Why Go to Mass ?
Bishop Michael Evans
A simple explanation of the Eucharist and our encounter with Christ in it.
Communion with one another
Eucharistic Prayer 2 asks that ‘all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit’, and that we may grow together in love. By receiving together the body of Christ, we become together the body of Christ, the Church.
Do we see deepening communion between the members of our Eucharistic communities as a central purpose of the Eucharist? How does that affect the way we celebrate? The Catholic Church understands the Eucharist as ‘properly the sacrament of those who are in full communion with the Church’ (n. 1395), and this is the main reason why we cannot normally share Eucharistic communion with other Christians. But how much effort do we as Catholic put into being full communion with each other – full communion of faith and love even in our own parish community?
It is at the Eucharist that we are most truly Christ’s Body. The Eucharist is the supreme expression of the nature and mission of the Church. It is at Mass that we see what the Church is all about, and everything else we do as Christ’s Church flows from the leads back to the celebration of Mass. What does the way your particular parish celebrates the Eucharist reveal about the kind of Christian community you are?
The Catechism sees the pain of division between Christians, experienced with particular intensity when we cannot share Eucharistic communion together, as spurring us on to more urgent prayer for complete unity (n. 1398). There are established norms for ‘Eucharistic hospitality’ with other Christians under special circumstances. This is easier with the Eastern Orthodox Churches whose ordained ministry and celebration of the Eucharist are accepted as valid by the Catholic Church, but there are also particular occasions when other Christians who have a Catholic faith in the Eucharist may receive communion from a Catholic minister (n. 1399f; cf. Code of Canon Law, 844.4; Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, 122-136, 159-160).
Communion with the poor and oppressed
The Catechism situates the Eucharist firmly in the real world. The Eucharist commits us to the poor: ‘To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognise Christ in the poorest, his brethren’ (n. 1397). It is not enough to recognise the real presence of Christ in the ‘breaking of bread’, to reverence him in the Blessed Sacrament; we are only truly Eucharistic people if our reception of Christ leads us to recognise and reverence his presence in the broken lives of those around us, and to seek real communion with those in need. We are called to balance our prayerful adoration of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament with our loving service of Christ in those with whom he personally identifies: ‘Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me… Whatever you fail to do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you fail to do to me’ (Mt 25:40, 45). Any parish which has true adoration of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament will be a parish actively dedicated to loving service of the poor and oppressed at home and overseas – the homeless and rejected, the sick and the sad. The deeply Eucharistic person will be the one, for example, who reaches out in welcome to the person with AIDS, seeking – with Christ – not to condemn but to share that person’s life.
In the Eucharist, we are united with the suffering of Christ, not only on his cross but in those people being ‘crucified’ today. If the Eucharist is the living memorial of Christ’s Cross, we must stand at the foot of the cross of the poor and oppressed, sharing their suffering and acting in love for their deliverance: ‘In the Eucharist, the Church is, as it were, at the foot of the cross with Mary, united with the offering and intercession of Christ’ (n. 1370).