Why Go to Mass ?
Bishop Michael Evans
A simple explanation of the Eucharist and our encounter with Christ in it.
Great Catholic thinkers such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas strongly affirmed the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but in a way which highlighted the sacramental nature of that presence and which avoided any crudely materialistic understanding. Some extreme realists in St. Thomas’ day were shocked by his interpretation, and his teaching is still rather challenging and disturbing for some Catholics today, both those who undermine Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and those who hold on to an ‘ultra-realist’ view. His language of ‘substance’ and ‘accidents’ is not easy for us to grasp, but it enables us to insist on the real presence of Jesus through a change in the deepest reality of bread and wine while avoiding any crude identification of that presence with what we handle with our senses. The idea of ‘sacrament’ is vital: it involves a distinction – but not a separation – between the visible sign (what we see, touch and taste) and the invisible reality we receive (the whole Christ). This saves us from the pitfall of thinking that whatever is done to what we handle is actually being done to the risen Lord himself. The Catechism reminds us that the whole Christ is present in the Eucharistic elements, but ‘in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ’ (n. 1377).
Reception and Adoration
We are urged to receive communion each time we come to Mass (n. 1388). Christ is sacramentally present both under the form of bread and under the form of wine, and therefore we receive ‘all the fruit of Eucharistic grace’ by communion under the form of bread alone. The Catechism reminds us, however, that ‘the sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of Eucharistic meal appears more clearly’ (n. 1390).
Whatever way we receive communion, it is Christ himself that we receive, and it is important that we prepare ourselves for so holy a moment. The one hour’s fast before receiving communion – hardly a great inconvenience – helps us to think about the meaning of what we are to do. Simple thing like: what we wear, how we participate, are meant to express ‘the respect, solemnity and joy’ of the Eucharist. What matters most, however, is our inward preparation, allowing our hearts, minds and lives to be purified, renewed and opened to the presence of Christ.
Catholics express their faith in the Eucharistic presence of Christ by signs of adoration such as genuflecting or bowing deeply. This special presence of Christ begins at the consecration and lasts as long as the Eucharistic elements (n. 1377). This is why Catholics worship the Lord present under the sacramental signs, not only during the Mass itself but also afterwards. Christ gives us his sacramental presence as one of the ways in which he is with us, even to the end of time (Mt 28.20): he waits for us in this sacrament of love, inviting us to meet him in adoration:
In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst as the one who loved us and gave himself up for us, and he remains under signs that express and communicate this love (n. 1380).