The Need to Understand the Church’s Teaching on the Holy Eucharist

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Week 7
Reading 1 of 3

If there is one thing that will be clear from our Eucharistic Retreat, it will be that we are to live what we believe. Throughout these meditations we have been learning how we are to practice our faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. However, up to this point, our reflections have been mainly concerned with our own spiritual lives. Now we turn our attention to the apostolic dimension of our faith in the Holy Eucharist: How can we become apostles of the Real Presence in the modern world?

Over the next four meditations, we will look at the following issues:

  1. The need for Catholics to understand the Church’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist.
  2. The need for Catholics to understand how the one sacrament of the Eucharist has three levels (as Sacrifice Sacrament, as Communion Sacrament and as Presence Sacrament).
  3. The need for understanding how the Real Presence is fundamental for the Sacrifice of the Mass and Holy Communion.
  4. The need for a program of training Catholics on these three levels of understanding the Eucharist.
  5. The need for motivating priests, religious and laity to promote Eucharistic adoration.
  6. The need for coordinating the practice of Eucharistic Adoration on a parochial and diocesan level.

Need for Understanding the Eucharist

There is no doubt that our final goal in life is to reach Heaven. Our purpose in living a temporary life here on earth is to live an eternal life with God in Heaven. We shall reach Heaven if we have done the will of God on earth. One may ask: “How do we do the will of God?” We submit our wills to the divine will of God by enjoying what He wants us to enjoy and by suffering what He wants us to suffer.

“Say that again?”

By suffering what He wants us to suffer.

“Do you mean God wants us to suffer?”

Of course! But notice, only in suffering what He wants us to suffer. Thirdly, we also submit our wills to God by removing from our lives what He wants us to remove. In other words, we all have certain things in our lives which God wants us to sweep out.

“Even things we like?”

Yes. And the most important clean-up we have to do is in our minds — removing from our minds what God does not want us to have there.

“But I really like these thoughts!”

But God wants you to get rid of them.

And fourth, we must sacrifice what He wants us to surrender or sacrifice, even though no sin may be involved. So we do the will of God by enjoying, suffering, giving up and sacrificing what He wants us to enjoy, suffer, give up and sacrifice. But we must remember that the will is a blind faculty. It cannot choose anything except what the mind, enlightened by faith, tells the will is desirable and therefore, chooseable. You might say the will is sitting around waiting for the mind to tell it what to do. But the mind must know from reason (especially from faith building on reason) what the will should choose. An unenlightened mind is an inactive will.

This applies directly to the Real Presence. In order for Catholics to spend even five minutes in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, their minds must first be enlightened on the meaning and value of the Holy Eucharist. Otherwise, the human will won’t move the body to kneel down before the Blessed Sacrament. The human will won’t even move the body to walk into a Catholic Church or Chapel. Why bother? The mind must be convinced that Christ, the Son of God, really is here on earth in the Blessed Sacrament.

It is one thing to profess to be a Catholic; it is something else to believe in the Holy Eucharist. Faith is not in certain syllables being pronounced. Faith is in the intellect, assenting to what God has revealed — not because our minds can explain why or how something is true, but because the all-truthful God has revealed His Truth. It is one thing to be a practicing Catholic. It is something much more to realize what the Holy Eucharist really means.

At the turn of the century, Pope St. Pius X organized what has since become known as the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Almost a century ago, Pius X saw the growing chaos in so many parts of the Catholic world worked by erroneous ideas among the faithful. He said, “Most of the evils which beset the Church and most of the problems with which the Catholic Church is plagued, are not due to bad will.” That needs memorizing. He goes on: “No, they are mainly due to ignorance of Christ’s revealed truth.” This has been our preoccupation during this retreat. Needless to say, we’ve only begun what we need to do for the rest of our lives: grow in our understanding of what we believe.

So what are we saying in this conference? We are applying all the basic premises of the Church’s teaching to the need for Catholics to understand the Holy Eucharist. Sometimes when I talk this way, people think: “Poor Father, he thinks he is still teaching in the seminary. This is not a class of theologians doing their doctoral studies on Catholic dogma.” But this need is for all Catholics. We are living in the most academically sophisticated nation in the world in all of history. More than 5 million Americans attend college campuses every year, learning everything under the sun, and beyond the sun. They can learn the inner workings not just of molecules or atoms, but of the protons and neutrons inside the atom! But that same mind, trained to the hilt and bogged down with the weight of human knowledge can be a vacuum when it comes to understanding what God has revealed. That’s intellectual horror. We must understand our faith in order to explain it to such an intellectual, academic world.

And the need for Catholics to understand the Holy Eucharist is grave, urgent, widespread and crucial. As the understanding of our faith in the Eucharist goes, so goes the Catholic Church. And as the Catholic Church goes, so goes the rest of the world, because we believe the Church is the mother and teacher of all nations. Why is understanding the Eucharist so desperately needed among Catholics today? Because otherwise, the reason for Christ’s institution of the Holy Eucharist will be either only minimally realized or not realized at all.

Just before His Ascension, Jesus told the apostles two things: to make disciples of all nations and to teach them “all I have taught you.” Note the two words “disciples” and “teach.” This is the final mandate of Our Savior to the apostles and to all of us. We must make disciples of all nations. What’s a disciple? A disciple is one who has learned, whose mind has been instructed and whose intellect has been enlightened. Then Christ told the apostles, “teach all nations all that I have taught you.” Among the truths Christ taught the apostles, none is more fundamental than the fact that God became man, that He died for the world’s salvation and that this God-become-man is in the world in the Eucharist.

We who see ought to weep over the emptiness of so many Catholic minds which do not see — minds which do not see what Christ has revealed. And for our purpose, is there anything more important than to know that Christ, who redeemed the world, is in the world today?

The implications are obvious. We Catholics have a divinely given duty to understand what we believe about the Blessed Sacrament. Yes, we have an obligation to grow in all the virtues, but the most basic Christian virtue is faith. If we don’t grow in the faith, we will not grow in any other virtue. Growing in the faith means growing in understanding and in the intelligibility of our faith and in the meaningfulness of our faith.

Closing observation: In the Tantum Ergo, we sing “praestet fides suplementum sensuum defectui”, which means “let faith supply for the failure of the senses.” We are asking that our believing mind may be deepened in its grasp of what our senses do not convey, that behind what our eyes can see, behind the physical properties of bread and wine, is the living God who became man. Amen.

Used with permission from Inter Mirifica.