We’ve just survived the only time in living memory without access to the Mass. The brutal Lent of 2020 extended even into Easter, as we watched the high holy days through a screen. Through this extreme spiritual hardship, we can discover the possibility of renewal through a deeper appreciation for Jesus’ presence. Have we taken the Eucharist for granted? Has our reception of communion ever fell into routine? As in-person access to the Mass begins to increase, and as we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, we can express our gratitude for Jesus in the Eucharist through maintaining a deeper desire, preparation, and reverence.
The Catholic radio host, Teresa Tomeo, just released a guide for navigating our current trials, Conquering Coronavirus: How Faith Can Put Your Fears to Rest (Sophia, 2020). She relates the trial of experiencing of her mother’s death in the midst of the pandemic, yet still offers encouragement to find opportunities to live the faith and support others. In fact, Tomeo thinks the crisis may have created an opening for faith: “We Christians have an eternal task before us right now. We’re called to respond to the spiritual needs we see in our community . . . If you’re not quite convinced of the world’s current hunger for God, here are a few other reports to ponder. A survey of nearly twelve thousand adults by the Pew Research Center from the end of March 2020 states that a majority of Americans are praying for an end to the pandemic, and that includes some who admit they rarely pray” (77). During times of need, Christians can witness to the power of faith by supporting others with charity.
In addition to helping our neighbors, she also speaks of the possibility of Eucharist renewal, increasing our love for Christ: “It has occurred to me that perhaps God is allowing this to happen so we can deepen our appreciation for Him in the Eucharist. . . . The 2019 [Pew] report What Americans Know about Religion showed that only one-third of Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the actual Body and Blood of Jesus … Part of my continued prayer during this pandemic involves asking God to increase my love and appreciation for this sacrament … How can I be a witness and better accept this cross in hopes of sharing this teaching with others?” (61). She encourages us to develop a deeper spiritual hunger for God, especially in his presence in the Eucharist.
If Teresa Tomeo’s insights are hot off the press, Angelico Press has provided us with a classic of Eucharistic wisdom, published for the first time in English: Mother Mectilde de Bar’s Mystery of Incomprehensible Love (Angelico, 2020). Although not a commonly known figure, Mother Mectilde, a 17th century French Benedictine abbess, founded the first religious order dedicated to Eucharistic adoration. The book collects her teaching on the Eucharist collected from various writings, letters, and addresses to her community, providing rich gems of devotion. She also recognizes the importance of desire, especially when we’re not able to receive the Eucharist: “If you cannot communicate sacramentally, communicate by desire and love” (63). In fact, she connects our desire to God’s generosity, as he responds to our reaching out to him: “It is astonishing to see the goodness of a God always ready to give Himself every time we desire to receive Communion. He never refuses” (39).
Cultivating this desire meets with God’s own desire for us. He longs for us and wants to draw us into his life through Communion. “He desires to be consumed by us to establish His divine life in us, so that, by this holy of His divine flesh, He may make us entirely one with Himself; and by this means, He communicates to us all that He is as God, exalting us to share in the divine nature” (107-08). How do we share in the divine nature? When we become one flesh with Christ, he gives us his entire self. We have to prepare ourselves to receive this gift, letting go of anything that stands in the way of drawing closer to Christ. The Eucharist becomes a source of transformation the more we conform our desire to God’s and depend on him for everything. Mother Mectilde advises us: “Our intension for Holy Communion should be to do what God desires of us and to sacrifice ourselves to this adorable will, which should be our rule, our strength, our light, our fervor, and our perfection, and bind ourselves to this as closely as we can” (50).
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. Having been deprived of this most precious gift, as we return to Mass, let’s approach this sacrament with a renewed and deeper desire, recognizing Christ’s divine presence and surrendering to the power of his grace.