Training Catholics in Eucharistic Doctrine

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

We now move into the practical aspect of our reflections on the Eucharistic Apostolate: training Catholics in Eucharistic Doctrine. By training, we mean both instruction of the mind and inspiration of the will. In Catholic vocabulary, training means enlightening the mind in order to motivate the will. God came into this world not as some “Divine Philosopher” but as the Divine Teacher, a teacher who wants the human race to obey the divine will of God. Thus, the purpose of Catholic training, teaching and educating is to instruct the human mind in order to motivate the human will, so that the will conforms to the will of God.

We have three questions to address in this meditation. (1) Where are the resources for Eucharistic Training? (2) Who should provide this training? (3) How should this Eucharistic training be given?

Training Resources

The resources for Eucharistic training are found basically in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church over the centuries of the Church’s existence, beginning with the New Testament. The amount of Eucharistic Doctrine could literally fill a library! I sincerely believe most Catholics have only the faintest idea of the ocean of the Church’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist from the past 20 centuries. As we have seen, the most extensive teaching on the Holy Eucharist has been occasioned by the rise of heretical Eucharistic teaching. And I believe we are currently living in the most devastatingly heretical Eucharistic age in the two millennia of Catholic Christendom.

So to find the Eucharistic resources, we can turn to a library of Catholic Eucharistic doctrine. And then we’ll notice that behind those libraries stands the authority of the Bishop of Rome. As I have told my students over the years, without the successors of Peter, people today would not even know “Eucharist” was a word. It would have died long ago because in order to provide resources for Eucharistic teaching, we need to have recourse to:

  • The General Councils of the Church approved by the Bishops of Rome.
  • The regional Councils of the Church, also when and in so far as they were approved by the Bishop of Rome.
  • The encyclical letters issued by the Bishop of Rome.
  • The decrees and directives of the Holy See, which are always under the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

When we’re talking about resources, it cannot be too strongly emphasized how the teaching authority of the Vicar of Christ is crucial to ensure soundness of doctrine on the Holy Eucharist. Among the most extensive and explicit papal teachings on the Holy Eucharist in our century are from Popes Pius X, Pius XII, Paul VI, and John Paul II. Certainly, all the modern popes have given us a mountain of Eucharistic doctrine, but I would single out these four as especially outstanding in the sheer quantity of Eucharistic pronouncements; for the clear interrelationship of the three levels of the Eucharist as Sacrifice, Communion and Real Presence; and especially for the strong insistence on the revealed truth of Christ’s continued presence on earth in the Blessed Sacrament.

Given the rise of so many erroneous ideas, Popes Pius X, Pius XII, Paul VI, and John Paul II are prolific in reiterating and clarifying and integrating the revealed truth that without the Real Presence, there is not only no Sacrifice of the Mass and no Holy Communion, but there is also no Catholic Church. Of course, a library of secondary sources has been published. For instance, if you look at just the Greek and Latin Church Fathers, you’ll find more than 200 volumes containing hundreds of thousands of words on the Eucharist. However, the key for assessing these resources is always fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium, which is under the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

Who is to Provide Training?

We may classify those who are to provide training into three basic groups: parents training their children, priests training their people and teachers training their students. As we examine the roles of each of these groups, let’s keep in mind that we are talking about training, not just teaching in the academic sense.

Parents: The most influential teachers in religious doctrine are parents. This primacy of parents in the religious training of their children comes from the fact that parents are responsible before God not only for the physical, but also for the spiritual nurture of the children they bring into the world.

But the parents’ primacy is deeper still. In God’s Providence, parents are the primary channels of grace for their children. God wants to use parents as the generators and sustainers not only of their children’s natural life, but also, with divine emphasis, their children’s supernatural life. This supernatural life has a foundation, which is the faith. And within this faith, there are no fundamental truths more important than the Incarnation and the Holy Eucharist. How many thousands of parents I’ve told this to over the years: your main purpose of being parents is not to bring children into this world, but to bring children into eternal life! Families are not made for this world; families are made for eternal life.

