Father Mike Schmitz, a popular speaker, author and podcaster based in Duluth, Minn., elevates the Eucharist during Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City Oct. 10, 2023. More than 2,000 people attended the liturgy, which was followed by a Eucharistic procession through Midtown Manhattan and concluded with benediction at the cathedral. The services were affiliated with the Napa Institute's Principled Entrepreneurship Conference taking place in New York City Oct. 10-11. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The Priest and the Eucharist

Being faithful stewards of the mysteries

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Next month, we will have the 10th National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis amid a three-year National Eucharistic Revival. We have an opportunity to renew our ordination vows. We are called to be faithful stewards who draw strength and inspiration from our covenant relationship with God. Let us recall our sacred commitment at ordination and review our sacrificial role in the Mass and its implication in our lives outside of the Mass.

Baptism Starts Our Priesthood

We are called to serve by virtue of our baptism. We were first anointed with the “chrism of salvation” at baptism (cf. Order of Baptism of Children, second edition, 2020, No. 98). I recall at my ordination that my bishop told me I may not remember my first or second anointing of chrism, but I would remember the third! He said, “I will use a lot of oil on your hands so that you know that you serve Christ: priest, prophet and king, until eternal life!” And, boy did he not disappoint, having hands drip with sacred oil that smelled so sweet throughout the church! Folks saw me dripping to the towel and loved smelling it.

In baptism, we are first joined to the priesthood of Jesus Christ and God’s holy people. This covenant relationship is enriched over time when we celebrate confirmation, and then the repeatable Sacrament of the Eucharist renews this covenant with our reception of holy Communion. At my confirmation, we were reminded that each Mass, each reception of holy Communion recalls the fullness of the Holy Spirit in our lives and calls us to be “servant-leaders.” We witness the Holy Spirit, especially after going to Mass and the reception of holy Communion, to live our service.

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Exploring the sacerdotal dignity of the priesthood in Lumen Gentium

Going deeper into Lumen Gentium, we read: “Priests, although they do not possess the highest degree of the priesthood, and although they are dependent on the bishops in the exercise of their power, nevertheless they are united with the bishops in sacerdotal dignity. By the power of the sacrament of Orders, in the image of Christ the eternal high Priest, they are consecrated to preach the Gospel and shepherd the faithful and to celebrate divine worship, so that they are true priests of the New Testament. Partakers of the function of Christ the sole Mediator, on their level of ministry, they announce the divine word to all. They exercise their sacred function especially in the Eucharistic worship or the celebration of the Mass by which acting in the person of Christ and proclaiming His Mystery they unite the prayers of the faithful with the sacrifice of their Head and renew and apply in the sacrifice of the Mass until the coming of the Lord the only sacrifice of the New Testament namely that of Christ offering Himself once for all a spotless Victim to the Father” (No. 28).

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When called by God to serve as an ordained presbyter, we deepen our vocation to liturgical leadership and service. Parts of the praenotanda for ordination clearly state this purpose. In the apostolic constitution Pontificalis Romani, approving new rites for the ordination of deacons, priests and bishops, Pope St. Paul VI quoted the Second Vatican Council and Lumen Gentium recalling why we are ordained: “[Priests] are consecrated to preach the Gospel and shepherd the faithful and to celebrate divine worship so that they are true priests of the New Testament” (Lumen Gentium, No. 28). Also, the apostolic constitution quotes Vatican II’s Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests: “By sacred ordination and mission which they receive from the bishops are promoted to the service of Christ the Teacher, Priest and King. They share in his ministry, a ministry whereby the Church here on earth is unceasingly built up into the People of God, the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit.” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, No 1).

This ritual builds upon our baptismal and Eucharistic covenant, deepening our discipleship, especially with Church leadership and our bishop. The apostolic constitution continues, “Priests, therefore, take part in the Bishop’s priesthood and mission. As virtuous co-workers with the episcopal Order, called to serve the People of God, they constitute one presbyterate in union with their Bishop, while being charged with different duties” (quoting Lumen Gentium, No. 28, Chapter II 101).

