Engaging the Eucharist

By Fr. Mark Vander Steeg | May 31, 2013

How do we mentally engage the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ? One of the challenges I experience with young people is their difficulty of moving beyond the language of “body and blood,” which doesn’t seem to fully convey the reality of the living presence that is with us at the altar. It can seem as though God is just resting there and not engaging us. I encourage them to animate the experience by using their minds and God’ gift of faith to engage the living presence as it actually comes to us in the Mass. Foremost this is best aided by bringing to Mass an ongoing prayer life outside of Mass. In this way, the Lord that we tangibly meet at Mass is the same Lord we have spoken to and tried to love all week. Without this, we all risk a dry desert Eucharist, at least from our perception.

The Mass is a multi-faceted experience of Christ, and the time within it at the altar brings us to some very poignant moments in the life of Christ. For one, the presence and action on the altar brings us to his one living sacrifice on the cross. St. Paul reminds us of this truth about the Eucharist when he writes, “as often as we do this, we proclaim the death of the Lord.” To engage this reality of the cross we can use our minds with faith to envision ourselves as we really are, mystically present in the sands of Jerusalem kneeling before the loving and crucified one. He is dying for me and for you so that we might live again, this Sunday and forever. We can pause and reflect here on the reality of our incredible worth in God’s eyes and his desire for us to be reunited with him. The Holy Spirit helps us here in our weakness to enter this reality.

The presence and action on the altar also brings us to a tangible experience of his resurrection. The experience of him at the altar and then holy Communion in the Mass is similar to the intimate resurrection encounters of the Gospel closings. We are like Mary Magdalene at the tomb so happy to hold him and have him speak our name. He is alive and with us! It is the experience of jumping in the sea as Peter did and swimming to the shore just to be with him again. It is the consolation of being so near to him again and now being able to share a post-resurrection meal with him and our friends that he promises will not end with death. This promise eases the sorrows and the tears of life. It is the safety of his presence in his most holy body and blood that reassures us that all will be well and to take courage and to not be afraid.

The experience of the living Eucharist can also challenge us when life is hard. Coming to meet the risen Lord at Mass when we are in pain or suffering can be disconcerting and remains a very personal encounter unique to each person’s walk with the Lord. He is a consolation for many but he is also a puzzle. Why is this or that permitted Oh God if you are Love? The eucharistic presence silently assures us that we are not forgotten or overlooked or any less loved. He sees and knows all. There is indeed a veil of mystery that covers so much of our life, and this includes the Eucharist.

Opportunities for Growth

1. Deepen your prayer life before Sunday Mass.

2. Engage a eucharistic image of the living Christ at Mass.

Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Bernard Parish and St. Philip the Apostle Parish, Green Bay.

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