Bishop Kemme reflects on the Year of the Eucharist | Part 1

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As we begin the Year of the Eucharist in the Diocese of Wichita, I greatly desire to offer you, the clergy, and the faithful of our beloved diocese as well as all men and women of goodwill, four reflections on the Mystery of the Eucharist. I do this with the hope and intention of building up the faith and devotion of all in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. At the outset, I want to call upon the intercession of one of the Church’s newest saints, who in his short but inspirational life, found great love and power in the Holy Eucharist, Blessed Carlo Acutis. In the short 15 years of Blessed Carlo’s life, he possessed a spiritual wisdom well advanced of his tender age. Once he said, “The Eucharist is my highway to heaven.” (Figueiredo, Msgr. Anthony. Blessed Carlo Acutis 5 Steps to Being a Saint. Catholic Truth Society, 2021 pg. 79). I propose we adopt that saying as our own. It is so deep and yet so simple. With his whole heart, Bl. Carlo believed this and lived an intensely Eucharistic life. So, with Blessed Carlo’s intercession from heaven, let us begin this first reflection on what we believe to be true about the Eucharist. “I came that they may have life”
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, RSV). These words inspired our Diocesan Pastoral Plan, clearly proclaiming the hope for all the faithful to be “fully alive” as missionary disciples. These two words, “fully alive,” encapsulate my hope for the future of our diocese. I long and pray that we become “fully alive” in Christ, so much that the grace of Christ’s life in us spills over into our culture and helps to evangelize it. This is our MISSION. How will this happen in the hearts of each one of us? The Eucharistic Mystery provides the answer to how this will happen in the hearts of each of us. Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the crowd, “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (Jn. 6:53) These words provide the connection between the Diocesan Pastoral Plan, “Fully Alive” and the Eucharist. In order for God’s children to respond to Christ’s call to become fully alive as missionary disciples, to form the faithful in evangelization to preach the Gospel to all people, to renew the Stewardship Way of Life, and to renew parish and family life by reclaiming Sunday as the Lord’s Day, we must become a Eucharistic people. From our participation in the Eucharistic Mystery and our worthy reception of Holy Communion, our goals in the spiritual life are attainable. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, in paragraph 11, affirms the “Eucharistic Sacrifice, the source, and summit of the Christian life.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 1324 would repeat those powerful and thought-provoking words when it said, “the other sacraments and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.” Thus, the Eucharist is the central mystery of our faith. Everything finds its source, that is, draws its strength from the Eucharist and everything we do is directed towards imitating the Eucharistic Mystery. Recognizing the Eucharist as the source and summit of our faith, I intend to elaborate in this first section of my pastoral letter on what it means to BELIEVE in the Eucharist and to enunciate as clearly as possible the Eucharist as real presence, the Eucharist as sacrifice, the Eucharist as Paschal banquet and the Eucharist as Sacrament of Charity.
II. Eucharist as Real Presence
The belief that at Mass the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Our Lord defines the doctrine of Real Presence, the core of the Eucharistic Mystery. “This is my body, which will be given for you “(Lk. 22:19). These words spoken by our Lord to the Apostles at the Last supper provide the foundation of our belief in the real presence. The Church has affirmed this teaching throughout the centuries. The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1374 states, “in the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ and therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained.” Admittedly, this can be a challenging tenet of our faith. Even when Jesus described the Eucharist in the Gospel of John, many said, “this teaching is difficult, who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60). While this teaching of our Lord might be difficult and many find it difficult accepting it to be true, we, as Catholics, must accept it in faith for they are the words of Jesus. The words of the institution of the Eucharist, by our Lord himself at the Last Supper, provide the foundation of the miracle that takes place at each Mass. The miracle of the Eucharist “occurs through a unique and marvelous conversion of the substance of the bread and wine on the altar into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ…This conversion is fittingly called transubstantiation, for it is the instantaneous conversion of one entire substance into another” (Feingold, Lawrence. The Eucharist: Mystery of Presence, Sacrifice and Communion, Emmaus Academic, Steubenville, OH, 2018 pg. 170). Although the appearance, or accidents, of bread and wine remain, the substance or the essence of the bread and wine is completely changed. Remarkably then, at each Mass two miracles transpire; bread and wine become Jesus’ Body and Blood, and the appearance remains the same. Many pages have been written and much ink has been spilled trying to articulate the marvelous truth about how God makes himself really and substantially present to us. It comes down to this: “The Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence is not contradictory, but simply rests on the omnipotence of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ. Just as God can create the world out of nothing, so He can change one thing into another by His Word.” (Feingold, 178)
Dear friends, when I ponder the Real Presence of Jesus Christ sacramentally present in bread and wine, I recall one of the Church’s great Eucharistic hymns “Adoro te devote” written by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, which so beautifully speaks of this mysterious presence. May the words of the Angelic Doctor inspire your prayer and belief in the real presence.  “I devoutly adore you, hidden deity, who are truly hidden beneath these appearances.
