In the missalette “Living with Christ”, which many of us use to help us follow the readings at Mass every month, there is a lovely little quote from St Carlo Acutis. Carlo is one of the newer canonized saints and was only a teenager when he died of a serious disease. But even at such an early age, he had already achieved a life of holiness, based largely on his devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist. He compiled a list of the two hundred or so Eucharistic miracles from the history of the Church, some of which we featured during our exhibition of such miracles when we celebrated our 200th anniversary at St Philip’s a couple of years ago.
This is the quote from St Carlo: ”Jesus is my great friend and the Eucharist my highway to heaven.”
I don’t think you could get a simpler, more concise and accurate summation of the Church’s devotion to the Mass than this. The Catholic Church, in its document on the Liturgy at the Second Vatican Council, had described the Mass as the, “summit and source of our whole Christian life.” Yet so many Catholics, sad to say, seem to be ignorant of why this would be so, judging by the way many, even outside of the coronavirus restrictions, don’t bother coming to Mass, except on rare occasions, such as Christmas and Easter. The deprivation of Mass and communion has been hard for dedicated Catholic church-goers, a real suffering. But, despite all the year-long preparation they went through as children to receive their first communion, and despite the excellent catechetical programs out there these days, explaining the importance and richness of the Mass, many Catholics seem to feel they don’t need it. In fact, a recent poll in the U.S reported that some 70% of Catholics do not believe that in the Mass, they receive the body and blood of Jesus, and I presume those statistics are similar for Catholics here in Canada. Yet this is a foundational doctrine of the Church.
So what has gone wrong here?
Where did the simple awe and excitement we had as children about to receive our first communion go? Why do we no longer have that same reverence and eagerness to receive Jesus , that would make going to Mass such a delight and an absolute necessity for us as Catholics, as it inspired St Carlo, even as a teenager (which is when so many people seem to drop out of going to Mass?). In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says with great sadness to the church in Ephesus,
“You have lost your first love for me.“Revelations 2:4
How sad is that? But I think we have to face facts and say the same is true of many in the Catholic Church these days – they have lost their first love for Jesus.
That is why that quote from St Carlo Acutis is so refreshing and inspiring: ”Jesus is my great friend and the Eucharist my highway to heaven.” St Carlo never lost sight of the essential truth about the Mass: that here in the Eucharist we receive Jesus as our great friend and love, and as we keep receiving him into us in this way, he will lead us step by step along the highway to heaven. Heaven is indeed pictured in the Bible as a great Eucharistic banquet, and so this feast of the Eucharist is already a preparation for, and a participation in, that day of days when we, with Christ, in the words of our responsorial psalm today, we “lift up the cup of salvation “ and “offer to God a thanksgiving sacrifice.” The actual word “Eucharist” literally means “thanksgiving”. What do we give thanks for in our Mass? For our salvation, for the fact that, for God, it was too unbearable that we should be lost to him in Hell for ever, because of our sins, and so He himself became the atonement for the sins of the world by dying on the cross to save us from eternal death and open the way to heaven. If ever there was a reason for us to give thanks, surely this would be it. Do we take our salvation so lightly that we forget the great price Christ paid, the shedding of his own blood, to win us back to God?
“I will pay my vows to the Lord,” our responsorial psalm says. What are those vows? They are the vows of our baptismal commitment to God, to be faithful to him, to worship and serve him, to know him and to love him, so we can be happy with him for ever in heaven. You know this, brothers and sisters, as well as I do, these are the words of our childhood catechism. The vows made by us when we were baptized, or by our parents and godparents if we were babies when we were baptized (but repeated and confirmed by us at our confirmation), these vows commit us to a life-long discipleship of Jesus, including coming to him and receiving him at Mass. Are we still paying those vows to the Lord, brothers and sisters, or have we lost our first love for Jesus , and are not even bothered that this is the case?
For those who are still in doubt as to whether Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, I urge you to pay attention to his words in the gospel as he celebrates his Last Supper, and the first Mass of the Church’s history. Those words could not be clearer, could they? “Take, this is my Body” spoken over the bread. “This is my Blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” spoken over the wine. With those words, Jesus is both pointing us to, and preparing us for, the sacrifice of his life on the cross for our salvation, and letting us know, that, when we gather for Mass, he is present as crucified and risen Lord, extending to us the fruits of his death – namely forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, healing of body and spirit, and eternal life. Which is why Jesus said at his Last Supper: “Do this in memory of me.” The Catholic Church has always believed that these words of Jesus are a command that we should be celebrating Eucharist always, not just when we feel like it, or when our other schedules permit. There can be no more important duty for us as Catholics than to pay our baptismal vows to the Lord and come to offer up the thanksgiving sacrificeof the Mass, in memory of the truth that,
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that those who believe in him, might not perish, but might have eternal life.”John 3:16-17
I know that it is so very difficult, during this time of the pandemic, for people to physically get to Mass. But the pandemic will not last forever, and, before we get too comfortable staying away from Mass, I am extending this peal to you to return to your first love.
I believe that God is still performing Eucharistic miracles, brothers and sisters, great and small, and that those miracles, those signs of Christ’s presence will increase, now that we have the intercession of St Carlo Acutis being offered up for us in heaven. A couple of years ago, during one of our first communion celebrations, a photograph was taken of the moment when a girl was receiving communion.
Obviously, the cynics can dismiss this as just a trick of the light – but could it not also be a little sign from Jesus to remind us that he is here in the eucharist, waiting for us to come to him, so he can enter us and be our, “light and salvation“ (Psalm 27:1)?