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Aug 13, 2019

Toward Recovering a Love for the Eucharist

Dr. James Merrick

Can you be a practicing Catholic while at the same time denying Jesus’ teaching in John 6:25-71? You may have heard a recent Pew poll found only one-third of American Catholics believe the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. 

Most have cited a curtailing of catechesis as the cause. Chad Pecknold, however, argued many clergy deliberately catechize disbelief. They treat “the Most Holy Eucharist … as something to be passed out like a leaflet rather than received in awe.” 

Brian Holdsworth came to a similar conclusion. He said today’s trite celebration of the Mass doesn’t do enough to counter our temptation “to think that nothing special is going on here because we don’t act like anything special is going on.”

For Pecknold and Holdsworth, it’s not so much that the faithful haven’t been formed or convinced. Rather, they have been taught a low view of the Eucharist through Masses lacking the dignity, majesty, and piety appropriate to the presence of the Lord. There is a real doctrinal danger in celebrating the Mass as a nuisance, an embarrassment, a begrudged duty, a commonplace activity. 

A Trivialization of Divine Love

I’d suggest that this sad ceremonial and doctrinal decline is rooted in a trivialization of the love of God. While we hear frequently about transubstantiation, it is portrayed more like a divine pat on the back. Or it’s treated more as an affirmation of an insecure humankind than a radical divinization of the human being. It’s certainly not treated as a personal transformation through incorporation into the Triune communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We hear a great deal about how we need to help those in need. However, we don’t hear enough about how God’s love calls something out of us. It calls out a dignity and goodness far grander than that for which we’ve sinfully settled. We don’t hear much about how Christ desires to draw us into his eternal relationship to the Father. We don’t hear much about how Christ gives us the Eucharist as an event of his self-offering to the Father on the Cross.

Lax Devotion

Because we’ve reduced God to a cosmic life coach, we likewise have relaxed our devotion. Downplaying the Eucharist goes hand-in-hand with downgrading our commitment. We can’t be bothered with genuflecting or Gregorian chant because that would mean that there’s a glory beyond our goals.

Assuming an impassable metaphysical chasm separates us and God is comforting, let’s be honest. For if Christ loves us so intimately and comes to us so totally and humbly through bread and wine, then that would demand of us a self-offering of similar totality and humility. We can live ordinary lives of compromise rather than of extraordinary sacrifice. If Christ does not offer his sacrifice in the Mass then we don’t have to either. It’s no wonder that after taming the Mass and tempering our devotions, we’ve consoled ourselves with the disbelief that Christ is truly there to be aggrieved. 

The robustness of the Mass is an expression of the intensity of our love for the Lord who is present on the altar. If we love him fiercely, then we labor for his presence. But if we are lukewarm, then we’re fine not making much of the Mass. If it is true that the Mass is a marriage supper celebrating our matrimonial union with Christ, then we shouldn’t be so stingy. 

It Was Love

When we love truly, we cherish. We relish every moment. No detail is insignificant. Everything captivates our attention. We give our beloved our very best and dress well in their company. We offer gifts they desire, not those we prefer to give. Similarly, we don’t rush unthinkingly but spend as much time with them as patiently as possible. We speak intentionally and carefully, and do whatever we can to serve them.

It was love, then, that lay behind the centuries of liturgical extravagance, from which we’ve departed. Love made the faithful build architectural wonders in which to worship, love made the craftsman sculpt stunning statues and blow gleaming stained glass windows. It was for love that the altar was intricately ornamented, for love that clergy donned decorated vestments and celebrated lavish liturgies. Love led to rules about linens and vessels. It is this love for Christ that alone will reestablish the doctrine of the Eucharist and the glory of the Mass.

Mass Renewal

We need a Mass renewal—a renewal of the masses and of the Mass! Of course, such a renewal can only be the work of the Holy Spirit, and so we must be fervent in prayer and penance. But the Lord never works apart from our intelligent participation, and this means he calls us to join him. So, what can we do as we pray? 

We could learn more about the Mass, which would not only promote our participation in it but also help us explain it to those who seem a bit lost. There are some great resources from Ascension, such as A Biblical Walk through the Mass, Altaration: The Mystery of the Mass Revealed, and The Sacred that Surrounds Us

What I propose to do in this series, however, is to try to recover the love at the heart of the Mass, the love of Christ and the love of the faithful communicant. I want us to see that the movements of the Mass are a journey into the depths of God’s self-communicating love and solicits from us a radical yet rational self-surrender. Yes, we will discover new insights about what’s going on and why. But, just as importantly, we will rediscover the motions of love that will help us make the most of the Mass. We’ll first look at what it means to worship and sacrifice. So stay tuned for more on this topic.

