The Eucharist and a generous Christian life               (E.J.Tyler)

1. Our human nature

 One of the characteristics of our human nature is that we come to know things initially through our senses. We start from what we see, hear, feel, taste or smell. We then abstract, consider, theorize, and go on to higher forms of knowledge. But we start with what we can sense because we live in a material world and we are ourselves part of that world. We tend to prefer to consider things with the aid of images, because that is how we generally come to know things. So people prefer to read a novel or a comic rather than a work of philosophy that considers things abstractly.

   That consideration looks at things from our side. From God’s side, we notice a similar pattern in his dealings with us. God is utterly other than the material universe, utterly beyond it. He is not material and in every respect he is not limited either. But in his dealings with us he acts in and through the material world. The world itself speaks of him, if we let it. It speaks of his power, of his intelligence, of his goodness. But over and above the very fact of the universe, God has dealt with man by acting in history and in the course of events. He has communicated directly with certain people, Abraham, Moses and the prophets, and finally he sent his own divine Son to become one of us. It was done in a material way, within the limitations of the material world. God accommodated himself and adapted to our capacities his method of communicating with us. We are capable of knowing things, including him, but we start from what we see, hear, feel, taste and smell. God made us to start through our knowledge of material phenomena, and so too in his communication with man God has made use of material phenomena.

2.  The danger

  Now, on the positive side, because all comes from the hand of God, and because God in his own dealings with us immerses himself in his material creation so as to make himself accessible to us, we are able to know sublime realities that lie behind material phenomena. But on the negative side we can very easily take these wonderful and even divine realities that are clothed in material form for granted. We see this in the attitude people displayed to our Lord himself. There we had a man who walked the earth and who was the Son of God himself, in his nature equal to the Father, and in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. Yet throughout his years at Nazareth, his townspeople and relatives knew nothing of this, with the exception of Mary and Joseph in his immediate family, the Holy Family. When his public ministry began and his greatness became gradually apparent, still, the notion that he was divine was not accepted. It evoked a tremendous opposition from some. There was an enormous greatness beyond compare hidden beneath what people saw, heard and felt. They did not rise beyond the appearances and discern the deeper reality. Our Lord was rejected, persecuted, and put to death. The great danger in matters of religion and of God is that we shall rest in mere appearances, and not attempt to get behind the appearances and recognise through a living faith the true nature of the reality before us. 

3. Living by faith not by sight

   Our Lord rose from the dead, appeared repeatedly to his disciples in his risen physical reality, then went back to heaven. But he remains with us invisibly as the head of the Church, promising to do so till the end of time. He remains with us but we do not see his risen physical form as did the disciples before his Ascension. He continues in his full risen reality to act within the Church, enabling us to approach him and receive from him his gifts of grace that he won for us by his death and resurrection. How do we approach him when we do not see him in his physical form? We encounter him in the preaching and teaching of his word and in the Sacraments. When the Church’s pastors teach us in his name and proclaim his word by reading and explaining the Scriptures, it is Christ who is teaching us. When the Church’s pastors give to us the Sacraments, it is Christ who comes to us in those Sacraments to give us his gifts of grace and the Holy Spirit. We must therefore be on guard against our tendency to think that what we see going on is no more than what we see. We will tend to think that when the reader at Mass is reading the scripture passage, all we are hearing is an inspiring text. We will tend to miss the deeper reality that the living Jesus is speaking to us through his word. It will become a ceremonial routine. And when the priest preaches his homily, we will tend to think that it is just a talk by the priest, and forget what it really is, the living Jesus speaking to us through him. It is the living word of God being uttered to us by God himself. We will tend to miss all this because we usually go on what we see, rather than on what has been revealed to us by God. We will tend to live by sight, and not by faith. This applies to the Sacraments as well. We tend to think that when we go to Confession, we are confessing our sins to a man because that is what we see, rather than to our Lord whom we cannot see. The Sacraments are signs that symbolize what Christ here and now within the Sacrament is doing. The Sacrament of Penance symbolizes and shows forth the forgiving action of our Lord. It our Lord who is doing what is being symbolized. It is not just a symbolic ceremonial action. It is not just a ceremony performed in the presence of God by certain religious officials. It is the action of the living person of Jesus. Our Lord is really there doing what the action of the Priest shows. In the case of Confession, it is an encounter with the forgiving Christ who is invisible. Christ is in the priest. That is to say, we must approach with faith, not just with sight.

