The Holy Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality, part one Print
Year of Faith
Thursday, Apr. 25, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

By Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB

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This is the first in a series of articles examining the theology and spirituality of the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

As we begin this reflection on the theology and spirituality in the Holy Eucharist, it would be well to think first about the meaning of the word “Eucharist” itself. It comes from the Greek, and has two main parts: “Eu” and “charis.”

Meaning of the word

“Eu” means “good.” The basic meaning of “charis” is “gift.” Putting them together, we have “a good gift.” The “good gift” referred to is what God has done for His chosen and beloved People. He has, first of all, created us and given us life.

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But then, when mankind turned away from God by sin, God did even more: He re-created us by saving us, thanks to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus — the death and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf. Jesus is the best possible Gift God could give us. And that is the Gift He has given us.

When we come to the Holy Eucharist, then, we come to give thanks for this marvelous Gift of God — as well as all the other little gifts we have experienced in our lives. That is why the word “Eucharist” has come to mean “thanksgiving.”

Insight into the sacrament

As a result of this basic understanding of what the Holy Eucharist is, we gain insight into the spirit with which we should approach this holy Sacrament. We need to be aware of God’s Action, especially the saving work of Jesus for us.

This will take faith, since we need to recognize that Jesus’ Paschal Action was not just an historical event. Rather, it is an event the effect of which lasts forever. That saving Action is re-presented to the Church at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Thus, we are made aware in a new and vibrant way of the salvation that is ours in Jesus. No wonder we should come to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with a spirit of gratitude.

Attitude of thanksgiving

In fact, Catholic Christians should be filled with that spirit at all times, since our faith tells us that God’s Gift is not just for a moment, during a ritual, but is for our entire lives. We need, then, to develop an “attitude of gratitude,” to be a people whose faith makes us aware of God’s love for us in every aspect of our lives.

The Holy Eucharist can be seen as the culmination of the entire Plan of Salvation that God has had for mankind since the original sin. God took the initiative in creating us, in loving us. And then, when mankind turned away by sin, God didn’t give up on us but loved us yet more.

The Holy Eucharist is the sign, the great Sacrament of that divine Love. God waits for our response. The celebration of Holy Mass is geared to help us respond with hearts full of faith and love.

Preparing to worship

We begin by purifying our hearts. We proceed to listening again to God’s Word, which proclaims what He has done for us. And then we present ourselves to the Lord, represented by our earthly gifts of bread and wine. Really we are giving back what He has given to us in the first place.

And then, by the power of Jesus’ Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, our little gifts are transformed into the very Gift of God Himself, into Jesus’ Body and Blood.

Surrender to Jesus in love

At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer we proclaim “Amen!” to this action of Jesus, of God. That means we surrender in gratitude and love for such Love to be given to us. And then we proceed to an even deeper union with Jesus, through Holy Communion, to which again we proclaim, “Amen!”

In sum: the Holy Eucharist expresses God’s great love for us. It should express our faith-filled love back to God.

If we do this, with sincere and thankful hearts, we will become fully what Baptism has called us to be: not just followers of Jesus, but Jesus Himself, living and speaking and working through us, the members of His Mystical Body.

May such a grace be ours at every Holy Mass.

Abbot Marcel Rooney, O.S.B., is president of the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music and Art, resident in the Madison Diocese. The Institute is devoted to helping people understand more and pray better the sacred liturgy.