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Rediscovering Eucharistic Amazement

If Christ is not the principal actor in the celebration of the Eucharist, then the Mass is a social ritual, the community’s celebration of itself.

(Image: stefania57 | us.fotolia.com)

In his 2003 encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (The Church from the Eucharist), Pope St. John Paul II invited Catholics to regain a sense of “Eucharistic amazement.” Being “amazed” by the Eucharist is probably not all that common these days. But Holy Mass should be all amazement, all the time. For in the celebration of the Eucharist, John Paul wrote, our time is linked to the time of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, because the Eucharist has a “truly enormous ‘capacity,’ which embraces all of history as the recipient of the grace of the redemption.” In a spirit of eucharistic amazement, we live history as His-story: God’s story.

As bishops, pastors, and catechists use this moment of eucharistic fasting to rekindle a sense of eucharistic amazement in the Church, they can put a recent “response” from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to good use. That August 6 responsum, personally approved by Pope Francis, had to do with Baptism. It also teaches a lesson applicable to the Eucharist.

The question the Congregation had to answer was whether Baptism is validly conferred by saying “In the name of the father and mother, the godfather and godmother, the family, the friends, and in the name of the community, we baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The answer was “No.” Why? Because the ancient formula, “I baptize you….” expresses the bedrock truth the Second Vatican Council inscribed in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: “When anyone baptizes, it is Christ himself who baptizes.” To speak of “we” baptizing is to suggest that the Church invents the sacraments rather than her being created by the sacraments. And that, to cite an image from Father Robert Imbelli, is to decapitate the Body of Christ.

Christ is the principal actor in the sacramental drama of Baptism. Christ acts through the baptizer, to be sure. But it really is Christ who acts. Otherwise, Baptism would be merely a welcoming rite rather than the radical reconfiguration of a person to Christ as a member of his Mystical Body, the Church.

The same principle applies to the Eucharist: If Christ is not the principal actor in the celebration of the Eucharist, then the Mass is a social ritual, the community’s celebration of itself.

Vatican II was quite explicit about the Christ-centered reality of the sacraments, so  appeals to the Council to support aberrations like “We baptize you….” falsify the Council. As the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states, “Just as Christ was sent by the Father so he also sent the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit…so that they might preach the Gospel….and proclaim that the Son of God by his death and resurrection had freed us from the power of Satan, and from death, and brought us into the Kingdom of his Father. But he also willed that the work of salvation that they preached should be [manifest] through the sacrifice and the sacraments….[Thus] Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations….[which] are performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and his members.”

How many Catholics understand that we are called to the weekly celebration of the Eucharist so that, in union with Christ the Head of the Body, we might offer ourselves to the Father along with the eucharistic Christ who is offered? How many Catholics grasp that, at Mass, Christ, the Head of the Body, is acting through us, the members of that Body, as well as through the ordained priest who leads us in worship? How many of us realize that, in union with the Head who baptizes and the Head who is really present in the scriptural Word of God and the consecrated bread and wine, we continue Christ’s mission in the world, for which we are commissioned in Baptism and nourished by the Eucharist?

This is, in a word, amazing. So is the truth that the Eucharistic body of Christ that nourishes us at Mass is Christ’s risen and glorified body, in which, John Paul wrote, “we digest, as it were, the ‘secret’ of the resurrection” and are prepared, here and now, for the glorious destiny that awaits us once, through death, we pass over into the Kingdom.

These are basic truths the Church must hear. They should be preached and taught vigorously, and especially now. If they are, the “Sunday normal” to come may be better than the “Sunday normal” that was.


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About George Weigel 297 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent book is The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), published by Ignatius Press.

26 Comments

  1. Just curious as to why in the 60’s going to Catholic school it was drilled into us to never, ever, ever, ever, EVER touch the wafer, for fear of who knows what, and then it was changed to where we could handle it ourselves without any consequences. God’s word never changes, but traditions can? God’s ways are right and just. Man’s ways are…..not?

    • PRIOR to COVID, it was standard practice in my archdiocese for Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers to sanitize their nubs prior to handling the Eucharist. Think of it.

  2. The fact that the author asks “how many Catholics understand” and “grasp “ the meaning of the Eucharist is an indictment against the last 50 years of the Catholic Church in the USA (and I assume most of Europe…and probably globally).

    This is the fruit of “The McCarrick Establishment;” the counterfeit parasitical cult living inside the Church as it’s host, by eating its brains and heart from the inside.

    It is the counterfeit cult that hates and seeks to erase every faithful-orthodox parent, child, teacher, theology professor, philosophy professor, priest, Bishop and Pope who ever faithfully abided and served before the ugliness of the McCarrick Establishment’s 2013 papal election deceit, as the sociopath McCarrick couldn’t resist telling “the cattle” in his monologue at Villanova in October 2013. I will post the sociopath McCarrick’s speech at Villanova in a second post below.

    How many grasp and understand the meaning of the Eucharist? Thanks to the McCarrick Establishment…the question can be answered for the author: “Very few.”

    As the prophet Ezekiel declares today in the Mass: “Woe to you” your “Excellencies,” Your “Eminences,” etc.

    “Wow to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!” … As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have been given over to pillage, and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast, for lack of a shepherd…hear the word of the Lord; Thus says the Lord God: I swear I am coming against these shepherds. I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep, so that they may no longer pasture themselves. I will save my sheep, that they may no longer be food for their mouths….I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” (Ezekiel 34: 1-11)

  3. With the covid restrictions and dispensations from attending Mass, a lot of Catholics are concluding that they aren’t any worse off for not receiving the Eucharist and for not attending Mass. That’s a big problem for the church. A lot of people aren’t going to return if the pandemic ever abates.

  4. Here is the hero of the USCCB, the 90% of “formerly” Catholic universities who follow McCarrick’s 1967 Land-of-Lakes break-away from the Church (google and read it at the “Notre Dame” University website), and the world-wide McCarrick Establishment, headquartered in Rome, with regional HQs in NYC, Newark, Atlanta, Miami, Buffalo, LA, Chicago and Archdiocesan offices world-wide:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NnM3959OzTc

    What a laugh McCarrick had…telling “the cattle” in his grooming tone of voice how his candidate “Bergoglio” was “200-to-1.” Of course, most “Catholics” would not know otherwise (since as the author implies they don’t even know the Holy Sacrifice of The Mass), that Bergoglio was “runner-up” in the 2005 conclave.

  5. brian vogel ,
    hello!
    I first assumed you came from a fundamentalist Christian background but are you actually a fallen away Catholic?
    You know, the quality of Catholic education began to go downhill in the 1960’s, especially in the second half. Very few Catholics my age have a real grasp on the basic tenets of their faith or can defend those through apologetics. It only got worse into the 1970’s.
    Yes, traditions with a small “t” can change. Sacred Tradition is a different thing.

    • Hi Mrs. Cracker,
      I was brought up in the Catholic church (30 years) but called to be a Christian ( by the grace of God) for the last 30. I never read or knew of anyone who read the Bible as a Catholic, but read it everyday now. It really is amazing to see how man has taken God’s word out of context, added or subtracted from His Word to fit the theology of their religions. In a nutshell, trust and faith in Jesus alone is the only way to heaven……you’ll see that very clearly if you just read the New Testament. Praying that you do.

      • brian vogel ,
        Thank you so much for your prayers. I really do appreciate them. Many thanks!
        I think we’re in agreement that our trust & faith in Jesus is what leads us to Heaven. Without those we don’t have much of a chance in this fallen world. Theologians can give more nuanced explanations about salvation but trust & faith are pretty critical.

        I wasn’t fortunate enough to attend Catholic schools but considering what happened to them in the 1960’s & ’70’s perhaps that was a blessing in disguise. I actually learned more about my Catholic faith through homeschooling my children.
        I do read the Bible & know many Catholics who do also. If you attend Mass you’ll hear readings from both the Old & New Testaments.
        But I think you’re correct that reading scripture is not as widely practiced at home by Catholics as it should be. And that’s a shame.
        God bless you! I’ll be praying for you also. Have a lovely weekend ahead!

