A deeper desire for the Eucharist

Jared Staudt

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.

COMING UP: Preparing to, once again, partake in the mystery of the Eucharist

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This article is the first in a series the Denver Catholic staff is writing to help the faithful return to Mass in a deeper way than ever before after an extended absence from it due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For many faithful, the restrictions that have arisen from the coronavirus pandemic have strengthened their desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and return once more to the public celebration of the Mass. Yet our preparation to once again receive Jesus more frequently in the Eucharist presents a special time to reflect on the central celebration of the week, the Holy Mass.

For this reason, the Denver Catholic has set out to do a series of articles on the main parts of the Mass, of which this is the introduction.

But, in order to dive deeper, we must first ask ourselves what the Mass really is.

The Holy Mass is known as such because the liturgy ends with the sending forth (from the Latin missio) of the faithful, so that they may follow God’s will in their daily lives. Its common name already tells us that the Liturgical celebration of the Eucharist also has to do with everything outside of “church” and must penetrate all areas of our life. But what about this celebration makes it so important and capable of reaching all the areas of our lives: joys and sufferings, rest and work, oneself and one’s family?

It is because Jesus makes himself present. And not only that, for, as we know, he desires to make himself one with us during this celebration. It is the way he chose to do it. It’s true that he can make himself present anywhere at any time, but he still chose a specific way by which to accomplish the mystery of salvation.

The Eucharist is the center of the Mass and the summit of our faith. But, in order to reach the summit, we must make our way to the top of the mountain.”

Abbot Jeremy Driscoll offers deep insights regrading this matter in his book What Happens at Mass. He describes the repetition and “sense of performance” we find in the Mass as a sort of “serious play,” in which we know that if we follow the movements and words in a special way, “something great and unexpected can break through.” Our integration into the form of the liturgy, with all its movements and prayers, takes us out of ourselves, lets God act and gives us a way to respond. We don’t have to scramble to find a way to respond on the spot.

And all of it is centered around encounter, around love. Jesus himself chooses to encounter us in this way, not as a concept or an idea, but as a person, in his Body and Blood. Abbot Driscoll adds: “Every true relationship needs to be experienced. Mass is the foundational experience of our relationship with God through Jesus, experienced and celebrated in all its fullness. This experience renders possible all other experiences. That is, it makes possible for us to love others as we have been loved by God.”

It is a mystery indeed — but not with the connotation we often give that word today. “Mystery” is often referred to as something almost impossible to understand or something that must be pieced together and resolved. In contrast, based on St. Paul’s writings, Abbot Driscoll loosely describes this concept as “a concrete something that when you bump into it, it puts you in contact with the divine.”

Thus, when we say the “mystery of the Eucharist,” it doesn’t mean that we can’t understand it, but that it is something in which God is hidden. The liturgy of the Eucharist, however, was and is also called “the mysteries,” in plural. The priest himself says in the beginning of the liturgy, “let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.” That is because all the gestures and words in the Mass are also mysteries in which God is hidden.

The Eucharist, however, is unique — it’s a sacrament. And although “sacrament” is deeply related to “mystery,” it is not as extensive. It likewise denotes something that puts us in contact with God, but through an act or ritual to make something sacred, Abbot Driscoll explains. The Body and Blood of Jesus is a sacrament in which “by means of bread and wine we come into contact with something that now would otherwise be beyond reach; namely, the risen and glorified Body of Christ, no longer defined to space and time. So, by means of a sacrament we come into contact in space and time with something that transcends space and time.”

The liturgy is the place in which God decided to accomplish the mystery of salvation in our lives and in the whole world. Let us remember that when we are, once again, able to partake in the great mystery.”

This sacrament is the center of the Mass and the summit of our faith. But, in order to reach the summit, we must make our way to the top of the mountain. All the gestures and words of the Mass help us do that. Yet, in a similar manner, our preparation for the Eucharist does not start the moment we step into the church, but in our daily lives: through our work, joys, sufferings, daily prayer…

Even then, the preparation of the Mass began way before that, as Abbot Driscoll says: “Actually we could say that Mass begins with the creation of the world. God intended this kind of encounter with his creatures from the start.”

So, every time you enter the church for the Sunday celebration, remember: “The Mass prepared from the beginning of the world is about to begin.” The whole Church is gathered, in heaven and earth — and in it, the whole creation and the desires of every human heart.

Abbot Driscoll writes, “The meaning of the whole creation and the whole human history is contained here in ritual form and in the people who enact the ritual. This action will cause the Church to be: to do Eucharist is to be Church. To be Church, to be assembled into one, is what God intends for the world.”

The liturgy is the place in which God decided to accomplish the mystery of salvation in our lives and in the whole world. Let us remember that when we are, once again, able to partake in the great mystery.