How can we move toward a greater love for God in the Eucharist? Let us know your thoughts in the comments at the bottom of the page.

You May Also Like:

7 in 10 Catholics Don’t Believe in the Real Presence. How Do We Feel about That?

Acceptable Ways to Receive Communion

The Eucharistic Miracle Overseen by Archbishop Bergoglio (Pope Francis)

About Dr. James Merrick

Dr. James R. A. Merrick is lecturer at Franciscan University of Steubenville, theology and Latin teacher at St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, and on the faculty for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown’s Lay Ecclesial and Diaconal Formation program. Before entering the Church with his wife and five children, he was an Anglican priest and college theology professor in the United States and in the United Kingdom. 

Featured photo by David Besh from Pexels

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  • At the risk of being tedious, let’s bring back the altar rails, get rid of the picnic tables and have the priests face ad orientem on the high altar. Let’s teach our kids to go to confession before approaching The Holy Eucharist. Let’s have our priests preach penance and proper decorum when attending mass. No more communion in the hand. No more trashy pop tunes at mass. Want to hear more?

    • I agree with you Salvatore. We have a new parish pastor as our previous parish priest, a loving and good man has passed away. I loved the previous pastor but our new YOUNGER pastor seems to really, truly understand what the Mass is supposed to be like. We are a Novus Ordo parish but he wishes to make changes and commiserates with us parishioners who wish to make changes. For example, I asked him if we can bring back the bells for the Consecration and he said “Don’t worry, the bells will come back! ” I asked if we could have a kneeler in front of the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and he said he will get one that he has at his parents’ home. Additionally he immediately bought a GOLD chalice which was previously glass. He wants to move the wall statuary of the Holy Family from above the Tabernacle so that the Tabernacle can stand alone. He is going to move our giant wall statuary of the Blessed Mother to the wall behind the alter rather than on the side of the church. It is a small church, not a Cathedral by any means. This pastor’s heart is in the right place. He, himself has had a deep deep spiritual experience where he was completely overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, God’s love and peace and a feeling of Heaven on Earth. He is very devout. We need more devout priests.

    • That I’m afraid would put an end to any enthusiasm I have for the mass. For one thing, sticking your tongue out at the priest and the host is not a revered method for receiving Jesus and certainly bears no resemblance to the Last Supper.

  • Thanks, it all made sense. Let’s all pray that the Holly Spirit gives us the wisdom to understand and be greatfull of the gift he has left us.

  • Dr. Merrick, Thank you for your thoughtful article. I have found that the actions of the parish deacons speak loudly, too. How do they act on the altar? In one recent situation, three deacons sat in the altar chairs and had a discussion prior to Mass. The tabernacle was mere feet away from them as they casually chatted. What impression does that give the laity as the gather in the church prior to Mass?
    In all aspects, the actual practice of the Liturgy of the Mass should reflect its sacred nature and awareness that God is present to us. Architecture, music, vestments, altar rails, and reception of The Eucharist on the tongue via the consecrated hands of a priest all matter. But let’s be sure that all those ordained ministers also understand the great influence that they have on the hearts and minds of the faithful.

    • Yes! It’s unfortunate that both the laity and the clergy haven’t been well formed in how to conduct themselves. I confess it’s very difficult not to give in to a bit of pride or anger when a priest rushes through the Mass or is very cavalier in his gestures. We should be savoring the liturgy!

  • Very well spoken. Dr. Merrick seems to have a pulse for the root of the cause
    Article mentions this as a series? How do I have access to this series?

    • Hi Deb! Thank you! Just keep an eye out on the home page. The upcoming articles will be posted like this one. God bless you!

  • I was brought up as a catholic but only when i had a personal encounter with Jesus i begun to worship the Eucaristy properly;

    • I agree with you Mariana. Once you understand that He Lives and His words are true your soul responds to the Eucharist even if your mind is not fully comprehending. Your heart and soul DO comprehend!

  • We should go back to the old way of kneeling to receive the Eucharist.The biggest (Miracle) happens when receiving the ,Eucharist.The most Awesome event for us,when Jesus unites his Holy Body to our sinful bodies.

  • I have had such deepening of my faith by listening to Relevant Radio and praying the daily rosary with them on air. I began on Ash Wednesday and have continued. Also, I listen at home, to Gregorian chant and no secular music (or rarely if my family puts some on). How hard would it be to have Gregorian chant at Mass? I think our small choir could do that.

  • This touched me to the core of my heart! I feel such righteous indignation every time I walk into a church and have to hunt for the Tabernacle often finding it relegated to a corner somewhere. Sometimes I have found it tucked away in the chapel out of the main church altogether! I go to Mass 30 minutes to an hour early just to pray and be with our Lord only to find that the choir is practicing in the main church and other parishioners acting like it is happy hour at the local pub. Gossip flying all around and loudly so. I have stopped trying to pray and say the rosary in favor of just sitting there because I can’t even hear myself think. People wearing torn jeans and advertising tee-shirts to Mass. I have even seen a Eucharistic minister serving while wearing short-shorts! It’s disgraceful the way we treat our Lord and His house of worship. I am a convert and did not grow up in the church. I did not have the experience of pre-Vatican 2. However, I would love to see reverence restored in celebrating ad orientem, altar rails, communion on the tongue, etc.

  • I don’t think Jesus cares what we wear just so it is modest. Also,Jesus didn’t have the Apostles knell before He gave them the bread, his body.nor placed it on their tough.. it is what is in your heart that matters. Also, with flu and Covid-19 who wants to get saliva on their fingers? Ugh.

  • Thank you, Dr. Merrick. More reverence at Mass and in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, Communion kneeling and on the tongue, altar rails, and ad orientem will help us to recognize the reality in front of us and grow in our love for the Lord who loves us so much.

  • We Catholics have a responsibility to pay attention and celebrate the mass. That being said, it is the responsibility of the clergy to make the mass special, fervent praying, good homilies that took time to prepare, and awesome music. Yes music is important and clergy can work with the choir to make it awesome. An abundance of organized prayer, tuneless music and quick, carelessly prepared homilies makes a boring mass. The parishioners will share in the enthusiasm of the priest, the choir, the altar servers.

  • I am very discouraged, because at our parish we have a pastor who disparages the fact that the Eucharist is not reverenced as the Body and Blood of Christ. He says he sees no problem and dismissed me and another parishioner when we brought up the subject. We have no bells at the consecration. At the consecration, where I have seen other priests hold the Host up high for at least a half a minute, before lowering his hand and genuflecting, the pastor boringly lifts the Host about up to his shoulders, if that, and barely genuflects. His hackneyed homilies are boring to say the least; no substance, no teaching. He is disinterested. The awful part is that there is nothing we can do about it because his brother is a bishop!!!! At the Sign of Peace Extraordinary Ministers often go around the front pews shaking hands like it’s a political rally. That’s to say nothing of the MANY who show up for Mass as if they were going to the beach: flip-flops, short-shorts, wrinkled t-shirts, baggy jeans and sneakers, sweat pants!!! They seem to have no conception that they are in a sacred place!!! Fortunately the Tabernacle is still on the altar; but recently I visited another church where it was placed on an enclosed side altar, not visible during Mass!!
    I agree that we should put the altar rails back up and kneel to receive Communion; however, I am sure my pastor would entirely dismiss me if I suggested it.

  • It’s true that I see many who don’t receive for one reason or another. The church tries to teach us but then again many don’t go to church. Why can’t people see that we need God now. He loves us and wants the best for us. During this pandemic I’ve tried to pray more , attend mass and receive the Eucharist. Without it I can’t live! I feel there is so much I still need to learn. People have strayed because the family unit has diminished. Parents aren’t teaching their kids. We all need to teach our chikdren, friends and neighbors. People have forgotten or never learned fundamental things about our faith. People have let earthly things consume us and not God.. we need pray.. Jesus I trust in you.

  • People have asked me how can that be that a priest can consecrate bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. My answer is always that Jesus granted them the power at the Last Supper, and also just look around and think about creation. God created all that is and will be so God can surely give the priests etc. the power of the turning the bread and wine into His body and blood.

  • I think when they took out the communion rail where one can kneel for Sacred Host, the devotion was lost. I say, bring back the communion rail.

  • Although I have always been told that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, I never really began to comprehend this until I went to a Latin Mass for the first time. I appreciate the beauty of both Masses and personally attend the Novus Ordo much more often, but I felt a closer connection to God in the older rite because of the Gregorian Chant, the extreme reverence of both the priest and the people, the way Communion is received, and how the Mass itself is more mysterious. By using Latin, I feel it draws us closer to the divine because of its mysterious and unknown nature, and this helped me realize that the Eucharist is a mystery I will never be able to understand. Seeing the priest and servers act so reverently rubbed off on me and I began to take Mass much more seriously. I also think that wearing a veil to Mass allowed me to understand the beauty of a spousal union with Christ as Communion is, and a veil also helped me grow in humility in the presence of God. I also think that a more proper “dress code” is needed in some places because if you think of the Eucharist as a spousal union, you certainly wouldn’t be wearing jean shorts and a T-shirt to your wedding! Receiving on the tongue is also very important to me, as it reminds us that the Eucharist is a gift given to us by God Himself, not something that we take and then give ourselves. He wants to feed us with Himself, and we should kneel in humility of this realization and in awe of His majesty and the beautiful and undying love He has for us. Another important aspect of getting people to realize the beauty of the Eucharist is having more priests talk about it! I get so much joy in my heart when It is mentioned, but I haven’t heard a priest go really into depth on the subject and would love to hear more about it in our churches. A quick note that now Mass is one of my favorite things in the entire world and I wish other people could feel that way and understand it more than I!

  • This is powerful and frames the concern for who we are in a healthy light.
    MTD is a real popular alternative to living out the gospel message due to the demands for our entire heart!

  • Would like incenses used during Mass at consecration, around altar , the priest, etc. also the bells to chime at the offering of the body and blood of Christ. More prayers or acknowledgment of bringing forward of the bread and wine by the congregation also acknowledge the money gifts as part of those at mass offering in the sacrifice.

  • I agree with most of the statements. I sometimes feel as though I am being dealt a card in some kind of game-the Host is just being passed out with barely time to receive it. I would also enjoy silence for some period of time after receiving rather than choir singing as some of the people around me are singing too. But where I disagree is the kneeling as some of us can’t kneel and get up or fast enough. But standing at the altar for those of us who can’t kneel would be acceptable and those who can kneel can do that. I think that receiving in the hand is agreeable because of sanitation problems. The priest may accidentally touch mouths, etc..

  • Have an adoration every day before mass so people can express their love for Christ before receiving communion because when we receive the eucharist where receiving Christ sacramentally and he’s in the alter so we could express or love for him beforehand or just simply change prayer to adoration after communion.

  • I have been receiving the Eucharist for many years but did not realize the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist until 2-3 years ago from parishioners theologians, not from priests. Not sure if this is proper, but if the priest or deacon could briefly mention the presence of Christ just before Mass or before handing the Eucharist out, I think it would help the congregation to appreciate the Most Sacred Body and Blood of Christ they are consuming. I have learnt a great deal during the lockdown period but not many will ‘surf’ or seek Catholic material to learn more about their faith.

  • Interesting that you say the Mass has become hohum . Several years ago we had the privilege of attending Mass in St Peters in Rome. I was struck by the bored look of the Cardinals. They, to a one, did not look happy to be there. Why not? This was the epicenter of our religion and they looked pained!!!

  • I have also been aware of my non participation while at Mass and receiving Communion. It might have been here that I read that we are wasting our greatest gift. It came at a wonderful time. I love your series and so want to read it all. Please pray for me my daughter and I both have cancer. I am on an emotional rollercoaster right now. No one can understand a mother’s heart. I can’t say this unattending Mass just started because it didn’t. It has been a long while. I really want that childlike love of the Mass and Communion to return. I hope reading your series does this. So far you are making a difference. But I know I need more help. Thank you so much for your work. God bless you. And your work to open the doors again for many of us.

  • Our parish did an adult faith class on the Biblical Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre. It was taught by the Priest. The problem is the attendance was a small percentage of the parish. The actual references from the Old Testament and the development of how the Eucharist was foretold is facinating and makes it all seem so logical. There is no way to see it as anything but the body and blood of Christ. To me, education helps develop a deeper understanding and significance to the Eucharist. Connecting with the roots of the Catholic faith helps to understand all that we believe and practice.

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