1.The Eucharist does not begin with Christ's absence and then suddenly move to His presence at the Consecration.
From the very beginning of the liturgy, when the faithful gather for the liturgy with the opening hymn, they themselves are the true body of Christ, as Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians tells us. Christ Himself pointed out that when two or three gather in His name, He is there among them. This means that the very act of gathering in faith to celebrate the Eucharist is already an experience of the tangible presence of Christ.
Far too many Catholics, however, mistakenly believe that Christ only becomes present at the moment of the Consecration. This leads to some disturbing habits within the congregation: impatience or even annoyance with efforts earlier in the liturgy to get people to greet each other or to sing well together, perfunctory recitation of the readings, and complacency about arriving late, if at all.
As a first step toward vibrant worship we should remember what Pope Paul VI taught the church more in his 1965 encyclical on the Eucharist, Mysterium Fidei. Paul stated that the priest, the assembled people at prayer, the Scripture readings, and the bread and wine are all modes of Christ's presence. Paul called all of these the "real presence of Christ." Thus, the entire liturgy is important.
As much as all the other elements in the liturgy bring us to Christ, His presence in the form of the eucharistic bread and wine is unique, as Paul VI pointed out. The Council of Trent in the 16th century made it clear that the consecrated bread and wine do not merely evoke our recollections about Christ's presence but actually are Christ's presence. The council insisted that Christ, under the species of bread and wine, is "truly, really, and substantially" present.
There is no pretense about our encounter with Christ in the Eucharist-He is actually there for us. Moreover, everything about Christ is there-His full divine nature and full humanity; His suffering, death, and resurrection; His Spirit that is sent to us; His love and forgiveness poured out for us; His healing power offered to us.
3. The Eucharist requires the "full, conscious, and active participation" of all the faithful.
Central to the church's plan for renewal in the Second Vatican Council is its insistence that all the faithful fully, consciously, and actively participate in the liturgy.
But how does this happen? It begins with the priests who presides over the Eucharist, but it includes everyone there. In a document on the liturgy, the bishops of the Second Vatican Council wrote:
"Pastors of souls must . . . realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the laws governing valid and lawful celebration. It is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite and enriched by it."
What the church is really asking of us when it calls for our full, conscious, and active participation is our " real presence," at the Sunday liturgy, not our mere attendance because church law obliges us to be there. And our "real presence" is not routine recitation of prayers, minimal attempts to sing, halfhearted listening to Scripture and homily, or anxiousness for the ritual to be over within 45 minutes or less.
A parish community that fully, consciously, and actively participates in the eucharistic liturgy is a community that attracts others. Such community often does not have empty seats. It is a community that promotes the Gospel because it prays from the gut. It is a community that loves to serve God's people because it longs to sing God's praises.
The Eucharist makes present to us Christ's self-sacrifice on the cross. It is Christ's broken body that we eat and His poured outt blood that we drink. Hence, in many ways, the Eucharist is a death meal. We are drawn into the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and so we are brought to the moment of Christ's death.
What this means is that by our receiving of Christ's Body and Blood, we are willing to share in His self-sacrifice. We are willing to die with Christ. It is not a mere physical death that we agree to, however. We agree to die to our sinfulness and selfishness when we celebrate the Eucharist. We agree to sacrifice ambitions and priorities that are out of sync with the message and ministry of Christ. We agree to let die any concern for our own needs so that we might generously respond to the needs of others.
5. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives.
But while the Eucharist involves our dying in many ways, it is also the center of our living. Because we are disciples of Christ, He ought to be the beginning and end of all aspects of our lives. Just as each day should ideally begin and end with prayer, so too every endeavor and every relationship in our lives should be rooted in our bond with Christ and directed toward what Christ asks of us.
In this process, the Eucharist is essential, for in our celebration on Sunday we discover more deeply what we are called to do Monday through Saturday as followers of Christ.
Moreover, to the Sunday celebration we are to bring everything that happened in our lives the previous Monday through Saturday. We bring our accomplishments and failures. We bring every person we encountered and every task we performed. We bring the love, affection, and joy as well as the anger, hurt, and sadness. We bring it, and we give it over to Christ.
The bread we bring to the altar to be broken is our broken selves. The wine to be poured out is all the love, energy, time, forgiveness, and compassion that poured out from us during the past week for the sake of others. As the bread and wine we offer are transformed into Christ's Body and Blood, so too are the lives we bring to the altar transformed into Christ.
These five things that all Catholics should know about the Eucharist are a good starting point for effective liturgical renewal in a parish. It's time to move to truly meaningful worship.