Article 109 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1391-1405 I love telling the story of an experience I had in my first parish as a newly ordained priest. It happened that my sitting room was on the second floor of the rectory looking out toward the front door of the parish church across the street. Over the course of several months, a car stopped shortly after 5 p.m. in front of the church. The sole occupant would jump out and hurry into the church. Within 30 seconds to a minute he would return to his car and drive away. Eventually, I identified the driver as a young parishioner who worked at his family business, a local insurance company. After Mass one day, I mentioned to the young man that I knew when the 5 o’clock hour arrived since I would see him go into the church and return to his car. I then asked him why he did this. He smiled and explained briefly: “I go into the church each day before going home to thank Jesus [present in the tabernacle] for the blessings he bestowed on me during the day and I ask his blessing upon my young family at home and upon all the people I encounter during the day.” No doubt he understood correctly that Jesus is uniquely present in the tabernacle located prominently in the church.
Whether inside the church or outside it, each day as we kneel before the Lord in prayer, are we acutely aware of his intimate presence in our midst? Indeed the Lord is present when we go to him in prayer. On the other hand, when we go before our Lord in our parish church or another Catholic chapel, we already know he is fully and substantially present in our midst, having been reposed or reserved in the tabernacle (in the church), waiting to be adored. It is here, in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist that we pour out our hearts to him. Our first inclination ought to be one of adoring Christ who dwells among us in this mysterious, yet real and authentic way. We kneel in his presence, asking his mercy and listening as he speaks to our hearts. From time to time, we hear him speak to us from the very depths of our souls.
The intimacy we experience in prayer, especially in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord, is intensified when we participate fully in the celebration of the Eucharist, otherwise known as holy Mass. Why? Because our full participation at Mass means receiving our Eucharistic Christ in Holy Communion. In the final few paragraphs in this section of the Catechism, we are told: “The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him’” (ccc 1391). This “intimate” union with Christ is likewise possible when we go before the him on bended knee to adore him, present in the tabernacle, the red candle lit nearby to acknowledge his presence in the Eucharist or in every Catholic church or chapel worldwide.
The intimacy with Christ which we seek in prayer takes on an added dimension when we actually receive our Eucharistic Lord in Holy Communion. “What material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life” (ccc 1392). Later we read: “As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins ” (ccc 1394). Notice how the Catechism advises that our reception of the Eucharist is related to our acts of charity. Among other things, our reception of Holy Communion leads to or strengthens our charity. The Catechism goes further and explains that lived charity even “ wipes away venial sins ” (ccc 1394) which would include such things as losing our patience, gossiping or forgetting to say our daily prayers. The Eucharist also “ commits us to the poor ” (ccc 1397). In fact, the Catechism explains, our reception of the Body and Blood of Christ ought to lead us to “recognize Christ in the poorest” among us. St. John Chrysostom, a fourth-century early Church father, said: “You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother … You dishonor this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal … God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful”.
The Catechism explains further that our reception of Holy Communion “renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism. In baptism, we have been called to form but one body. The Eucharist fulfills this call” (ccc 1396).
The final paragraph in this section quotes St. Ignatius of Antioch, another great saint and bishop born in Syria around 50 AD. He explains: “There is no surer pledge or dearer sign of this great hope in the new heavens and new earth ‘in which righteousness dwells,’ than the Eucharist. Every time this mystery is celebrated, ‘the work of our redemption is carried on’ and we ‘break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live for ever in Jesus Christ’” (ccc 1405).
In short, the Eucharist is a pledge of the glory to come. How fortunate we are to be participants in this great gift as we seek to journey that path together.