The 2019 nationwide survey conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed a shockingly low level of understanding of the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the Holy Eucharist.
During this Year of the Real Presence, the parishes of the Diocese of Allentown have emphasized this central teaching and have increased access to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. There’s no doubt that the faithful of our Diocese would respond well if a survey were conducted here.
And yet, I suspect that a significant number accept the doctrine, yet quietly lament that they have not experienced the power of Christ’s Real Presence. In other words, many believe correctly, but are failing to experience the fruitfulness in their lives.
Might there be obstacles to fully receiving His graces? What can we do to maximize His effect on us? Scripture and the Catechism (CCC 1382-1390) provide great insight.
First, we must prepare well. St. Paul emphasized the necessity of examining one’s conscience so as to worthily receive Holy Communion (1 Cor 11:27-29). Quite simply, if we are in a state of mortal sin, we must first go to confession to receive the benefits of the Holy Eucharist.
When we are worthy, we must prepare well by observing the one-hour fast prior to reception of Holy Communion. This is significantly easier than the longer fasts of past generations, but still prepares our hearts to welcome the Eucharistic Lord.
After these foundational steps, we should examine our disposition in receiving the Lord. In Catholic sacramental theology, the Latin phrase “ex opere operato” describes the Church’s belief that Christ is truly present “by the work worked,” regardless of the holiness or disposition of the priest or communicant.
However, this does not guarantee the fruitfulness of our reception. For this, there is another Latin phrase: “ex opere operantis,” which means “from the work of the doer.” In this case, what we put into our approach to the Eucharist truly does affect what we get out of it.
In the Gospels, many happened upon Christ along the way, but a smaller number fully experienced His power. Among these, Jesus marveled at their approach to Him. We should strive to imitate their qualities in encountering Him in the Blessed Sacrament.
In the centurion who asked that the Lord heal his servant (Matt 8:8), the soldier’s humility unlocked the healing power of Christ. We repeat His words at every Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word” and my soul shall be healed (Matt 8:8).
In the tax collector, we see profound reverence for the presence of Christ. He “would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner’” (Luke 18:13-14). May we be so deliberate in our reverence before the Lord.
The woman of faith (Mark 5:21-34) knew that if she merely touched His garment, she would be healed. Jesus responded, “Your faith has saved you….” May we approach Him with such faith in His presence.
Lastly, may we never take this gift for granted. As Jesus remarked to those in His incarnate presence, “many prophets and kings longed to see what you see and did not see it” (Luke 10:24). May we frequently renew our gratitude for His Real Presence.
His Real Presence is a gift beyond all imagination. We know and believe that he is truly present. May we strive to approach Him with faith, humility and reverence, so that we can receive the great graces he desires to give!
By Father John Maria, Parochial Administrator of St. Mary, Kutztown and Sacramental Ministry at St. Christopher Catholic Newman Center, Kutztown University.