We are ordained for the mission of the Church and its main mission to celebrate the sacraments where we acknowledge and share God’s graces. We have the privileged responsibility of being of service to the People of God and celebrating the sacraments.

Every year on my anniversary of ordination, I review the homily offered at my ordination. My bishop highlighted points found in Paragraph 123 of the Rites of Ordination of a Bishop, of Priests, and of Deacons, and they guide me still:

1. We are to serve like Christ “the Teacher, Priest and Shepherd” and build up the Body of Christ — the People of God. We are to remember that we build up the “holy temple.” In being part of a Eucharistic religious order, this theology helps me in serving the Eucharistic mystery and makes each Eucharist for me an opportunity to strengthen and care for the Body of Christ.

2. I am to celebrate the Eucharist, and all sacred liturgy, well showing the sacrifice of Christ and the dignity that comes from our rituals.

3. My homilies and other moments of teaching nourish the People of God. By my words and example, I “build up the house which is God’s Church.”

4. Knowing my love for the liturgy, but especially the Eucharist, the ordaining bishop reminded me to always imitate and be in union with Christ, and not my ego. When I preside, I witness the Lord’s death and resurrection, “and strive to put to death whatever in [me] is sinful and to walk in newness of life.”

5. Last, I am to celebrate the mysteries and live the Eucharist with joy and “genuine love, attending not to your own concerns but to those of Jesus Christ.” My grandparents gave me a first Communion gift of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. The gift reminds me of the Shepherd “who came not to be served but to serve, and who came to seek out and save what was lost.” My role is seeking out those who are estranged from the Church or from my parish and make them feel the gentle love of God.

As a pastor for almost 25 years, that’s always been the hardest thing for me. I have tried to reach out to those who I did not mean to hurt. We all have this! For whatever reason, something we say or do as pastor turns folks away. I bring this struggle to my prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament or when I miss them at Sunday Mass. And, since COVID-19’s lockdown months, I recall many who I try to seek out. A parish survey, email and text system were one way we tried to welcome folks back to parish life. Like you, I have struggled with a different church life since the height of the pandemic and wish for the return to “normal” parish and sacramental life.

Real Presence of Christ

We are called to serve and teach about this gift of Eucharist and live Christ’s real presence by being an image of Christ. We are alter Christus per captus. As my religious order founder, St. Peter Julian Eymard, said to his religious, we are like a monstrance of the Real Presence and called to be the Body and Blood of Christ for the life of the world. In my prayer, especially through the Liturgy of the Hours and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, I recall what is part of the “Prayer of Ordination,” for we remember that we are part of the succession of Christ and the saints before us who have served in holiness the Eucharistic vision:

“Lord, in our weakness … to these your servants, the dignity of the priesthood. Renew deep within them the Spirit of holiness. …

“Together with us, may they be faithful stewards of your mysteries, so that your people may be renewed in the waters of rebirth and nourished from your altar; so that sinners may be reconciled and the sick raised up. May they be joined with us, Lord, in imploring your mercy for the people entrusted to their care and for all the world. And so may the full number of the nations, gathered together in Christ, be transformed into your one people and made perfect in your kingdom” (No. 131).

Eucharist
Adobe Stock

This prayer calls us to be true witnesses of Christ. It requires us to practice what we preach. Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we are transformed through and for the mystery of the Eucharist, a most sacred exchange.

When our hands are anointed and we receive the bread and wine for the first time at ordination, for myself, still seeing the sacred chrism in my fingernails, I was mindful that the newly anointed hands were to sanctify and magnify God’s sacrifice for us (cf. No. 133) and imitate what we celebrate, especially holding dearly the Lord’s cross (No. 135). In times of hardship, when I do see folks in the pews who have challenging lives, I am grateful that together we nourish one another’s faith in the word of God, the living bread (No. 143) and the cup of salvation, and we are around this altar to become more Christ for our world.

