How do you help people understand the Eucharist at Mass?
Updated: Aug 16
A 2019 study showed that seven out of ten Americans surveyed do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and that nearly half do not know what the Church teaches about this central element of Catholic identity and life. Since then, the United States Bishops launched a three-year Eucharistic Revival, to bring back to life (revive) a strong Eucharistic faith. As we are in the middle of this reviving process, let us consider what the esteemed theologian Pope Benedict XVI offers the Church for passing on the truth regarding the Blessed Sacrament. While there are decades of his thoughts on this subject, we will focus on his papal document Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Charity) and its section on catechesis and helping people to encounter God in the Eucharistic Celebration of the Holy Mass. He refers to is as “a mystagogical approach to catechesis, which would lead the faithful to understand more deeply the mysteries being celebrated” (SC 64).
Benedict XVI tells us that the best teaching on the Eucharist is the Mass celebrated well. Does the way we celebrate Mass witness to our Eucharistic faith? This is a question for reflection for clergy, lectors, acolytes and servers, cantors/choirs, and each person in the pew. In 2010 and 2011 Catholics received a wave of catechesis on the Mass to help transition people to the New Translation of the Mass: homilies, classroom instruction, study groups with adults, bulletin inserts, and more. It was everywhere. Something like this could easily be our community’s focus for 2023 and 2024, and particular seasons each year ahead.
What does Benedict XVI suggest for preaching and teaching to guide people into a deeper understanding and Eucharistic encounter at Mass? (1) Explain how the words, actions, and moments of the Mass reflect the events of Salvation History, a history testified to in Sacred Scripture. (2) Building upon our first point, presenting the meaning of the liturgical signs throughout the Mass. This is not a repeat of interpreting them in light of Salvation History but understanding what these signs and gestures reveal to us about the Mass. (3) Finally, bring out the insight the moments of Mass has for living out the Christian life in and out of Mass, and this includes our participation in the Church’s mission. To summarize: celebrate Mass well; preach and teach, at church functions and in our homes, in a way that helps people understand the Mass in light of Salvation History, what the parts of the Mass tell us about what is going on in the Mass and how Jesus is truly present, and how the Mass provides us guidance for living out our faith in everyday life.
Pope Benedict XVI then provides an example of a fruit, a result of effective preaching and teaching in the ways mentioned above. That is the fruit of increased reverence. “A convincing indication of the effectiveness of eucharistic catechesis is surely an increased sense of the mystery of God present among us. This can be expressed in concrete outward signs of reverence for the Eucharist” (SC 65).
In my opinion, Sacrament of Charity by Benedict XVI is the greatest papal text on the Eucharist in the Catholic Church’s 2,000 year history. Lucky for you and me, it is available online for free. Consider reading it during this time of Eucharistic revival: https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis.html