4. The Eucharist is a sacrament

   This encounter with the invisible Jesus doing what is symbolized in the action of the Sacrament applies above all in the case of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. This is the first thing we must really appreciate, that the Sacraments are encounters with the living risen Jesus. It is in and through the Sacraments that Jesus touches us and fills us with his sanctifying blessings. He is as truly present and active in the Sacraments as if we were to meet him in his visible physical form. He is more present still, because now in the Eucharist he is able to attain a far more intimate union with us than was possible for him while he walked the earth with the physical limitations that came with the Incarnation prior to his resurrection. But the problem is that we do not see his visible physical form, and because we depend so much on our senses for what we know, we tend to think that all that there is there is just a ceremony. We miss our Lord, or think he is there only in a general spiritual sense. We need to bear in mind in a spirit of living faith who really is there: Jesus in his full risen, bodily and divine reality. The person and the actions involved in the Sacrament are signs of the presence of Jesus, and what those actions symbolize reveal the kind of thing Jesus is doing here and now for the person receiving the Sacrament.

5. The Eucharistic presence

  The greatest of the Sacraments is the Eucharist. Somehow we must get into the habit of appreciating and remembering just what the Mass is whenever we are about to participate in it. As said above, we will tend to think of it just as readings, just a sermon by the priest, just a long and beautiful prayer read out by the priest and listened to by all of us together, with Jesus simply somehow there in a general sense, more or less in the way God is everywhere. It is not hard to forget the special presence of Jesus at Mass especially if we are in the habit of chatting in the church before and after Mass, during the collections and after having received Holy Communion, or if we are thinking of the kind of singing that is going on. The great reality at Mass is the living Jesus and we are meant to unite ourselves with him in what he is doing. We must constantly remember what the Church teaches us about the Mass, and it is each person’s responsibility to think about this, to appreciate it, to remember it, and to act according to it. If we do not, the riches of the Mass will pass us by.

6. The Mass: Calvary made present

    So then, what is the Mass? The Church teaches us that in some mysterious way, the Mass is Calvary made present - but of course Calvary present in different circumstances. We do not see or hear the hammer blows and the shouts and the yelling, nor the silent figure on the Cross so full of pain. But all this was not of the essence of the sacrifice of our Lord at Calvary. The momentous thing about Calvary was the complete gift of himself by Christ to the Father on our behalf. That was the essence of it, Christ’s gift of himself in complete obedience to the Father on our behalf, expressed in and through unimaginable sufferings. As fallen creatures, we could not offer to the Father the gift of our complete obedience, because we were and are under the power of sin. Christ did it for us. In doing this, Christ made up for the sins of each one of us and gave to his heavenly Father a perfect sacrifice of obedience and praise from humanity. By his death he took away the sin of the world.
   In some mysterious way, the Last Supper was the first Mass, and the disciples who were present were mysteriously united to our Lord’s sacrifice the next day. Every time Mass is celebrated, that sacrifice of himself at Calvary that won for us our salvation is made present. A flood of heavenly and saving blessings is made present in the person of Christ at Mass. In Holy Communion we are able to enter into communion with our Lord in his gift of himself to the Father on our behalf. Christ’s sacrifice is able to be our own sacrifice by means of Holy Communion.  He gives himself to us and in giving himself to us he brings us the gifts of grace he won for us by his sacrifice on Calvary. It is as if we are present at Calvary, uniting ourselves to him in union with our Lady at the foot of the cross. We give ourselves to him, and he gives himself to us with all the blessings he brings from heaven. The greatest blessing is the grace to be generous in our surrender to the Father in obedience, a surrender we live out each day in union with our Lord.

