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Of all the frightening statistics that we hear of these days, has any statistic been more chilling than that of the Gallup poll several years ago indicating that only 29% of Catholics receiving the Eucharist on Sunday believe that it is really and truly the body and blood of Christ? It seems that somewhere over the past few years Catholics have lost a sense of what Christ has given us in the Eucharist, and an appreciation of this great gift.
Read A Testimonial to Truth.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins its section on the Eucharist by saying: “The Eucharist is the ‘source and summit of the Christian life.’ The other Sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole of the spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself.” As Catholics we believe that the Eucharist is really and truly Jesus’ Body and Blood, Soul, and Divinity. In fact, writes Fulton Sheen, “The mark of a Catholic is the willingness to look for the divine in the flesh of a babe in a crib, and the continuing Christ under the appearance of bread and wine on an altar.”
Jesus’ Own Teaching
The reason we can believe such as seemingly strange reality is, simply put, because it was what Jesus taught us. First in the Gospel of John chapter six: “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him” (verses 55 and 56). Then at the Last Supper He not only teaches this truth again but this time actually celebrates the first Eucharist with his disciples: “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’ ” (Luke 22:19-20)Thus beginning with the Apostles, the Church has held fast to her faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
How to Gain a Deeper Appreciation
How then do we go about regaining an appreciation of this great and mysterious gift of Christ? For a faithful Catholic, everything should begin and end with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
Attend Mass Each Sunday
The Holy Eucharist is what makes us Catholics—it is, indeed, our identity. In this sense, the one who calls himself or herself a Catholic and does not participate in the Holy Sacrifice of Mass every Sunday is being untruthful to one’s commitment to Jesus—they are living a lie. We are the Eucharistic People of God. The Catholic Church exists because of the Eucharist. We will begin rebuilding our faith in the Eucharist by attending Mass each Sunday, each day when possible, and thus be faithful to Christ’s commandment to “do this in memory of me.”
The second way to come to a more intimate knowledge and love of the Eucharist is through prayer. As St. Bernadine of Siena said over 500 years ago: “Prayer is the best preparation for Holy Communion. Prayer is the raising of the mind to God. When we pray we go to meet Christ Who is coming to us.” Daily prayer, and preparatory prayer before Mass is the way that we prepare ourselves for what should be the highlight and the center of our week, reception of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It is easy to miss what is happening at Mass if we don’t take some time beforehand to get ourselves ready. In the Mass we are nourished by God’s Word in the readings, and by Jesus’ own Body and Blood. So we need some time of silent prayer to get our ears attuned to listening to God speaking to us, and some time to reflect on our lives and our own spiritual hungers which we need the Eucharist to satisfy.
Live What We Receive
Another way that we can begin to appreciate the Mass more is if we try to truly live that which we receive. The word “Mass” comes from the Latin dismissal, “Ite Missa est!” (“Go you are sent!”) We have to recognize that the Eucharist is meant to give us the strength, the courage and the grace to live as faithful Christians in the world. So at the end of Mass we are all sent out, newly refreshed and refilled with grace, to do God’s work in this world. Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to tell her sisters, that just as the priest at Mass so carefully handles and cares for the Eucharist, so they must go out and handle and care for the poor. The Eucharist is not meant to be something separate from our daily lives and work, rather we are meant to bring our daily life to Mass with us, and to take the Mass and Jesus Christ back out into our daily lives.
The Eucharist is essentially about a deep and profound union with Jesus Christ. It is about allowing Him within our souls so that He can begin to transform us, and make us like Himself. As St. Pius X said, “Remember, this side of heaven, there is no way to be closer to Jesus than by worthily receiving him in Holy Communion.”
So the question then remains for us, do we really believe what the Church teaches about the Eucharist? That it is truly Jesus Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, present under the form of bread and wine? Do we believe that it is the greatest way to encounter Our Lord? Do we believe that through it He can transform our lives?
If not, then why not?
Who Can Receive the Eucharist?
Catholics who have received their First Sacraments, who are not conscious of grave sin, and who have fasted for at least one hour are encouraged to devoutly and frequently receive Holy Communion.
This is very important:
To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion. (CCC 1385)
Translation: taking this Sacrament with serious, unconfessed sin on the soul brings condemnation rather than salvation!
We are also required to fast for just one hour before receiving. Water and medicine do not break a fast. Catholics are obliged to receive this sacrament at least once per year, if possible during Easter (CCC 1388).
Non-Catholics are not ordinarily admitted to Holy Communion and are asked to pray that the action of the Holy Spirit will draw us closer together and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us (see CCC 1398-1401).
Why Can’t Non-Catholics Receive Holy Communion?
Contrary to popular belief, the reason non-Catholics are asked to refrain from receiving Holy Communion is not because the Church wants anyone to feel excluded. The Church, in fact, has a certain responsibility to non-Catholics.
Because what makes us Catholic is our belief of Jesus’ True Presence in the Eucharist, it would be a disservice to allow non-Catholics to partake in this extraordinary union when they do not know or understand that which they are joining in. Why? Because they would not have been able to properly prepare themselves.
St. Justin Martyr wrote this in his apology to the emperor at Rome circa 150 AD:
We call this food Eucharist; and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true….For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and has both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the Flesh and the Blood of that incarnated Jesus.
Circa 110, St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote this concerning heretics:
They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again.