We are missioned at our ordination to serve the Eucharistic mystery. The “Concluding Rite and Blessing” at ordination sends us forth to grow. Thinking back to that ordination homily, Christ picked very different disciples, who, like Peter, learned along the way through their experiences, but especially their mistakes. I realize that I am called to grow, and keep learning, to be the best witness of Christ by new forms of service for the new realities that the Church is becoming. COVID taught us to adapt and change, and to change often. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are invited to change into Christ more, just as the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ. Each Eucharist is a constant reminder of our daily transformation in the Lord. We are continually formed by the Eucharist we celebrate. The Eucharist not only nourishes our faith and the faith of those we serve, but it shapes us, hopefully becoming more like Christ.

Rhoades
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend uses sacred chrism to anoint the hands of Father Thomas Zehr during his ordination to the priesthood on June 2, 2018, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Photo by Joe Romie

Our role as teachers, through the proclamation of the Gospel and the homily, allows us to nourish the faithful with God’s Word. The Real Presence of Christ is made whole in our proclamation of the Gospel. Our homily gives us an opportunity to discern how God might be speaking in our world today (cf. General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM], No. 55). We are challenged to weave the story of Scripture with the “signs of the times,” to make Christ’s life real and relevant. As disciples, we call all to live Christ’s mission as best they can in their own unique circumstances. A good homily is necessary to nurture Christian life (cf. GIRM, No. 65). We work hard to make a homily significant in the lives of our parishioners by our hours of preparation. We must never forget to trust that the Holy Spirit is working with us to empower us to be a better preacher of God’s Word, nourishing the People of God.

The Sacrificial Role

As we offer sacrifice, we accept peoples’ gifts. This offering, symbolized in bread and wine, is part of the preparation of the gifts for the Eucharist prayer. The paten with the bread and the vessel with wine are not placed on the altar of sacrifice until the suitable prayers are said (“Blessed are you, Lord God”), as part of the ancient custom of the priest leading the sacrifice to God before placing this sacrifice on the altar (cf. GIRM, No. 141). We pray, during the Order of Mass, that, “With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God” (No. 26). We want to do this well, and the rituals direct us to have our hands washed, to remove iniquity and cleanse sin (cf. Order of the Mass, No. 28).

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10th National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis

The 10th National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis, July 17-21, is an invitation to experience a profound personal revival so we can be sent out to share Christ’s love with a world that so desperately needs it. The Congress will include a series of impact sessions in the morning and breakout sessions in the afternoon. Each evening, the assembly will experience revival sessions in Lucas Oil Stadium. Participants can come for one day or all five days. Register at www.eucharisticcongress.org/register.

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Then we pray “that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father” ( No. 29). Some theologians have criticized this translation and theological separation of the sacrificial language. This updated prayer makes the priest and people equal in offering the sacrifice, rather than the priest leading the people in a single, unified offering of the bread and wine with our very lives (the previous translation). Is the priest’s (my) and the people’s (yours) the same sacrificial offering that the conjunction “and” implies? Past priesthood traditions have always had the priest serving or sacrificing on behalf of the people. It is a small point and perhaps a non-intended shift in our sacrificial-language tradition. Some have felt it lessens the active role of the priest and his ministerial priesthood for the Eucharist. Others have stated that it advances the role of the universal priesthood of the People of God (the congregation), with each of them, too, offering their own individual, sacrificial offering. This segregation is curious and one which needs further reflection and clarification in the Roman Missal’s fourth edition (cf. “The Order of Mass: A Roman Missal Study Edition and Workbook” by Michael Driscoll and J. Michael Joncas, Liturgical Training Publications, $29.95).

This sacrificial language reminds us of our key role as a priest leading the Eucharist, for priests are called to make things holy. This, as we know, is literally the root of the word “sacrifice.” Ordained priests lead us all in a dual offering of the bread, wine and our very selves to become holy. Our vocation, our call and our role in and for the Church is to “make,” or sacrifice, so that all is pleasing and leading to holiness with God. As the Eastern rite acclamation states: “Holy gifts for the holy people.”