My whole heart submits to you, because in contemplating you, it is fully deficient. Sight, touch, taste all fail in their judgment of you, but hearing suffices firmly to believe. I believe all that the Son of God has spoken; there is nothing truer than this word of Truth.”
III. Eucharist as Sacrifice
Primarily, the celebration of the Mass makes present the sacrifice of Calvary putting forth the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium in paragraph 47, states, “at the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages until he should come again and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection.” The Eucharist as sacrifice supersedes the sacrifices of the Old Covenant since it is a perpetuation of the one perfect sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the Cross.  In his Letter of 1980, Dominicae Cenae, Pope John Paul II wrote in paragraph 9, “The Eucharist is above all else a sacrifice. It is the sacrifice of the Redemption and also the sacrifice of the New Covenant.” The reality of human nature is that we have sinned immeasurably before God, and we need his forgiveness. This concept of the need for forgiveness is common to our human relationships. For example, when I offend a close family member or friend, I may offer some type of gift as a sign that I am sorry. In the end, the external object is less important than the sorrow that I feel in my heart for offending the person I care for deeply. These acts “are a kind of interior sacrifice or gift of self to God, and they are the heart of the virtue of religion, which is the habitual attitude of seeking to give fitting glory to God.” (Feingold, 207). Therefore, Christ came to give himself in sacrifice to the Father and to allow us to participate in that sacrifice which is done principally in the Eucharist.  Every sacrifice has four ends or purposes: to worship God, to give him thanks, to plead for his aid, and to expiate sin. The sacrifices of the Old Covenant fell short, and Christ came to make a perfect sacrifice on our behalf. Christ invites us into His sacrifice done voluntarily out of absolute love for the Father, and a sacrifice that is worthy of the infinite dignity of the Father. Prior to Christ’s perfect Eucharistic Sacrifice, we were incapable of offering a sacrifice that completely fulfilled the four purposes of sacrifice. In the Mass, we are drawn outside of time into the heavenly realm to participate in the perpetual sacrifice of Christ at the right hand of the Father, which began on Holy Thursday when Christ entered into the Paschal Mystery. In our churches, Christ becomes sacramentally present in time. Through the priest, Jesus himself offers the sacrifice, and the Mass fulfills the need to give glory to God, to thank him, to satisfy for sin, and to beg for all our needs. Although the offering of Calvary made on the altar is perfect and an infinite amount of grace is available at each Mass, our capacity to receive grace is limited. Thus, Christ offered us a sacrifice that could be repeated Sunday after Sunday, so that we might grow in holiness each day. We need look no further than to the words of institution to remind us then of the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. “For this is my Body, which will be given up for you.” “For this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sin.” (Roman Missal)
IV. Eucharist as Paschal Banquet
As we continue our journey, the Paschal Banquet constitutes the next element of our belief in the Eucharistic Mystery. Once again, the words the priest repeats at each Mass highlight this aspect of the Eucharist, “Take this, all of you and eat of it.” Take this all of you and drink from it.” (Roman Missal) The meal or banquet aspect of the Eucharist flows from it being a sacrifice, for every meal is predicated on some sacrifice, something offered up so that men and women’s bodies, minds, hearts, and souls could find nourishment and renewed strength. Jesus, we know from the Gospels, was often found at meals with the apostles, with families, and with sinners. He also took great care to feed the poor such as he did in multiplying the loaves and the fishes for the thousands. He used these occasions to teach, to heal, to nourish, and strengthen the people he came to serve. When his ministry was about to be fulfilled, he chose the Passover meal in which to bind himself forever to the people on their pilgrim way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 1383 explains why the “altar” represents both the Eucharist as sacrifice and as table of the Lord. “The Christian altar is the symbol of Christ himself, present in the midst of the assembly of his faithful, both as the victim offered for our reconciliation and as food from heaven, who is giving himself to us.” Human experience brings to mind our natural need for food and nourishment. Without it, we would very quickly become weak, sick, and eventually, we would die. We need this daily sustenance. The same is true, even more so, when it comes to the life of our immortal soul. Our souls need to be nourished. Jesus offers us nourishment in the Eucharist. In fact, many of the saintly biblical scholars of the ages pointed to this when in the Lord’s prayer, we pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” The daily bread Jesus was referring to was the Eucharist, a bread that strengthens our soul to perform the duties of the spiritual life. Without the Eucharist, our spiritual life will become weak, we will be unable to live out the Christian life and eventually, the indwelling of