  6. I fall short of trying to thank you in your efforts to shore up our sacramental moxie. Beyond the pulpit there simply are too many in church and Church related issues needing clarity and even secular attention. Using a ballpark playing metaphor, you Sir are and have been playing dodge ball for these last many months.

  7. Bye the way, We were taught in our, yes very pre Vatican11 Holy Communion classes that, the Eucharist is so very powerful in which while frequent reception even weekly can always be had, it is not absolutely necessary, because it is that powerful.

  8. I became an Alter Boy in the later half of 1950s. The sister teaching the alter boys emphasized the sacredness of the Eucharist. So at Communion it was essential that we hold the patten (a plate/dish) correctly to ensure that no specs of the Eucharist or the whole Eucharist would fall to the floor. The lack of this emphasis of the sacredness of the Eucharist is needed.

    To add to this, once during communion the priest was rushing in giving the communion, I was not proceeding as fast as him to ensure that the patten was held in place to ensure nothing fell to the floor. Anyways, after mass he came over to the alter boys side and thanked me for my contientious. I’m guessing that I reminded him of the sacredness of the Eucharist, which in turn was emphasized by the sister who taught us alter boys. We need more teaching on the sacredness of the Eucharist and I think resurrecting the use of the patten should help.

  9. Witnesses to the Resurrection were, yes, “amazed” (Luke 16:5) but also “afraid” (Matthew 28:5), or yet again “terrified” (Luke 24:5) or as Benedict XVI translates the moment, “astonished” or “alarmed.” What will awaken us toward true wonder for the Real Presence—-and away from our anesthetic stupor so incapable of any kind of surprise at anything at all?

    Well, instead of replacing social hall Bingo with sanctuary banners and kumbaya, or matching a one-hour Eucharistic fast with a two-hour after-Mass doughnut menu, maybe this time we can update successfully with a serving of decentralizing/accommodating—and stupefying—synodal pottage?

    The consecrated host and universal and Eucharistic Church upstaged by a doughnut—-a sort of a polygon Church also without a center? But this must be it (!): the double-life “new paradigm’ of truth on the one hand but with disconnected praxis on the other. All aboard! Or is it “a-bored”?

    • Thanks for yet another interesting comment. Imagine the church, a doughnut, with a piece missing, a hole in its center. It’s like a diadem, a crown, a Coronavirus gutting and dispensing with the need for sacramental sacrifice!

  10. The desire and frustration of not having total control over sexuality , thus to feed the pride and its denial of having to live up to the dignity of being the children of The Father – that has been with us , since The Garden .
    True , since the 60s , the enemy has been in full throttle battle in the area , through the flood waters of the media .

    https://www.truechristianity.info/en/the_testimony_of_gloria_polo/the_testimony_of_gloria_polo.php

    the well known testimony and life story of Dr.Gloria Polo , above , a shocking indication of the inroads of immorality and its effects , world over .
    The problems in Venezuela , a place said to be a harbinger of what could he headed our way , one can see where the battle really is .
    Let us be beware of those who want to add fuel to such fires , as leaders of the nation .
    Thank God that there are Rosary Crusades and such going on as well and our Holy Father , pointing to us , to look to The Sacred Heart , The Eucharist , with trust and gratitude that The Lord is washing , healing us ,freeing us from the enemy darkness, filling us with His holiness and purity to present us to The Father , in The Spirit , as His children , ever more conformed to the Image of The Son .
    Thank God , for The Church and our Father figures .

  11. Analogy helps us understand what the mind can’t succinctly perceive, the spiritual. Although the mind or intellect knows that our analogous concept is not the reality. Simply understanding intellectually is insufficient, since many believe not all adequately realize the mystery as a living presence. Faith is what realizes Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. Sensing quietly what inflames the soul with the unimaginable.

  12. PRAYER BEFORE MASS
    Pope St. John Paul II
    (National Catholic Register, May 19-22, 2006)

    “Eternal Father, we members of your blessed son Jesus Christ’s Mystical Body (His Church), in prayerful union with other members of His Church throughout the world, especially those who are suffering or living under oppression, and those who desire to go to Mass but are unable to do so; in spiritual communion with the intentions and affections of The Immaculate Heart of Our Lady of Sorrows on Calvary, the Angels and Saints in Heaven, our patron Saints, our Guardian Angels—we all join in offering this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, this unbloody renewal and extension of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross for the following intentions:

    1) To adore and worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit and to pledge our love and loyalty forever to the God who made us to Know, Love and Serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven.

    2) To thank Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for opening the gates of Heaven by His sacrificial death on Calvary and to thank God for all the blessings and graces He has bestowed upon us throughout our lives especially for the supernatural gifts of Faith, Hope, and Charity; those gifts of Truth, Love and Peace which Christ promised to leave with us.

    3) We express our sorrow for having offended God in any way throughout our lives and offer our prayers, works, sufferings, joys and even ourselves [underlined], to the Eternal Father with this sacrifice of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of His Dearly Beloved Son in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

    4) Finally, we petition the Triune God for the Grace from this Eucharist to conform every conscious endeavor of our lives to the will of the Father in all things as did Christ. We also pray for all persons, places and things—absent, present, living and dead—for which we are bound in conscience or have expressed a desire to pray for, especially for an increase in vocations, for peace among nations, for the conversion of Russia and for the end of the unspeakable crime of abortion. AMEN.”

  13. Can anyone tell me if this “Eucharistic principle” applied to Baptism, also applies
    to the other five sacraments?

  14. Here is a quote from George Weigel’s biography of John Paul II (WITNESS TO HOPE):

    “But he confessed in his diary that he thought there had been a bit too much stress on the Church discovering itself in the Eucharist, rather than on the Church discovering Christ.” (P. 223)

  15. Christ never baptized anyone, and Paul baptized very few. It seems suspicious that people want to place emphasis on the sacraments, while sliding around the precept to live on every word of God. The Catholics that I know never study the Scripture themselves. I find no excuse for this blatant disregard for the teaching to live on every word of God. Certain bishops even resisted the formulation of a a catholic catechism, according to John Paul II.

    • Going to Mass on Sunday is a commandment. So my priest said, people who read the Bible can’t go to Heaven just on the Bible alone! As a Catholic the most important part of the Mass is the Holy Eucharist, which everybody I knew growing up as a Catholic knows this Dave. I find that some of my ex-Catholic friends try to justify their guilt by saying things like you talk about. You sound just like a liberal who will say, my way or no way.

  16. Christ taught that hat you have to worship God in Spirit and in truth. Thus, Thomas Aquinas emphasized the metaphysical, (signs, [see Acts 2:22, 43], revelations, Providence); and the anagogical interpretation of Scripture (spiritual and mystical). The kingdom of heaven, taught Christ, is within you. The Garden of Eden is found through sanctification.

  17. Lk 22:20 refers to the cup of wine and the New Covenant. This is the covenant that Jeremiah announced. See Jer. 31:31-34. Just as Moses sealed the covenant with sacrificial blood, Jesus of Nazareth sealed the New Covenant with the cup, that represented his blood.

  18. Many comments complain that Catholics do not read the scriptures. I do not dispute that, but consider this:
    A practising Catholic will probably go to Mass at least 50 times per year – many more if they also go on weekdays and attend other Catholic ceremonies. At each Mass there are three readings from the Scriptures – four if you include the Psalms. Over the years such a Catholic will eventually be exposed to the main themes of the Old and New Testaments. In addition, the homily will, if it is good, expand on those themes.
    The Catholic who attends Mass is therefore regularly and systematically exposed to a vast number of Scriptural readings during a lifetime. More important, those readings are heard each time in the context of the liturgy of the Mass which is centered on the Eucharist – ie on Christ and which therefore gives the fullest possible meaning to those readings.
    In this way, a practising Catholic has every chance to come to a mature understanding of the truths revealed in the Scriptures – indeed I would argue that this is far superior way to learn these truths than merely reading the books of the Bible.
    I agree that we should also read the Scriptures as a separate exercise in addition to our participation in the Eucharist. But the claim that Catholics do not read the Scriptures, even if literally true in one sense, loses much of its sting in light of the above considerations.

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