Praying the Eucharistic Prayers

The priest prays with the congregation the Eucharistic prayers. Each of the 10 Eucharistic prayers in the Roman Missal and the three Eucharistic prayers for children offer unique facets of bringing the real presence of Christ to life through these sacred elements. When we pray over all the Eucharistic elements, it leads them to become Christ’s body and blood par excellence. After the 2006 synod on the Eucharist, Pope Benedict XVI wrote the apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis which highlights the mystagogical and spiritual role that we as priests have in relation to the Eucharist. He echoed the ordination ritual prayers by which we are to preach, teach and connect to the People of God to the everyday experiences that flow from God and the Eucharist.

In his exhortation, Pope Benedict calls us for us to live what we celebrate and give great reverence for what we celebrate (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, Nos. 64-65). Part three of Sacramentum Caritatis takes into great consideration how this “food of truth” (No. 90) supports human needs and contributes to the Church’s social teaching (No. 91). We are called to sanctify and protect creation, for these elements of bread and wine come from the great gift of the fruits of the earth that God has given to us to manage well (No. 92). Pope Francis echoes this in his apostolic letters on the environment, which call us to preach and teach this aspect of the Eucharist and gift of stewardship.

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St. Peter Julian Eymard, the Eucharistic Saint

The mission of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious congregation of priests, deacons and brothers is to share the riches of God’s love manifested in the Eucharist. St. Peter Julian Eymard founded the congregation in 1856 in Paris.

Throughout his life, Father Eymard sought to find the answers to the deep spiritual hunger of his day. The Eucharist is what filled that spiritual hunger. Even in childhood, young Peter Julian Eymard desired the Eucharist. When he was 5 years old, he wandered from his home and the family found him in the parish church, standing on a stool before the tabernacle where he told his anxious family, “I am here listening to Jesus.”

St. Peter Julian Eymard
Crosiers

On the road to the priesthood, he encountered anticlerical societal difficulties and a father who, after losing sons, did not want his only surviving son to become a priest. Despite these struggles, his ordination took place at age 23 in the Diocese of Grenoble France.

His deep devotion to the Blessed Mother sent him to multiple Marian shrines. He was effective at preaching Eucharistic devotions.

While carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a Corpus Christi procession on May 25, 1845, he felt an intense attraction to Christ in the Eucharist and resolved to “bring all the world to the knowledge and love of Our Lord; to preach nothing but Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Eucharistic.”

In 1856, he founded the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. During a retreat in 1865, he was struck by the overwhelming realization of Christ’s love for him. In response, he wished to make the “gift of self” of his will, his personality and his affections, to God and to Christ in the Eucharist. Known as “the Apostle of the Eucharist,” St. Peter Julian Eymard has inspired people across the globe to live a more dynamic and transformative Eucharistic life.

— Source: blessedsacrament.com?st-peter-julian-eymard

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How can we better live and witness the mission of the Eucharist in our world today? We are to “offer [our] bodies” (Rom 12:1) and, as Sacramentum Caritatis, guides, to be more charitable each day toward my religious community, my parish, my difficult family, to those I encounter on the street: to be in communion with them in some way (cf. No. 88). Through my eyes, I need to see as Christ would.

This reminds me of a priest friend of mine in New York City, Manhattan specifically, who always carried change and small bills in his pockets for the houseless people on the street. I asked why he did this; he said that they knew he was a priest, having seen him celebrate Mass during the cold months when they came into the church to get warm. One person challenged him after Mass saying, “If you are so supposed to be Christ, why are you not a bit kinder and more generous to me?” That made him find a way to be a little bit more so.

Our role and service to this great mystery is to be Christ for others. The holy Sacrament we serve is the ultimate sacrifice that we give for the life of the world. Others are nourished by us, the sacrament we become, as images of Christ. In this sacrifice, “the Lord strengthens our fraternal communion” (No. 89). As priests with and for the Eucharist, we are called to this transformation that gives dignity to all. It’s an awesome and overwhelming responsibility and challenge.

