During the Advent and Christmas season, we often reflect on the following beautiful passage from the Gospel of Matthew: “‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him ‘Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us.’” (Mt 1:23)
The entire liturgical season is one in which we prayerfully anticipate once again the gift of Jesus. We identify with generations of old in longing for the Messiah. As we remember the historical event of the birth of Jesus, this is also a season to remind ourselves that Jesus continues to give himself to us every day.
What is the primary expression of this gift today? The Eucharist. The Second Vatican Council describes the Eucharistic sacrifice as the “source and summit of the Christian life.” (LG 11) In the Holy Eucharist, we experience in our daily lives that “God is with us” in the body and blood of Jesus.
The primacy of the Eucharist was a topic of conversation at our recent meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. We bishops approved a document entitled, “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” that is designed to help all of the faithful appreciate this gift more deeply.
Especially as we continue to navigate our way through and beyond COVID-19, all of us need to reflect more deeply on the beautiful gift of the Eucharist. This document is a helpful guide to renew our love for the Eucharist and remind ourselves of the primacy of this great gift in our Christian life.
Sadly, since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, many of our members of the faithful have not returned to participating in the Mass in person. They have stayed away from the Eucharist. While there may be legitimate reasons for this, it seems that many people have simply decided that the Eucharist is not particularly important in their lives. This should trouble us deeply.
The issuance of the document on the Eucharist is preparation for a wider initiative in our country known as the “Eucharistic Revival.” Beginning in the summer of 2022, the church in the United States will have a prolonged period of efforts to revive our appreciation for the Eucharist. This will culminate in a national Eucharistic Congress in July 2024. We Hoosiers are blessed that the site of this Eucharistic Congress will be in Indianapolis.
Advent is a great season to renew our hearts and return to the Lord, return to the Mass, return to the Eucharist. Advent is also a penitential season. It’s a season in which we seek the mercy of the Lord more deeply. God called the Jewish people to a conversion of heart so that they would be prepared to receive the great gift of the Messiah.
Similarly, Christians have always believed that we should be penitent and prepared to receive the Holy Eucharist. “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:23)
We take seriously the words of Saint Paul in being prepared for Eucharist: “A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Cor 11:29)
A great way to enter into Advent is to resolve to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Opening ourselves to this sacrament of mercy is great preparation to receive the Lord in the Holy Eucharist.
In the birth of Jesus we know that “God is with us. “ In the Eucharist, the gift of Jesus continues to be given. Let’s prepare ourselves during this Advent season to celebrate with the people of old that the Messiah has come and is coming again. Let’s prepare ourselves right now to appreciate and receive the Holy Eucharist, in which we say “Amen” with joyful hearts that “God is with us.”
The Most Reverend Robert J. McClory
Diocese of Gary