Priests: If there is one theme of Pope John Paul II, it is his insistence on the role of the priesthood for training people in the sublimity and dignity and beauty and necessity of the Holy Eucharist. In my judgment, if there is one Pope who will go down in history as the Pope of the Eucharist, it is Pope John Paul II. He never tires associating the priesthood with the Eucharist. I’ll quote just one of literally several thousand other statements from John Paul II which are similar to this one: “Through our ordination,” he tells bishops and priests, “we are united in a singular and exceptional way with the Eucharist. In a certain way, we derive from the Eucharist, we exist for the Eucharist, we are also, and in a special way, responsible for the Eucharist: each priest in his own community and each bishop, in virtue of the care of all the communities entrusted to him.”

Religious educators: Religious educators are to train their students in the correct knowledge and intelligent understanding and faithful practice of the Catholic faith. Yet within this faith, the core of its meaning and the heart of its living is the Holy Eucharist.

The Second Vatican Council published an entire document on Christian Education. In this document, the Council re-emphasized the value of schools to assist parents in the proper upbringing of their children. And in this document, the Council insisted that the schools under the Church’s authority be Catholic schools. In practice, this means the religious instruction they give must be authentically Catholic. As stated before, it is the essence of Catholic education to teach the unqualified doctrine of two mysteries of our faith that go together indispensably: the Incarnation and the Eucharist. Without the Incarnation, there would be no Eucharist, and without the Eucharist, the Incarnation would not be the God-man offering Himself in Mass, giving Himself in the Holy Communion and living in our midst in the Real Presence.

How Training is to be Given

There is much more behind this question than we may think. Certainly, like any other form of training which involves the mind and the will, those being trained need to be instructed. Words have to be spoken. Educational materials have to be used. All the available means of pedagogy should be employed with obvious difference depending on who is doing the instruction and who is being taught. For example, a mother will not teach her child about the Eucharist the same way a priest will give a homily about the Blessed Sacrament. Also, since the Eucharist is not only to be believed but lived, Eucharistic training must provide for developing the will and emotions in order that the Blessed Sacrament may become part of a person’s life.

But there is much more here. In answering the question of how people are to be trained in Eucharistic doctrine, we must remember that we are dealing with the order of grace and not only of nature. Faith in the Real Presence is a lifetime commitment. This kind of commitment requires the constant access to supernatural grace. At baptism, we are infused by God with the supernatural powers, or virtues of hope and charity. But these virtues must be nurtured, developed and motivated by the constant influx of divine light, otherwise known as illuminating grace.

When we talk about training people in the Holy Eucharist, what we really mean is providing them with the constant pouring of grace into their minds. Books are not the answer. Classes, speeches and homilies are not the answer. We are only the channel or apparatus through which God confers the grace.

This is the heart of the present conference. Parents, priests and teachers may have all the academic knowledge in the world, but they will be useless, and in some cases positively harmful, if they are not themselves Eucharistic believers and lovers. In God’s ordinary Providence, He uses human beings as channels, means, conductors through which He communicates His grace, in this case for illuminating the mind. For people to put that Eucharistic faith into practice, we must have Eucharistic parents, Eucharistic priests and Eucharistic teachers. The degree of academic training is quite secondary. The wealth of vocabulary is dispensable. But what is indispensable is that we are used by Christ in order to pass God’s grace on from Him, through us, and to those whom we are training.

Lord Jesus, we who have the true faith and believe in the Holy Eucharist are not to hug this faith to ourselves. We are to share it with others, but Dear Lord, we will share our Eucharistic faith only as effectively as we ourselves are Eucharistic followers of You, believing that You who died on the Cross continue to offer Yourself in the Sacrifice of the Mass; believing that when we receive You in Holy Communion, we receive the same Jesus whom Mary carried in her womb for nine months; and believing that when we are before You in the Blessed Sacrament, we are, as Thomas was after Your Resurrection, in the Presence of Our Lord and Our God. Amen.

Used with permission from Inter Mirifica.