(Mass at the Grotto in Lourdes)
“For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast….” (1 Cor. 5:7-8)
In his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Saint John Paul II penned the following words of incredible importance:
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: Christ himself, our passover and living bread. Through his own flesh, now made living and life-giving by the Holy Spirit, he offers life to men”. Consequently the gaze of the Church is constantly turned to her Lord, present in the Sacrament of the Altar, in which she discovers the full manifestation of his boundless love (Section 1).
Given the magnitude of the Pope’s words, as cited above, we can see why Catholics are under a grave obligation to attend Sunday Mass and other holy days of obligation (although, ideally, it might be hoped that we had a burning desire to receive the Holy Eucharist!). The Catechism of the Catholic Church, at 2181, states:
“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (emphasis added).
We simply cannot be lukewarm about the Eucharist because the Eucharist is the great sacramental sign of our covenantal relationship with Jesus. The phrase “new covenant” is mentioned by Jesus only in the context of the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, where Jesus said: “This chalice which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Now, as Dr. Scott Hahn points out, with a Biblical covenant come blessings or curses: – blessings if we are faithful to the covenant, and curses if we are not. In Hebrews we see that it is a fearful thing to neglect attending the Eucharistic assembly.
In Hebrews at 10:19 it states that “by the blood of Jesus” we “have confidence to enter the sanctuary.” We have this great blessing then, merited by our Covenant Mediator, Jesus Christ (which those in the Old Covenant did not have), to participate in the Eucharistic liturgy whereby through the sacrificial offering of Jesus’ body and blood we can truly access the “marriage supper of the Lamb” in Heaven (see Rev. 19:9 and commentary to Hebrews 10 in Ignatius Catholic Study Bible). Thus, given the magnitude of this blessing, the author of Hebrews admonishes his readers “not [to neglect] to meet together” for the Sunday assembly (Hebrews 10:25). He adds: “For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment….” (Hebrews 10:26). Dr Hahn comments on these verses:
“People who don’t meet together on the Lord’s day are repudiating the only sacrifice that will work for their sins. The sinning deliberately refers to deliberately sinning by not going to Mass. We don’t know anybody who has committed that sin, do we? All American Catholics go to Mass every week. It hasn’t become the habit of some Catholics not to go to the Eucharist, has it? God help us if we don’t attend weekly liturgy as has become the habit of some. We’re sinning against the most beautiful laws that God has delivered to humanity, that there is a once and for all powerful sacrifice, God be praised! And we renew that sacrifice every time we draw near to the Eucharistic banquet.” (See link below and CCC 2178)
I close, then, with these words of our beloved Saint Pope John Paul II:
The saving efficacy of the sacrifice is fully realized when the Lord’s body and blood are received in communion. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is intrinsically directed to the inward union of the faithful with Christ through communion; we receive the very One who offered himself for us, we receive his body which he gave up for us on the Cross and his blood which he “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). We are reminded of his words: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me” (Jn 6:57). Jesus himself reassures us that this union, which he compares to that of the life of the Trinity, is truly realized. The Eucharist is a true banquet, in which Christ offers himself as our nourishment. When for the first time Jesus spoke of this food, his listeners were astonished and bewildered, which forced the Master to emphasize the objective truth of his words: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you” (Jn 6:53). This is no metaphorical food: “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (Jn 6:55) (Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 16).
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
Image: A photograph of a Mass at Lourdes taken by Lima at English Wikipedia on July 28, 2006. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version.
References: I am relying heavily and primarily on Scott Hahn materials for this note including his book, The Lamb’s Supper (Doubleday). The quote from Dr. Hahn is from Eucharist, Holy Meal. See also Ignatius Catholic Study Bible on Hebrews, Chapter 10, commentary notes. It was Father Faber who cautioned that Catholics cannot be tepid about the Holy Eucharist.
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