  Just as Calvary was the summit of our Lord’s life and the source of the blessings he won for us, so too the Mass (which is Calvary made present) is the summit of the life of the Church and of each one of us, and the source of our whole Christian life, with the blessings of grace it contains. It is from the Mass that we obtain the graces we need to be generous and persevering, because in some mysterious way the Mass is the sacrifice of Calvary made present. I remember years ago attending a talk given by an Anglican girl. She said that she had resolved to love others in the way our Lord wanted. To gain the grace to do this she resolved to go to the Eucharist regularly. She had the right idea, even though her Anglican Eucharist was probably not a valid Eucharist.

7. We must participate

   But of course, if we are to profit from this tremendous reality we must truly enter into it. We must participate in the Mass heart and soul. The great effort of the Church ever since the Second Vatican Council forty years ago has been to help everyone who goes to Mass to participate profoundly in the action of the Mass. This means entering into a deep union with our Lord and with the Church his body, because the Mass is his action and in him it is the Church’s action. It is an action of self-giving to the Father in the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. If we do this, it will bring us tremendous resources of grace. Grace will flow from Christ to us to enable us to be generous in our living of a Christian and apostolic life.

8. Mass will inspire us

  Apart from receiving abundant help and grace from Christ through our participation in Mass, if we keep before us what the Mass really is, it will inspire us throughout the day. We must remember constantly that the Mass is Christ making himself and his sacrifice at Calvary present. So whenever we think of the Mass we ought think of Christ giving everything to the Father on our behalf. When we go to Mass we participate in that gift of our Lord to his Father and make it our own. We must bring to it the whole of our life, offering it to the Father with Christ every time we participate in Mass. Then when we depart from Mass we ought bring to our daily life the union with our Lord which our Lord makes possible at Mass, and offer every part of every day to the Father in the Mass we have been to or the Mass we will soon be attending. The very thought of Mass, if we keep in mind what it really is, ought fire our imagination and inspire our hearts to be generous with the generosity of Christ. At Mass when our Lord comes to us he comes bringing with him the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the Letter to the Hebrews the inspired author writes that Christ offered himself up on the Cross by the power of the Holy Spirit, and rose from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit too. At Mass Christ in uniting himself with us gives us the grace of the Holy Spirit to help us to offer ourselves up with him together with all the prayers, works, joys and sufferings of the day. Our morning offering ought be made in union with the Masses that are being celebrated, and the Mass we will soon be participating in. Why? Because Mass is the offering of our Lord in obedience to the Father, the greatest act of generosity in the history of the world. By means of the Mass we are able to unite ourselves with that greatest of acts of generosity. To name but one saint, St Josemaria Escriva was constantly living in thanksgiving for the last Mass and preparing for the next. In that way he made the Mass the summit and the source of his entire Christian life.
9. Mass and Confession

   The thought of the Mass ought inspire us to go to Confession frequently and regularly. If we are to make the complete offering of ourselves with Christ that participation in the Mass calls for, we ought prepare for it by frequent Confession. It is much easier to make a full personal offering to the Father if one’s sins have been forgiven and cleansed. I am speaking now of the Confession of venial sins. Moreover, if we have the excellent practice of frequent and regular Confession, say - even every week, then a very good way of preparing for a good Confession is to go to Mass and make the coming Confession the intention being prayed for at that Mass.

10. Holiness is our goal 

 Let us ask ourselves if we are using the time God has given us in life to make real progress in personal holiness. Are we truly earnest about this great goal, the goal of loving God as perfectly as possible? We could be just coasting along and not really working at it. Let us during these moments of prayer consider how well we are keeping to a plan of spiritual life, how well we are sanctifying our daily work whatever it is, how well we are working at our daily duties and responsibilities. An excellent model for every one of us is the Holy Family, given over to humble daily work and harmony and a silent yet total obedience to God our Father in everyday life. The Mass will be our principal means of achieving this hidden sanctity, so let us put an extremely high priority on Mass as the centre and the summit of our Christian life.