the Holy Trinity might die through the consequences of sin. The Eucharist is essential as our spiritual nourishment. The Eucharistic sacrifice became a supernatural banquet. The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs us in paragraph 1402. “If the Eucharist is the memorial of the Passover of the Lord Jesus, if by our communion at the altar we are filled ‘with every heavenly blessing and grace, then the Eucharist is also a participation of the heavenly glory.’” The Eucharist is a participation in the Paschal Banquet and a pledge of the glory that is to come. It is inspiring for us to remember that when we participate in the Eucharist, we are uniting ourselves with the whole Church: with Christ the head, the church militant here on earth, the Church suffering in purgatory awaiting the cleansing they so long for, and the church triumphant, those who are with God forever, those already in the glory of heaven. What a sublime moment of participation in the Paschal banquet that aids us on our highway to heaven. To conclude this part of my reflection, I offer the beautiful antiphon St. Thomas Aquinas wrote for the Magnificat for Vespers on the Feast of Corpus Christi that highlights all we have discussed about the Eucharist as Paschal Banquet. It is called “O Sacrum Convivium” and it is translated as such:
O sacred banquet
In which Christ is received
The memory of his Passion is renewed
The mind is filled with grace
And a pledge of future glory is given to us
V. Eucharist as Sacrament of Charity
In instituting the Eucharistic Sacrifice, Christ perpetuates his presence among us and fulfills his promise to remain with us until the end of the age. (cfr., Matthew 29:20) In his love, Christ left us his very self, present on our altars and in our tabernacles. This gives us the peaceful assurance that God is with us. His presence is not merely within our reach; Christ desires to be intimately united with us through the Sacrament of Charity. Through the worthy reception of Holy Communion, we are united in charity to God and one another. As St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:17, “For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of the one bread.” Thus, we are bound into one body by the strengthening of our unity to Christ and one another. This union with Christ allows us to share in his redemptive sacrifice. The Eucharist makes present his redemptive sacrifice and it allows us, through union with him, to join with him in offering it to the Father. In other words, the perfect self-gift of Christ is made present through the celebration of the Eucharist, and our participation requires a mutual and complete self-gift. The Eucharist makes present the perfect charity of God that we should imitate. Thus, the Eucharist is the Sacrament of Charity. By being united to God through Holy Communion and by uniting ourselves to this perfect sacrifice in the sacrament of charity, we are transformed to become more like God. The Church Fathers referred to this process as divinization. At Baptism, we receive sanctifying grace, the life of God within us. Sanctifying grace inaugurates us into being “fully alive.” The Christian must strive to maintain the life of Christ within them. The Eucharist increases sanctifying grace, and by imitating Christ, we are divinized. This is beautifully expressed in one of the private prayers of the priest during the Mass, who while he pours a drop of water into the wine prays, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” This is not to imply that we somehow become God or take his place, but we begin to share more in his nature and make his presence in the world more fully known by being more like him. In the Confessions, God reveals this truth to St. Augustine in this way: “I am the food of strong men; grow, and you shall feed upon me; nor shall you convert me, like the food of your flesh, into you, but you shall be converted into me.” (St. Augustine, Confessions 7.10.16, trans. J.G. Pilkington, NPNF1, vol. 1.) So the Eucharist nourishes us, it is the sacrament of Charity that allows God’s presence to be among us and to participate in a mutual self-gift, and it makes us more like God. What a remarkable gift we have received.
VI. Conclusion
Brothers and Sisters, the Sacrifice of the Mass where we encounter the Mystery of the Eucharist consists of an unfathomable and interminable beauty! What we believe about the Eucharist is profound and life-changing. Through the offering of the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood, the mystery of redemption is made present in our lives and offers us the opportunity to become FULLY ALIVE, and to fulfill our deepest, most authentic desires. Many choose not to believe these truths but we hold fast to them in faith and trust because we know God to be trustworthy. In this time of great doubt and disbelief in many of the truths of our Catholic Faith, I recall the words attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, who said, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” As a gift of faith, we believe that the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of God is present at each Mass and is sacrificed to the Father to save us from our sins. We believe that the Eucharist makes Christ present among us, that it unites us to him, it nourishes us, and that it makes us more like him. Therefore, believing these truths about the Eucharist, let us go forth to adore, celebrate, and live the Eucharistic Mystery in our lives.
Blessed Carlo Acutis! Pray for us!
+ The Most Rev. Carl A. Kemme