Article 107 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1356-1381 “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24).
This passage from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians reminds me of a banner prominently displayed in our school chapel when I was in high school. It was not a chintzy hanging with felt letters prepared freehand-style and fastened with Elmer’s glue, a familiar sort of banner that was often seen in churches in the years following the Second Vatican Council. This banner spoke to one’s heart as if Jesus himself was speaking to each of us young congregants: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Imagine, for a moment, the tens of millions of times these words have been invoked over two millennia by the priest, speaking in Persona Christi (in the person of Christ), every time Holy Mass or “the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice” (ccc 1357) is celebrated. “In so doing,” the Catechism tells us, “we offer to the Father what he has himself given us: the gifts of his creation, bread and wine which, by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, have become the body and blood of Christ” (ccc 1357). Several paragraphs later, quoting from fourth-century Church Father, St. John Chrysostom, who speaks about the Eucharist, the Catechism declares: “It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered” (ccc 1375).
Most of us know that the Eucharist means first of all “thanksgiving” (ccc 1360) but, as St. John Paul II would often say when he was the pope, “the Eucharist is above all else sacrifi ce.” Thus, the Holy “Sacrifice” of the Mass. The Catechism observes: “Through Christ the Church can offer the sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for all that God has made good, beautiful, and just in creation and in humanity” (ccc 1359).
Next, the Catechism explains the term “anamnesis” or memorial, which is a prayer we hear following the words of institution or consecration (ccc 1362). In all the Eucharistic Prayers, after the words of institution, “a prayer called the anamnesis or memorial” (ccc 1362) is invoked. In the New Covenant or New Testament, this memorial takes on a profound meaning. “When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present” (ccc 1364). How is the Eucharist a sacrifice? The Catechism explains that the “sacrificial character of the Eucharist is manifested in the very words of institution: “‘This is my body which is given for you’ and ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood’” (ccc 1365). In the Eucharist, “Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (ccc 1365). The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice “because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross” (ccc 1366) “once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross … [now] in an unbloody manner” (ccc 1367). ”The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church…the lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering” (ccc 1368). This includes the living and the deceased. The Catechism mentions “those already in the glory of heaven” (ccc 1370) including the Blessed Virgin Mary, the canonized Saints and all the faithful departed who have died in God’s grace and those who “are not yet wholly purified” (ccc 1371). Among the living who are especially mentioned at Mass are the pope and the local bishop. In the Universal Prayer of the Church (also known as the prayers of petition or intercessions), those remembered in prayer also include civil authorities, those with special needs such as victims of recent tragedies, those who recently died and the special need for which the Mass is being offered. In fact, St. Monica’s final words to her son St. Augustine capture this sentiment: “[When I die], I ask you to remember me at the Lord’saltar wherever you are.” It has also been a custom to reserve the consecrated hosts in the tabernacle from holy Mass. In the beginning, this was meant so that the priest could accommodate the sick who were absent from Mass. As years progressed, it later become an additional opportunity for the faithful to adore our Eucharistic Lord. Why all this fuss over the Eucharist? Because “in the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist the body and blood, together with the soul and divin-ity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” (ccc 1374). No doubt Christ is also present in his Word of Sacred Scripture, in the Church gathered in prayer, in the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, etc., but “he is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species” (ccc 1373). Centuries before the Council of Trent summarized our belief in the Eucharist by using the term “transubstantiation” to help explain the mystery that takes place at each Mass when “there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood” (ccc 1376).
No wonder we show the additional respect for Christ present in the Eucharist “by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord” (ccc 1378). As St. Thomas Aquinas aptly stated: “In this sacrament are the true Body of Christ and his true Blood … something that cannot be apprehended by the senses, but only by faith” (Summa Theologiae).