And from St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in a catechetical lecture he gave in the middle of the fourth century, we get this:
Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. Even though the sense suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but be fully assured by the faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Holy Days of Obligation
In the United States, there are 58 (57 in the west) Holy Days of Obligation each year:
Every Sunday - Every Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation. Missing Mass for no sound reason (necessary work, emergencies, caring for an infant) is a grave sin against the Third Commandment and requires our being forgiven through the Sacrament of Confession before we may return to Holy Communio. Learn more about how and why we are to Keep Holy the Sabbath here.
Immaculate Conception—December 8
Christmas Day—December 25
Holy Mary Mother of God—January 1
Ascension Thursday (although in the western region of the U.S. it is celebrated on the following Sunday)—Forty days after Easter
The Assumption—August 15
All Saints’ Day—November 1
Sunday Mass is a Serious Obligation
Pope John Paul II
Angelus, August 9, 1998
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. In the recent Apostolic Letter Dies Domini on keeping Sunday holy, I wrote that the Eucharistic assembly is the heart of the Day of the Lord. Therefore to observe Sunday properly, our first task is to take part in Holy Mass. This is a serious obligation, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church has recalled (n.2181), but, yet more important, it is a deep need which cannot but be felt by Christian souls.
The sacrifice made once and for all on Golgotha is renewed in every Eucharist, and the Church, uniting her sacrifice to that of the Lord, announces his death and proclaims his Resurrection as she awaits his coming. If this is true for Holy Mass celebrated on any day, it is especially true with regard to Sunday, since Sunday is particularly associated with the commemoration of Christ’s Resurrection.
2. Sunday is the day when the whole community is called together; this is why it is also called dies Ecclesiae, the day of the Church.
On this day, the Christian assembly listens to the Word of God, proclaimed in abundance and with solemnity; thus in the first part of Mass there is a true dialogue of the Lord with his people.
Then, through participation in one banquet, communion is deepened among those who are united in the Spirit of Christ. The Sunday Eucharist is thus the privileged place in which the Church manifests herself as a sacrament of unity, “sign and instrument of communion with God and of unity among all men” (Lumen gentium, n. 1).
There is an urgent need for the Lord’s disciples to offer this witness of fraternal unity in a world that is frequently fragmented, torn and scarred by outbreaks of division, violence and war.
3. May Mary most holy who was with the Apostles in prayer on the day of Pentecost, obtain for our Eucharistic assemblies the gift of effectively showing the presence of the risen Christ and of his Spirit. May her constant intercession ensure that the faithful live as “one heart and soul” (cf. Acts 4:32), eve ready to respond to anyone who asks them to account for the hope that is in them (cf. 1 Pt 3:15).
Keeping Holy the Sabbath
The following is from Through the Catechism with Father Champlin—A Question-and-Answer Guide. You can purchase this book at Queen of Peace Catholic Bookstore in Vancouver.
Q: What is the meaning of the word sabbath in the third commandment?
A: “Remember to keep holy the sabbath day” means, literally, to keep holy Saturday, the seventh day of the week. Faithful Jewish people today observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
The Sabbath has rich connections with events in the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures. It recalls the creation of the world. It recalls the deliverance of the Chosen People from pagan slavery in Egypt and the obligation of the liberated covenant that God made with us as we observe a day of praise and gratitude for the Lord’s saving actions. It recalls the fact that God rested on the seventh day as a model for us to imitate.
Q: Why, then, do most Christians keep the sabbath on Sunday?
A: At the very beginning of the Christian era, the Church shifted this observance from Saturday to Sunday, basically for two reasons: Jesus rose on Easter Sunday, and the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles fifty days later, also a Sunday. It also sees in the celebration an understanding that Christ ushered in the new creation and fulfills the sabbath.
Q: Is Mass central to keeping Sunday holy?
A: Yes. There is a double dimension to the Sunday obligation—praising our God and resting from work. The Church, also from ancient times, has stated that the “Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and His Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life (CCC-2177). Sunday is the feast day, the foremost holy day of obligation, and was for years the only celebration of the Church year. Every Sunday, therefore, is a little Easter.
Q: Do Catholics have an obligation to be present for Mass every Sunday?
A: Yes, or at an anticipated Mass on Saturday evening. Over the past thirty years, there has been some unclear teaching about the serious responsibility of Catholics to attend Sunday Mass each week and a generally lax approach among many Catholics in that regard. The Catechism gives clear teaching on this topic.
The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin (CCC-2181).
Q: How do we observe Sunday as a day of rest?
A: By avoiding unnecessary work and engaging in activities that will “recreate” us and all those with whom we are connected.
from Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Dictionary
Holy Days: Also called days of precept, holy days are feasts of such importance in the liturgical calendar that attendance at Mass is required. The Code of Canon Law (cc. 1246-1248) discusses these, rightly beginning with Sunday, describing it as “the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost day of obligation in the universal Church” (Can. 1246). It then lists the following to be observed: Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension, Corpus Christi, Mary Mother of God, Immaculate Conception, Assumption, St. Joseph, Sts. Peter and Paul, and All Saints. This list is the same as that given in the 1917 code, with the feast of the Circumcision eliminated in favor of the restored title for Jan. 1, Mary, Mother of God. The present code then states that “the conference of bishops can abolish certain holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday with the prior approval of the Holy See” (Can. 1246). The United States bishops decided not to make the feasts of St. Joseph and SS. Peter and Paul days of precept and transferred the Solemnities of the Epiphany and Corpus Christi to a Sunday.