Crusade Meditations: Summer 2024

The HOLY EUCHARIST and the Priesthood

Institution of the Priesthood and the Eucharist.

“As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26). With these words, St. Paul indicates that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of His Love. Why? Because, as St. John Paul once explained, “Love cannot tolerate distance or bear separation” (Letter to the Eucharistic Congress at the Diocese of Setubal, Portugal on Nov. 30, 2002).  For this reason, Our Lord “invented the Eucharist where His closeness to us exceeds anything we could possibly imagine” (ibid.). The Eucharist, then, is unquestionably the work of measureless love that has at its service an infinite power, the Omnipotence of God, as St. Peter Eymard, the great saint of Eucharistic devotion points out.

The centrality and indispensability of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.

In fact, “This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race,” as Pope John notes in his encyclical on the Eucharist, “That Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after He had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits. This is the faith from which generations of Christians down the ages have lived” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia (=EE), 11). Therefore, “The Church’s magisterium has constantly reaffirmed this faith with joyful gratitude for its inestimable gift” (ibid.).

For this reason, “Those who feed on Christ in the Eucharist need not wait until the hereafter to receive eternal life: they already possess it on earth, as the first-fruits of a future fullness which will embrace man is his totality. For in the Eucharist we also receive the pledge of our bodily resurrection at the end of the world: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day’ (Jn 6:54). This pledge of the future resurrection comes from the fact that the flesh of the Son of Man, given as food, is His body in its glorious state after the resurrection. With the Eucharist we digest, as it were, the ‘secret’ of the resurrection (EE, 18).

It should be noted, then, that “This aspect of the universal charity of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is based on the words of the Savior Himself. For in instituting it, he did not merely say: ‘this is my body,’ ‘this is my blood,’ but went on to add: ‘which is given for you,’ and ‘which is poured out for you’ (Lk 22:19-20). In other words, “Jesus did not simply state that what He was giving them to eat and drink was His body and His blood; He also expressed its sacrificial meaning and made sacramentally present His sacrifice which would soon be offered on the Cross for the salvation of all” (EE, 12).

The indissoluble connection between the Eucharist and the Priesthood.

What’s more, at the same time and in the same place that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, He also instituted the Sacrament of the Priesthood when He told His Apostles, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24). The Sacraments of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, then, were linked together for all time at the Last Supper. We cannot have one without the other. For as Pope John Paul, once expressed it so powerfully, “There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood, just as there can be no priesthood without the Eucharist” (Gift and Mystery, pp. 77-78) Or to put it in still stronger and starker terms, we could say, as Fr. Hardon once did, “No priesthood—no Eucharist—no Eucharist—no Church.” The Church will grow and develop, then, only in those places where Eucharistic devotion flourishes. While on the other hand, where devotion to the Eucharist is lacking so will the presence and influence of the Church, as we are seeing today as one diocese after another goes bankrupt—both financially and spiritually.

To illustrate this truth, Pope John Paul wrote to all the priests of the world in 1979 telling them to: “Think of all the places where people anxiously await a priest and where for many years, feeling the lack of such a priest, they do not cease to hope for his presence. And sometimes it happens,” as he went on to say, “that they meet in an abandoned shrine, and place on the altar a stole which they still keep and recite all the prayers of the Eucharistic Liturgy. And then, at the moment that corresponds to the transubstantiation a deep silence comes down upon them, a silence sometimes broken by a sob… so ardently do they desire to hear the words that only the lips of a priest can efficaciously utter” (Holy Thursday Letter to Priests in 1979).

Such examples of people brought, not only to their knees, but also to tears, because of an absence of both the Eucharist and priests can prove conclusively to us, then, that both of these Sacraments are mysteries of faith. For as Pope John Paul has stressed, “The same mystery of sanctification and love… which makes the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, is at work in the person of the minster at the moment of priestly ordination” (Holy Thursday Letter to Priests in 2004). There is, in fact, as he goes on to explain, an “interplay between the Eucharist and the priesthood that goes back to the Upper Room in Jerusalem” (ibid.) An “interplay” that proves conclusively that these two Sacraments were not only born together, but also that their destiny is indissolubly linked until the end of the world.

