valuable gift in His sight. The gift fitting for God cannot be “something” ― in the end he expects everything from us ― but ourselves completely, our entire love. Only in this way can He also give Himself completely to us and fill us with joy.

This second part, therefore, concerns one’s devotion to God, devotion without compromise, no strings attached, no holding back. This complete devotion makes us capable of participating fully in the life of God. In this case the famous symbol for this is the drop of water which is submerged into the chalice during the Offertory and becomes completely one with the wine. Similarly we can also find unity with God by submerging our meager love into the love of God. The Eucharistic celebration aims for this to happen. And this enables a transformation not only on the altar for the Eucharistic forms ― this is the chance for us to become “consecrated” in God ourselves, namely by unity with Christ.

  • The Eucharist as Worship (Communion and Sending Forth)

After we have been reconciled with everyone and have heard the Word of God in the willingness to fulfill God’s will, and after we, together with Christ, have made ourselves into a gift for God and the people, Communion gives us a time of friendly lingering. Not many more words are necessary ― as with lovers who have so often whispered the most important thing in their professions of love. It is no coincidence that one likes to speak of “worship” between lovers, even if it is poetic extravagance, because worship in its full meaning is for God alone.

After we have participated in the redeeming sacrifice of Christ at the consecration ―also on behalf of others ― we celebrate this friendship with Jesus in Holy Communion. It is similar to a celebration at the conclusion of an important contract, of the marriage covenant or of religious vows. Joy and gratitude want to embrace each other and dance! Jesus gives Himself as the food for this meal ― so much does He want to be one with us. Should we contribute less to the banquet? Should we not give him our very selves in return? Our sincere devotion, which we have already put into effect in the Eucharistic Prayer by our participation in the redeeming sacrifice, is now deepened and completed in the sacrificial meal ― being one with Jesus in love for the Heavenly Father and also one with Him in His loving care for the salvation of humanity.

How good it is that more and more Churches invite people to adoration before the Blessed Sacrament displayed on the altar these days! We take more time to linger with Jesus deep within ourselves. He is present in the monstrance in flesh and blood, in body and soul, as God and as man. Our being present there is not a matter of emotional moods or reciting a lot of prayers. Much more important is the loving togetherness: My heart wants to become still, my suffering requires soothing, my fear calls for encouragement, the weakness should yield to new strength, despondency makes way for new trust, and love wants to sprout deeper and deeper roots.

Intercessory prayer also plays a great role in adoration. At the very time when we have handed over everything to God, when a holy serenity has found its way into our interior, then our prayers are especially strong. They touch heaven and draw many graces onto the earth: people who have gone astray, impenitent and apathetic people are moved to repentance, and new spiritual vocations spring up.

Sometimes our hearts even overflow without words. Then come dryness, distractions, and yes, boredom once again. At this point our spiritual life depends on perseverance. Might it be Jesus Himself who needs my closeness in some person or other? O wonderful mystery: We, too, can “comfort” God, help God in our neighbors!

Adoration need not always be “having fun.” The essential thing is that Jesus rejoices over my enduring to the end of the designated time. Short prayers, a passage in the Bible or a spiritual book, the Rosary, and the Psalms can help us to be with Jesus in our hearts or to find the way back to His heart. The extent in which we become mature in our devotion ― to this extent we also become capable of adoration, for adoration is love. It requires no justification and it is a reward in itself.

Adoration not only allows us to spend time in friendship with Jesus in the Trinitarian God ― adoration also prepares people for bearing witness, being sent, being on a mission. This is truly the expressed mandate which the Lord gave his disciples before He returned to heaven: And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:18b–20).

When strengthened by the celebration of the Eucharist we can bear witness. Living the Gospel is crucial for the mission of the Church. It “con-vinces,” i.e. literally living our faith wins people over. Thus we may apply the principle: speak not before you are asked, but live so that you are asked.

2. THE “MINI-MASS” IN DAILY LIFE

We are to celebrate and receive the Eucharist so that our entire life becomes a Eucharist, an expression of gratitude toward God and our fellow man. It is important to regularly take part in this sacrament, when at all possible at least on Sundays and Holy Days. Some people have been given the grace of taking part in the sacrificial meal of the Eucharist every day and/or to experience the adoration of the Eucharist ― whether it be before the monstrance or simply before the tabernacle. It is also very important to practice spiritual Communion, especially when one does not have an opportunity to physically participate in a celebration of the Mass. Spiritual Communion, i.e. making yourself one with Jesus in your own heart, can be received by everyone without limit ― totally independent of religious services and spare time.

Moreover, an additional form should also be suggested here which can shape our lives in a Eucharistic manner. This is the so-called “Mini-Mass.” It also contains the three central points discussed above: obedience, devotion, and worship. How is one to understand and practice that? It is achieved by bringing your current situation into the three dimensions of the Eucharistic celebration:

If, for example, I find myself in a situation which challenges, frightens, or hurts me especially strongly ― or if I experience a moment of blessing ― then

  1. I open myself to God by thinking of the current “Word of Life” which I chose and committed to memory . . . (Liturgy of the Word ― obedience). I trust in God and allow myself to be led, formed and ruled by Him. . . . This then leads me
  2. to the imitation of Christ: Full of love I unite my joys and suffering with Jesus on the cross and thus experience resurrection: calm and peace, “which the world cannot give” . . . (devotion ― consecration), and
  3. finally, full of gratitude I linger with Jesus in my heart and praise God (worship ― Communion).

Always, when we open ourselves to God in the most diverse situations of fortune and misfortune, success and failure, joy and suffering, when we let ourselves be transformed by God and thus become one with God, then we always celebrate, so to speak, our completely personal Eucharist. The thought of such a “Mini-Mass” which everyone can celebrate in their hearts makes us capable of the Eucharist in the full sense. We can unite ourselves to Jesus again and again and thus receive his help, and in this unity with Jesus we can become a help for other people. At the same time, we can also come into spiritual contact with the Eucharistic celebrations which are taking place somewhere in the world at exactly this moment. Such a Eucharistic answer to various situations not only consecrates our own heart. We can also have a good influence on our surroundings; in other words, together with Christ, we can “consecrate” the world to a certain extent.

And that is truly the key issue in our lives: our mission is the mission of Jesus Christ. We are called to take part in His redeeming sacrifice throughout our entire lives. And that is simply not possible without preparation and competence.

Summary

His, and our Mass

If you suffer and your suffering is such
that it prevents any activity,
remember the Mass.
Jesus in the Mass,
today as once before,
does not work, does not preach:
Jesus sacrifices himself out of love.
In life we can do many things, say many words,
but the voice of suffering,
maybe unheard and unknown to others,
is the most powerful word,
the one that pierces heaven.
If you suffer,
immerse your pain in his:
say your Mass;
and if the world does not understand
do not worry
all that matters
is that you are understood by Jesus, Mary, the saints.
Live with them,
and let your blood pour out
for the good of humanity —
like him!
The Mass!
It is too great to understand!
His Mass, our Mass.

Chiara Lubich

Avatar About Fr. Winfried M. Wermter, CO

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