This is the second in a three part series highlighting the Eucharistic legacy of Pope Benedict XVI. Part I focused on “The Eucharist is a Mystery to be Believed.” This week Dr. O’Malley emphasizes “The Eucharist Is a Mystery to Be Celebrated.”
Of course, most of us experience (as Benedict XVI notes) the Eucharist not as a series of intellectual propositions but a concrete, religious practice. We go to Mass. But if there is anything that has the potential to rip apart the Church right now, it’s a discussion of the Mass.
Go into any parish in the United States, and you will find people with definite thoughts about how the Eucharist should be celebrated. It should include only chant, or it should never include chant. It should be done only in Latin or never in Latin. The priest should face the same direction as the people who are praying (toward the east) or the priest should face the people as he is praying. We should put up altar rails again, or we should take them all down.
Benedict XVI had little patience with this kind of liturgical in-fighting. It once again misses what is happening in the Eucharistic mystery: the advent of Jesus Christ who comes, himself, to feed us with his Body and Blood as we remember and give thanks for what God has accomplished, living out through this prayer our primordial creatures made for praise. This is the mystery of love that we must actively participate in. Benedict XVI quotes from Vatican II on this point, reminding us that:
“…the faithful ‘should be instructed by God’s word and nourished at the table of the Lord’s Body. They should give thanks to God. Offering the immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him, they should learn to make an offering of themselves. Through Christ, the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and each other.’ ” (Sacramentum Caritatis, no. 52)
A Eucharistic Revival, therefore, will attend to the formation of the priest and the faithful alike in this kind of active participation. Active participation is recognizing that what we pray at Mass is intended to lead us more deeply into union with God and one another. We listen to Sacred Scripture, chewing upon the sweet words of salvation in the assembly with one another. We each make the offering of the Eucharist. The priest does so in the person of Christ and the Church and the assembly as the baptized faithful called to make their whole lives a return gift of love to the Father.
Active participation, therefore, is less about teaching people more things about the Mass—telling people things about things. It is instead a spiritual formation, fostering in us the kind of disposition that leads us into fruitful celebration of the Eucharist. We must learn to listen to the Scriptures in the silence of our hearts. We must cultivate an awareness in our lives of the places where we need God’s love to come to us. We must celebrate liturgies that lead us into this kind of participation, where the drama of salvation is at stake in the celebration of the Mass.
And yes, we need to reflect on the ways that God is acting among us in the Eucharistic rites, as Benedict XVI notes. We must undertake an education where each of us learn to live faithfully what we celebrate in the rites (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, no. 64). Again, let me be concrete. I am a dad and a professor, a husband and a friend. When I go to Mass or pause before the Eucharist in a quiet chapel, I do not participate in this worship apart from these relationships that define me as a person. I bring them along with me.
As a dad, I worry about my kids, whether they will pursue the good life rather than lead a life dedicated to pursuit of self-interest alone. I worry about whether as a husband my relationship with my wife reflects the love of Christ and the Church that is at the heart of the sacrament. I worry about my students, the anxiety that seems to control their lives. This is what I bring to the Eucharistic altar. All of this. I offer it back to the triune God. I pledge to make these spaces of worry in my life occasions of deeper conversion and love. Benedict XVI wanted this kind of active participation, and it’s precisely the kind of work we need to do to foster a Eucharistic Revival.
1) How do you encounter Jesus Christ when you go to Mass? Are there concrete practices that you might adopt to participate more actively in the Mass?
2) Think about something that you want to offer up to God the next time you go to Mass. What is it? Remember what you want to offer at Mass when the priest exhorts you to lift up your hearts to the Lord.