Serving Together

Now, as a member of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, my very own Rule of Life 1 states the aspiration for “our ideal is to live the mystery of the Eucharist fully and to make known its meaning, so that Christ’s reign may come and the glory of God be revealed to the world.” Our Rule 3 further invites us “to respond to the hungers of the human family.” We are to grow in communion with those who need our service — and we grow, too, because folks minister to us just as much as we minister to them.

Remember your first house call sharing holy Communion and the anointing of the sick? I remember mine, which was to a woman who had tongue and throat cancer. Barely able to speak, ashamed of her looks, she became homebound and would let very few come into her home. After she died, her family said that my smile, warm exchange and silly sense of humor were just as important as receiving the Sacrament: “Your whole personality was the Eucharist to her, and you fed her with your life and stories.” We all have moments like this, when we treasure the exchanges and build from “Eucharistic” exchanges.

Pope Benedict XVI used Sacramentum Caritatis and the (current) Roman Missal as an opportunity to implement a better understanding of the Eucharist as leading to mission. As priests, we lead and serve this very understanding of the Eucharist and its mission. So, since 2011 we have had the chance to say, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,” or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life” (Order of the Mass, No. 144).

As priests, we lead the process to the next part of the liturgy, the “liturgy of the world.” This is Eucharistic living: We announce and glorify the Lord by our lives and live the missio, or mission, of this Mass. We go to serve the needs of the Body of Christ and return to celebrate the Body of Christ at the Eucharistic table in a great circle of thanksgiving of praise for the mission well done. Our life is meant to be a complete adoration and thanksgiving (Eucharist) of the Body of Christ, adoring Christ in one another and serving Christ’s needs.

Growing up in a Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament parish, and having our priests preach about our founder, St. Peter Julian Eymard, they would echo the founder’s words: “We are to go into the world to be the Eucharist — the Blessed Sacrament — the monstrance of Christ to show others Christ.” We show this when we go to the table of the pastoral council or staff meeting, when we go to pray and anoint the sick, when we educate a student in our school, etc. The priesthood and the Eucharist are not contained in walls, but are lived in the hearts of the entire Body of Christ everywhere.

We have an opportunity during these years of Eucharistic Revival, and especially with all the attention on the upcoming Eucharistic Congress, to grow in how we celebrate, teach, preach and live the Eucharistic mysteries for the mission of the Church. We do this Mass after Mass. But like the greatest cooks who “kick it up a notch” with every dish, we can develop in our love of priesthood and the Eucharist and be what we celebrate and receive. Let others see more “spice” in us after this congress!

Sanctifying the Eucharistic Reign

As St. Eymard said when he was a young diocesan priest in Grenoble, France, priests have a deep role and way of sanctifying to spread Christ’s Eucharistic reign. Eymard would leave behind everything to care for priests because of their role in serving the life of the church (cf. “Life of Blessed Peter Julian Eymard,” by George Troussier, SSS). We often leave our personal needs to care for our brother priests and parishioners. Eymard would later dedicate his life through new Eucharistic orders (priests, deacons, brothers, sisters, and lay and cleric associates) to make the connection of Eucharist and priesthood, making the Eucharist be of service to the Church’s mission, renewing the sacred covenant begun in baptism. May we renew our dedication to our vocation, role and duty to sacrifice and live the Gospel of charity that flows from the mystery of the Eucharist.

Take a moment today to go to the baptismal font and slowly sign yourself with the holy water and renew that covenant; take a moment before the altar of God to bow or even prostrate like we do on Good Friday, to commit again to our priesthood. Take an hour in prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament to thank God for your vocation. We are those “faithful stewards” now and forever, anointed to serve the total Eucharistic mystery through our gift of priesthood.

FATHER JOHN THOMAS LANE belongs to the Blessed Sacrament religious community and is pastor of St. Paschal Baylon Parish in Highland Heights, Ohio.

 
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