On the Assumption, Eucharist and hope

Today, throughout Italy people are celebrating. They’re lighting fireworks, holding feasts and gathering for parades. At the climax of their parades, a statue of the Blessed Mother, crowned with flowers, will be carried through the streets of each village. She’ll travel under wreaths and arches of flowers before cheering crowds. Finally, in parish churches and great cathedrals, with a statue of Christ, she will be venerated. The custom carries over to the United States in the Italian sections of many cities. As a child I can remember participating in these celebrations in Cleveland with my relatives. Today, is the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today, the Church remembers that Mary, the Mother of God, was assumed body and soul into heaven—to spend eternity in the life of the Holy Trinity.

Mary’s Assumption points to our own salvation—to the resurrection of our bodies and to our hope of eternity in the inner-life of God. In Mary’s Assumption we celebrate the salvation the Lord has given us.

The Assumption is a solemnity of hope.

For many Catholics the holiness of Mary seems foreign— we think of Mary as perfect and we doubt that we can imitate her.

But Mary was without sin because she was a tabernacle of the Lord—she carried within herself the body, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. At the same time she was a finite human being, with all the limitations of humanity.

We can imitate Mary—and become holy—by becoming tabernacles of the Lord.

This Sunday the Church read a promise from our Lord contained in the Gospel of John: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” proclaimed Jesus, “whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

The Eucharist is the great gift God gives us of his presence. It is the path of our communion with God. The Eucharist contains the body, soul and divinity of Christ. And so it is the sacrament of hope.

When we consume the living bread we become tabernacles of God. He dwells within us. In that way the Eucharist allows us to imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary. And her holiness, which once seemed so foreign, becomes accessible to us.

Mary’s Assumption gives us hope that bearing God through the reception of the Eucharist will draw us into eternity with God.

When Mary bore Jesus in her womb, her nature as a woman was elevated to a sacred purpose. The same is true of the eucharistic bread and wine: when it is transformed into the presence of Christ, its nature too is elevated to the sacred. And when we receive the Eucharist, we are elevated ourselves into agents of the presence of God. Bearing God in our bodies, through the Eucharist, makes us bearers of the presence of Christ in our families and in our communities— the Eucharist transforms us into the mystical body of Christ and thus makes us sharers in the life of the Trinity. For this reason the Eucharist unites us to God and also to one another. Receiving the Eucharist regularly strengthens our bonds of communion. The Eucharist strengthens our marriages—and elevates them to the supernatural. The Eucharist strengthens our families. It makes us one—connected by our deep connection to Christ.

Mary bore God and was assumed into heaven to share in God’s life. Her Assumption demonstrates the truth of God’s promise to us.

We too can carry the presence of God within us. Like Mary, we too can share in the life of God forever. In Italy and everywhere else, that is a promise worth celebrating.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash