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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? Apparently and scandalously so. 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.

  • 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.

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