By Bishop Joseph Strickland, The Wanderer Newspaper, January 20, 2020
(Republished with permission of Mr. Joe Matt, The Wanderer)
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas.
A recent Pew Research study revealed, to the shock of some, that “just one-third of U.S. Catholics (31 percent) say they believe that during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.” I was not shocked. I was heartbroken. It is sadly reflective of the drastic failure in many efforts to teach the Catholic faith since the Second Vatican Council.
The Bible, the early Church Fathers, the Christian Tradition and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church all teach that the bread and wine consecrated at Holy Mass truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God. This great mystery is at the heart of the Catholic Christian faith.
Jesus still tells His disciples what He taught the first disciples: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you,” to which many of the disciples responded, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” As a result of this, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (John 6: 22-71).
Sadly, the Pew statistic reveals that many contemporary Catholics “no longer accompany Him.” Partly, because we as Catholic bishops have failed in our primary task of teaching and guarding the Deposit of Faith. This cannot and will not continue, if I have any say in the matter.
Jesus Christ is present with us here on Earth — and with the Father in Heaven. As St. Augustine and so many early Church fathers before him taught, the Head and the Body cannot be separated. This is the great mystery and the great blessing of the Father’s loving plan for humanity.
The Son of God did not come to Earth only to dwell among us for 33 years. He is alive and continuing His redemptive mission through His Mystical Body, the Church, of which we are members. And, in a powerful and beautiful way, He also came to dwell among us in His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing numerous verses from the Bible, the early Church fathers, and Church councils explains: “The holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation. Those who have been raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood by Baptism and configured more deeply to Christ by Confirmation participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist.
“‘At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.’
“The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’ ‘The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastial ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.’
“‘The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit.’
“Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.
“In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: ‘Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 1322-1327).
The Eucharistic Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is the Source and Summit of our faith because it connects us to Jesus Christ who is in God the Father’s heavenly presence with the Holy Spirit, while present to us as well. Jesus feeds us His very Body and Blood and takes up His residence within us every time we receive Him in Holy Communion. The Sacred Liturgy, the Holy Mass, is truly a door to Heaven.
In addition, the Blessed Sacrament, in repose, is Jesus here with us, in every tabernacle in every church throughout the whole world. That is why we must do all that we can to recover visits to the tabernacle and Eucharistic Adoration.
Receiving the Real Presence of Jesus Christ gives the People of God the grace to go out and live His presence in the world, nurtured, strengthened, and empowered with His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The word “Eucharist” is derived from a Greek word which means Thanksgiving.
At every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we give thanks for the entirety of the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the kerygmatic event that is Good News for humanity for all time. And we receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Profound Reverence Required
Profound reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament is essential because the One who is present in the consecrated Host is truly Jesus Christ. The consecrated bread is not an “it” but a “Who” — and thus being in His presence, passing before His presence, and praying in His presence, all should be done with the awareness that the person of Jesus Christ is there. Profound reverence is required.
In an apostolic letter issued in 2004 entitled Stay With us Lord (Mane Nobiscum Domine), St. John Paul II wrote:
“There is a particular need to cultivate a lively awareness of Christ’s Real Presence, both in the celebration of Mass and in the worship of the Eucharist outside Mass. Care should be taken to show that awareness through tone of voice, gestures, posture, and bearing. In this regard, liturgical law recalls — and I myself have recently reaffirmed – the importance of moments of silence both in the celebration of Mass and in Eucharistic adoration.
“The way that the ministers and the faithful treat the Eucharist should be marked by profound respect. The presence of Jesus in the tabernacle must be a kind of magnetic pole attracting an ever-greater number of souls enamored of Him, ready to wait patiently to hear His voice and, as it were, to sense the beating of His heart. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good!’” (Psalm 34:8).
Christ’s Eucharistic Presence is with us in order to shower His graces upon us and continually connect us to divine life. He beckons to us to spend time in His presence so that we can deepen our relationship with Him and be drawn more powerfully into the presence of the Father and the Son.
Believers are called to live in this world always aware that Jesus Christ is present. We should cultivate the habit of being aware of the nearest Eucharistic Presence of the Lord and, in our prayer, we can reach out to Him and be in communion with Him even though we may not be in His exact physical presence at all time.
The Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament also calls us to a deeper relationship with His Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary accompanied her Son throughout his life on Earth and, she was with Him at the foot of the cross, at His atoning death.
Crowned Queen of Heaven the Blessed Virgin Mary dwells with the Father, Son, and Spirit and intercedes for her Son’s Church at the throne of God. Devotion to Our Blessed Mother will always draw us closer to her Son and devotion to her Divine Son will always draw us into a deeper relationship with His Mother.
Our Blessed Mother will always point to her Son as we draw closer to her. It is important that we encourage all who believe in Jesus Christ to know and reverence His Mother. She is merely human, but she is blessed among Women because of the special role that God has given her in His loving plan of salvation.
In 2003 Pope St. John Paul II issued Ecclesia de Eucharistia (The Church From the Eucharist). In the introduction he wrote: “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church. In a variety of ways she joyfully experiences the constant fulfillment of the promise: ‘Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age’ (Matt. 28:20), but in the Holy Eucharist, through the changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord, she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity.”
The Pope continued: “The Second Vatican Council rightly proclaimed that the Eucharistic sacrifice is the source and summit of the Christian life. For the most holy Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth.”
The Catholic Church needs to rediscover and re-present this wealth to the whole world. Perhaps Heaven is trying to show us this need in some rather unexpected ways.
A Recent Encounter
A recent YouTube video of a message preached by a well-known evangelical Protestant minister named Francis Chan has gone viral on the Internet. It is causing a stir in some Protestant Christian circles. For Catholics, it should be welcomed and received as a wakeup call. Here is a salient quote from Pastor Chan:
“I didn’t know that for the first 1,500 years of church history everyone saw it [the Eucharist] as the literal body and blood of Christ….And it wasn’t till 500 years ago someone popularized a thought that it’s just a symbol and nothing more. I didn’t know that!”
The whole message of this young Protestant minister of the Gospel is well worth hearing. We need to pray for Pastor Chan. His journey to rediscovering the truth of what the Lord and the Catholic Church have always taught concerning the Eucharist is to be commended.
He now understands that the Church has believed, from the very beginning, what Jesus Himself taught. Upon the consecration, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Many, many Catholics need to rediscover truth this as well.
Tweeting A Message
Some of my readers may know that I often use social media to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. That includes my use of Twitter. When I watched the YouTube Video of the message delivered by Pastor Francis Chan I was deeply inspired. I became even more resolved in my efforts to remind the Catholic Christians in my pastoral care, to rediscover the truth which the Church has always taught concerning the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist.
I also felt inspired to reach out to Pastor Chan and encourage him. So, I tweeted these two messages:
“Francis Chan is not Catholic, but he shares an amazing & beautiful reflection on the meaning of the Catholic mass & the Real Presence of the Body & Blood, Soul & Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Let us realize that every Mass joins us with Heaven!”
“Dear Brother in Jesus Christ, Francis Chan . . . I offer these words to you as you face resistance because you are speaking the Truth about the Body of Christ. You know the power of His Truth. . . . Trust in Him . . . you are in my prayers!”
I truly hope this gifted young Protestant Christian preacher will continue his inspired path to the full beauty of the Truth concerning the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I believe he is being led by the Holy Spirit.
In his video message, Pastor Chan also commented on the roots in Church history for what he now sees as a mistake in the evolution of Protestant worship services. Here are his own words: “For the first time, someone put a pulpit in the front . . . before that, it was always the body and blood of Christ that was central.”
He also speaks of an awakened understanding of what was taught in the ancient Church concerning the truth about the Eucharist being the Body and Blood of Jesus and the consequences of failing to recognize that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus.
In his message he points to the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. In the context of instructing the early Church on proper worship at the Holy Eucharist, St. Paul wrote these words:
“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 he took 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” (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
Finally, I will end by mentioning one more section of Francis Chan’s message, his comments on the Apostle Paul’s warning to those who approach the Holy Eucharist without believing this truth, or approach the Eucharist unworthily. Here are the words of St. Paul:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, 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 on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Cor. 11:27-31).
Perhaps this encounter of a young, evangelical Protestant minister, discovering an ancient but ever new treasure, can help all Catholic Christians to rediscover that treasure for themselves as well.