“A Eucharistic Prayer”
by Bishop Eugene J. Gerber (Crisis, June 1999)
Bishop Eugene J. Gerber of Wichita, Kan., writes: “Of all the sacraments, only the Eucharist is described by the phrase ‘Real Presence.’ It is not that the other experiences are not real presences of God, but only in the Eucharist do we have the very body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ.
“While the other sacraments have as their origin the Paschal Mystery of Christ, only the Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Paschal Mystery itself. The Eucharist is thus the ‘source and summit’ of the Church — all her activities flow from the Eucharist and lead us to a full participation in it.”
Though baptism is primary because it makes possible participation in the other sacraments, “the greatest benefit of the sacrament of baptism is that it allows one to participate fully in the Mass.”
All the sacraments make use of basic material things, like bread and wine and water and oil, to communicate “God's presence to us in a special way. … Even more, this communication of God's presence to us is necessary for our salvation (as with baptism). Thus we cannot equate our personal experiences of God with that of the sacraments. While we may be reminded of God in a work of art or in the brilliant colors of the setting sun and feel close to God, the sacraments are of a different order of Christ's presence. For, in the sacraments, Christ is immediately present to us.”
In the Eucharist, “we are called to be obedient children of the Father. We are invited to join in Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice. We do this by enduring faithfully the hardships we encounter in following the way of Jesus … we offer our sacrifices, pains, and joys involved in living the Gospel life in our daily lives with those of Christ. This all takes place through the hands of the priest, who is essential for the Eucharist, and who has given his entire life to the service of helping those in his charge to offer more perfectly this sacrifice of praise. It is for this reason that the lack of priests is such a painful experience. There are no replacements for priests.”
In following Jesus’ paschal example, we are called to be “examples of life-giving brokenness. In imitation of Christ, they sacrificed their own lives for the Good News of God's love for us. When we approach the minister of the Eucharist at Mass for communion, we respond ‘Amen’ not only to the Real Presence that we are about to receive, but also ‘Amen’ to the requirements of this presence in our lives.”
Today, “many Catholics lack faith in the eucharistic presence. … [Some] are tempted not to believe in the Real Presence because we would rather not accept the full reality of God's love for us. Like Adam and Eve, who hid from God after they sinned, I am at times tempted to keep God comfortably at arm's length. I know that if I accept the closeness of God in the Eucharist, if I accept that God does indeed love me to such an extent that He empties Himself to be immediately present to me in such a humble form, then what kind of a response would I be moved to give?
“How might this recognition of God's love for me provoke changes in the way I live my life — changes that I would rather not make? … How are we to stand in God's presence, knowing that we will never be able to love God to the same degree that He loves us?
“In the bleakest moment of Jesus’ earthly life, when He willingly allowed Himself to be put to death by crucifixion, God experienced the greatest rejection of His saving presence in the world. But in the midst of that darkest hour, the mystery of God's love overcame the darkness of the human heart and won salvation for all humanity through the death of His only Son. … As we continue to give the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist all of the ritual displays of glory, honor, and veneration, the reason Christ comes to us in this sacrament must be remembered. We are able to go back into our daily lives, fortified as children of God to share the sacrificial love of Christ with whomever we meet.”
Ellen Wilson Fielding writes from Davidson, Maryland.
A condensed version, in the words of the original author, of an article selected by the Register from the nation's top journals.