Therefore, as Pope John Paul has pointed out, “If we take a close look at what contemporary men and women expect from priests, we will see that, in the end, they have but one great expectation: they are thirsting for Christ” (Gift and Mystery, p. 85). For everything else, including “their economic, social, and political needs,” as he goes on the explain, “can be met by any number of people. [But] from the priest they ask for Christ!  And from him they have the right to receive Christ, above all through the proclamation of the Word. For as the Second Vatican Council teaches, priests ‘have as their primary duty the proclamation of the Gospel of God to all’ (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 4; ibid., 85).

The importance of the Eucharist in the life of the priest.

However, stresses the Pope, “This proclamation seeks to have man encounter Jesus, especially in the mystery of the Eucharist, the living heart of the Church and of priestly life” (ibid.) This is possible, though, only because, “The priest has a mysterious, awesome power over the Eucharistic Body of Christ. And by reason of this power he becomes the steward of the greatest treasure of the Redemption, for he gives people the Redeemer in person” (ibid.). Unquestionably, then, “Celebrating the Eucharist is the most sublime and most sacred function of every priest” (ibid.) Speaking of himself St. John Paul testified that “From the very first years of my priesthood, the celebration of the Eucharist has been not only my most sacred duty, but above all my soul’s deepest need” (ibid., p. 86).

It is not surprising, then, he has stated in no uncertain terms that, “The celebration of the Eucharist must be the most important moment of the priest’s day, the center of his life” (ibid., p.75). For as he goes on to explain in his masterful encyclical on the Eucharist, “Every commitment to holiness, every activity aimed at carrying out the Church’s mission, every work of pastoral planning, must draw the strength it needs from the Eucharistic mystery and in turn be directed to that mystery as its culmination. [For] in the Eucharist we have Jesus, we have his redemptive sacrifice, we have His resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have adoration, obedience, and love of the Father” (EE, 60).

Eucharist and ecclesiastical expansion.

It goes without saying, then, that “The mystery of the Eucharist—sacrifice, presence, banquet—does not allow for reduction or exploitation; it must be experience and lived in its integrity both in its celebration and in the ultimate converse with Jesus that takes place after receiving communion or in a prayerful moment of Eucharistic adoration apart from Mass” (EE, 61).

For it is at times like these, more than others, “When the Church is firmly built up and it becomes clear what she truly is: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic; the people, temple and family of God; the body and bride of Christ, enlivened by the Holy Spirit; the universal Sacrament of salvation and a hierarchically structured communion” (EE, 61).

The Eucharist and vocations.

We must pray often and ardently, then, for an increase, not only in Eucharistic devotion, but also for priestly vocations during these last few months of the Eucharistic Revival declared by the Bishop’s Conference of our country. For as St. Peter Eymard once stated, “Every time Jesus takes possession of a country, He pitches His Eucharistic royal tent in it” (The Real Presence, Vol. I of the Eymard Library, p. 155). In fact, the erection of a tabernacle marks, as St. Peter has noted, the official occupation of a country by Jesus. For “Our Lord does not rule over earthly territories but over souls, and He does so through the Eucharist” (ibid.)

The Eucharist as the “source and summit” of both the Church and the Priesthood.

The Second Vatican Council teaches furthermore, that the Eucharist “contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth, that is, Christ Himself, our Passover and living bread” (Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests, 5). It is therefore the “source, and the summit of the Christian life” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 34). It is the very heart of the Church. Take away the Eucharist, then, and the worship of the Church must inevitably cease. For it would no longer have a reason to exist.

Therefore, as Pope John Paul concludes with irrefutable logic in his encyclical on the Eucharist, “If the Eucharist is the center and summit of the Church’s life, it is likewise the center and summit of priestly ministry” (EE, 31).  For this reason, he stresses that the Eucharist must also be “the principal and central reason for the existence of the Sacrament of the priesthood, which effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist” (ibid.) For this reason, as he goes on to point out, “the centrality of the Eucharist in the life and ministry of priests is the basis of its centrality in the pastoral promotion of priestly vocations” (cf. ibid). For it is in the Eucharist that prayer for vocations is most closely united to the prayer of Christ the Eternal High Priest. So in other words, we can especially expect that vocations to the priesthood will increase in proportion to the love that priests have for the Eucharist.

And so today, let us ask Mary, the Mother of Priests and the Mother of the Eucharist to give us not only more holy priests, but also and above all a greater love, reverence, and devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist both in and outside of the Mass.

Fr. Matthew Hincks, ORC

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