The word “Eucharist” refers to several related sacramental realities. In the first place, it refers to the sacrament itself, instituted by Christ at the Last Supper on the night He was betrayed as a memorial of His death and resurrection. The word also refers to that reality received in holy Communion — the sacrament of love, the sign of unity, and the bond of charity. Finally, the word also refers either to the entire celebration of Mass or to the second part of the celebration of Mass, which we call the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The celebration of Mass is the source and summit of the Church’s life.
The sacrament received in holy Communion is the sign of presence of the Risen Jesus, body and blood, soul and divinity, in the midst of His faithful disciples. It is both a sign and reality that is signified by the consecrated elements. The realities of the bread and wine are transformed by God’s action into the reality of Christ’s body and blood, while retaining the appearances of bread and wine. This miraculous change is unique among all the various kinds of changes we experience throughout life. It is the way Christ fulfills His promise to remain with the disciples until the end of time. Christ is true to His word. He accomplishes what He says. And so, even though Christ, in His risen body, is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, He is also sacramentally and really present to us now under the appearances of bread and wine, His eucharistic body.
Receiving holy Communion unites the believer to Christ. By becoming more and more united to Christ, we too are transformed. Our reception also helps to cleanse us from past venial sins and preserves us from future sins. It unites us more closely to Christ’s ecclesial body, the Catholic Church. And it commits us more fervently to the service of the poor. In receiving the Eucharist in holy Communion, we receive the only known antidote to death and a pledge of the future glory that awaits us in the kingdom of God.
We also call the entire celebration of Mass, the “Eucharist.” The celebration of Mass is made up of various parts. But in all its parts, the Mass is the action of the whole Christ, head and members. The priest represents Christ the head of the Church to all of us gathered together. In Christ’s name and in His person, the priest leads us all in the worship of God. The entire Mass is an act of worship which includes praise and thanksgiving, intercession, offering, and adoration. Over and over again, we sing God’s praises and give thanks in word and song for all the blessings we have received from God in life. We use God’s words, first spoken to us in the Scriptures, to speak back to Him in thanksgiving and praise. In the prayers of the faithful, during the eucharistic prayer, and in our moments of private prayer during Mass, we intercede for the needs of the world. We pray for all those who find themselves in any kind of distress. We offer our lives to God in union with Jesus’s offering of Himself to the Father. We offer bread and wine to God, along with all our spiritual and corporal works of mercy, as well as our troubles, fears, and anxiety. We offer the Father His Son, Jesus, by joining ourselves to Jesus’s offering once and for all on the cross, which becomes present to us during Mass. After the consecration, we adore God present before our eyes under sacramental signs of bread of wine. God who created us and has redeemed us deserves our adoration. And so, we turn our hearts and minds to Him present on the altar and handed over to us in holy Communion.
These are very profound realities. It is easy to lose sight of them when we come to Mass. Our minds can be full of day-to-day distractions. And yet, we should never lose sight of the fact that there is nothing on earth like the Mass. We are privileged to be invited by Christ Himself to encounter Him there.
Monsignor Marc B. Caron is moderator of the curia and vicar general for the Diocese of Portland