My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This past Sunday, May 29, 2016, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi. At holy Mass, the celebrant prayed the opening prayer:
O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament
have left us a memorial of your Passion,
grant us, we pray,
so to revere the sacred mysteries of your Body and Blood
that we may always experience in ourselves
the fruits of your redemption.
Who live and reign with God the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
On this solemnity we gathered to renew our love and devotion to Jesus Christ truly present in the most holy Eucharist, the sacrament that should fill us with the spirit of wonder and awe in the presence of our God.
Both the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the subsequent instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (Sacrament of Redemption), issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on March 25, 2004, repeat the constant teaching of the Catholic Church, namely that "The Most Holy Eucharist is the most august sacrament, in which Christ the Lord himself is contained, offered and received, and by which the Church constantly lives and grows. The Eucharistic Sacrifice, the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord, in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated over the centuries, is the summit and source of all Christian worship and life; it signifies and effects the unity of the people of God and achieves the building up of the Body of Christ" (The Code of Canon Law 897; cf. also Catechism of the Catholic Church,1324; Lumen Gentium, Vatican II, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 11).
In view of this sublime reality, we come to understand that it is an extraordinary privilege for us to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the foundation and heart of our redemption in Christ. When we approach the celebration of holy Mass or any of the sacraments with this spirit of gratitude, it essentially changes our attitude toward the sacramental nature of the church. Realizing that in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, Jesus comes to us, we then approach Him not asking what is in it for me, but how can I possibly thank the omnipotent God who has chosen to come to me! We realize that the sacraments are God’s gift to us; He graciously invites us to participate in His life through these personal encounters with Him.
When St. John Paul II declared the Year of the Most Holy Eucharist in 2004, he did so realizing that it was very necessary to recapture the transcendent and awesome nature of the Eucharist. The sad and continuing decline of those faithfully attending Mass each week gave evidence that a significant number of those who were baptized into the church do not fully appreciate the reality of Christ’s real presence at every celebration of the Eucharist. In fact, recent polls, while perhaps questionable, are no less disturbing when they indicate a high percentage of Catholics who do not understand the theology of the real presence or simply do not believe that Christ becomes present, body, blood, soul and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine at the Mass during the institution narrative, the consecration (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 1353). The horizontal dimension appears to have overshadowed the vertical dimension in our relationship with God. Simple acts of reverence such as genuflecting and kneeling as prescribed in the liturgical rubrics of the church — absent, of course, physical ailments that do not make this possible — are not as evident as they once were. And yet, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that "Before so great a sacrament, the faithful can only echo humbly and with ardent faith the words of the Centurion: ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed’" (Number 1386).
Thus, any liturgical, pastoral or spiritual renewal must begin with an understanding of the divine and sacramental nature of the most holy Eucharist. We do not gather simply to form a community, but rather, as a community, to profess our faith in Jesus Christ and as the church instructs us to give: "thanksgiving and praise to the Father … for all that God has made good, beautiful, and just in creation and in humanity" (cf. Catechism, 1358-1359).
In celebrating the holy Eucharist, we unite ourselves to those who have gone before us reaching back to apostolic times. "If from the beginning Christians have celebrated the Eucharist and in a form whose substance has not changed despite the great diversity of times and liturgies, it is because we know ourselves to be bound by the command the Lord gave on the eve of his passion: ‘Do this in remembrance of me’" (Catechism, 1356). The Eucharist indeed belongs to Christ who graciously shares His presence with us through His bride, the church. The Eucharist is not a mere cultural phenomenon restricted by certain historical periods or philosophies, but rather it transcends all time and all political and social ideologies; it finds its origin in Christ.
As early as the second century we have the witness of St. Justin Martyr for the basic order of the Eucharistic celebration. Recorded in the catechism, we have the account of Saint Justin Martyr writing to the pagan emperor Antonius Pius (138-161 AD) around the year 155 AD, explaining what Christians did "on the day we call the day of the sun" (Catechism, 1345). Here are outlined the essential elements of the Mass that we still celebrate today.
With great clarity, Jesus tells us, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you" (John 6: 53). Our life, our hope, our strength are derived from the most holy Eucharist. Acknowledging this extraordinary reality of faith, we must all work together to foster constantly and everywhere devotion to Christ in the Eucharist. We must be evangelizers in our homes, parishes and communities, inviting those not actively participating in the life of the Church to come home! With the apostle Thomas, every Catholic parish and institution must find its heart, its raison d’être in the most holy Eucharist and repeat again and again the words of Thomas, "My Lord and My God!" (John 20:28).
In all our chosen vocations, apostolates and responsibilities of our daily lives, I pray that the most holy Eucharist will be our sustenance, our food for the journey and our hope and joy as daily we make ourselves a dwelling place, a living tabernacle for the Lord.
Invoking the intercession of Our Mother Mary whose fiat allowed the Word to become flesh, I remain, with an assurance of my prayers and asking a remembrance in your good prayers,
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester