"Seeking Union with God" Online Spiritual Formation Program
Lesson #1: Discovering Our Ultimate Purpose
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Lesson #2: Our Ultimate Decision
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Lesson #3: An Introduction to Prayer
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Lesson #4: Meditation
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Lesson #5: Problems and Progress in Prayer
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Lesson #6: Growing in Holiness and Virtue
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Lesson #7: Renewing Our Mind
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Lesson #8: Your Own Spiritual Rule of Life
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Lesson #9: Stages of the Spiritual Life
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Lesson #10: The Mass and Sacraments
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Lesson #11: Loving God and Neighbor
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Lesson #12: Discernment
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End of Course

"Seeking Union with God"
Personal Spiritual Formation Program

Lesson #10:
Importance of the Mass and the Eucharist

St. Thomas Aquinas

"Bread of Angels,
made the bread of men;
The Bread of heaven
puts an end to all symbols:
A thing wonderful!
The Lord becomes our food:
poor, a servant, and humble.
We beseech Thee,
Godhead One in Three
That Thou wilt visit us,
as we worship Thee,
lead us through Thy ways,
We who wish to reach the light
in which Thou dwellest. Amen."

Panis Angelicus by St. Thomas Aquinas

The Bible on the Eucharist (Holy Communion):

As Catholics, one of the truths that we hold that has been handed down from Jesus and the apostles is that Jesus is really (not just symbolically) present in the Eucharist, also called Holy Communion.

“The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold, that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the Apostles preached, in fulfilment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed onto us in writing: … the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John”. “… the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation...” (Sections 18 and 19 of Dei Verbum, a Vatican II document.)

Below are some passages from the New Testament regarding the Eucharist, which we Catholics believe are literally true because this is the understanding that has been handed down to us through the centuries from the apostles as part of the deposit of the faith. Even though they may seem incredible or miraculous, they are not unreasonable, because we also believe that Jesus is God who not only knows all things but is all powerful and can do all things. We believe this because Jesus taught it and our faith is in Jesus. Jesus loves us so much that He wants to be as united to us as possible and this is one way He decided that we could be united to Him not only in spirit but also receive Him physically into our bodies.

Scripture Verses on the Eucharist:

Jesus said in John 6:48-65: " 'I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.' The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?' Jesus said to them, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.' These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then many of his disciples who were listening said, 'This saying is hard; who can accept it?' Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, 'Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.' Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, 'For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.' "

Matt. 26:26-28: "Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.' "

Mark 14:22-24: " 'And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, Take; this is my body. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.' "

Luke 22:19-20: "And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' And likewise the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.' "

1 Cor. 10:16-17: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."

1 Cor. 11:23-29: "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, 'This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself."

The Mass and Eucharist are central to our worship of God.

While private prayer and spiritual disciplines are important, Jesus also instituted the sacraments as a means to give us his grace. The Baltimore Catechism defined a sacrament in this way: "A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." By receiving the sacraments worthily, we receive God's grace into our souls, become closer to God and more holy.

"Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony..." Catechism of the Catholic Church #1210.

Our spiritual life is not just between us and God alone, but involves the Church and unity with others. While we are seeking union with God, an important part of that unity and growth in Christ is achieved through the participation in Mass and receiving Holy Communion.

Daily Mass is a very good practice that can help us to grow closer to Jesus and to increase the life of grace within us. The Mass is made up not only of the Liturgy of the Word (Scripture readings) but also the Liturgy of the Eucharist where we actually receive Christ (body, blood, soul and divinity) in Holy Communion. (This is different from taking communion at a protestant church where most do not take Jesus words about Communion literally, instead believe He was speaking symbolically in this instance, and receive bread or crackers and wine or grape juice as a remembrance of our Lord.)

Whereas noncatholic/protestant Christians seek to follow Scripture on this and other points, they do not understand what Jesus really meant at the Last Supper. The correct understanding of Scripture is very critical to doing what Jesus actually wants. As Catholics we are blessed to have truths handed down from the Apostles explained to us in the Church's official teachings and documents including the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In other words we don't have to figure out for ourselves what important points of Scripture mean, but rather these teachings and truths were handed down from the apostles and are explained and safeguarded through the centuries by the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which was founded by Jesus Christ himself and continues to be guided by the Holy Spirit. This includes the understanding of the Church concerning what Jesus meant by his words at the Last Supper and in John's Gospel, chapter 6. This is also evidenced in the writings of the Early Church Fathers, and in the Catacombs and throughout history to the present day.

As Catholics we have the inspired word of God written in Scripture for information about Jesus and we also have Sacred Tradition, which is the oral teachings handed down from Jesus to the apostles and down through the ages in their successors. "Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle." 2 Thessalonians 2:14 (i.e. oral teachings and written teachings).

For Catholics, Holy Communion is more than just a remembrance (even though it is this as well). It is receiving the actual body and blood of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. Yes, it is a miracle and one of Jesus's greatest miracles, but we know that if God wants to do this that He can as God is all-powerful. This miracle happens at the consecration during Mass.

It is also a teaching of the Church that for the bread and wine to change into Christ's body and blood that it requires a validly ordained priest. To be validly ordained one must have received valid ordination (the sacrament of Holy Orders) in a direct line from Jesus at the Last Supper, to the apostles, who then also commissioned and ordained others down to the present day through laying on of hands throughout the centuries.

Also Catholic teaching on the Eucharist (that the bread and wine changes to the body of blood of Christ at Mass) has also been supported by many miracles throughout the centuries including scientifically verified ones. (See below for more information.)

The Saints are our examples regarding devotion to the Mass

Padre Pio: "It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass."

Pope Paul VI: "The Mass is the most perfect form of prayer!"

Pope St. Pius X: "Don't pray at Holy Mass, but pray the Holy Mass". "The Holy Mass is a prayer itself, even the highest prayer that exists. It is the Sacrifice, dedicated by our Redeemer at the Cross, and repeated every day on the altar. If you wish to hear Mass as it should be heard, you must follow with eye, heart and mouth all that happens at the altar. Further, you must pray with the priest the holy words said by him in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens at the altar. When acting in this way, you have prayed Holy Mass."

St. Jerome: "Without doubt, the Lord grants all favors which are asked of Him in Mass, provided they be fitting for us; and, which is a matter of great wonder, ofttimes He also grants that also which is not demanded of Him, if we, on our part, put no obstacle in the way."

St. Leonard of Port Maurice: "Be now confounded for very wonder, reflecting that the proposition just laid down is indeed most true; a soul assisting with adequate devotion at holy Mass renders more honor to God than that which all the Angels and all the Saints put together render with all their adorations."

St. John Vianney: "If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy." "There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us."

Click here to read more quotes on the Mass and Eucharist from the Saints at another website from which these were taken. The Daily Mass Readings from Scripture are online here.

The Catechism on the Eucharist

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has some important teachings about the Mass and the Eucharist. Here are a few highlights:

#1324 The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life."
136 "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch."137

#1326 Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.139

#1327 In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: "Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking."

Click here to read the entire section.

(For footnotes click on the link to the Catechism above.)

The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist: The following link is to a website devoted to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It has various links including one on Early Church Fathers and Eucharistic Miracles. Did you know that God has many times verified the teachings of Scripture and the Church regarding the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist through scientifically verified miracles such as the one at Lanciano, Italy below? Some of these can be seen on the links here.

One of many Eucharistic Miracles:

An 8th century miracle verified by modern science happened at Lanciano. The host visibly changed into flesh and blood and is still miraculously preserved until this day.

Early Church Fathers on the Eucharist

Click here to see an article at the Catholic Answers website with quotes by the Early Church Fathers on what the early Church of the first few centuries believed regarding the Eucharist. Here are a few examples:

St. Augustine: "What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction" (Sermons 411).

Justin Martyr: "We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).
Irenaeus: "If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?" (Against Heresies 4:33–32 [A.D. 189]).

"He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?" (ibid., 5:2).
Clement of Alexandria: "’Eat my flesh,’ [Jesus] says, ‘and drink my blood.’ The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients, he delivers over his flesh and pours out his blood, and nothing is lacking for the growth of his children" (The Instructor of Children 1:6:43:3 [A.D. 191]).

The Sacraments

For further information on the Sacraments, read the rest of Part II of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This lesson mainly focuses on the Eucharist, but the other sacraments are also very important. Since the Eucharist and Sacrament of Penance (Confession) are sacraments we receive, or should receive regularly, it is important to learn about these sacraments.

Studying the Catechism is a good way to learn more. If you would be interested in inspirational CDs about the Mass, the Eucharist (Holy Communion) and Sacrament of Penance and other subjects from CatholiCity.com, I'd recommend "Seven Secrets of the Eucharist", "Healing and Holiness" by Vinny Flynn. and "The Mass Explained" by Fr. Larry Richards. You can get them here: http://www.catholicity.com/cds/

Devotion to the Holy Eucharist

"Saint Charbel was a priest for 39 years during which he celebrated the Holy Mass every day. He took a long time to prepare for Holy Mass; and afterwards he remained in thanksgiving for as long as two hours." Order of Saint Charbel

Preparing for Mass

In order to benefit the most we can from our participation at Mass, it is good to learn all we can about what the Mass. Before Mass begins we should prepare our hearts and minds to hear God's word in the readings and to receive Jesus in communion. One way to prepare is to read and reflect on the readings before going to Mass. Another is to arrive a little early and try to recollect ourselves to focus on God and prayer. We can bring all our concerns to Mass and put them in God's hands.

If you'd like to read the Mass Readings ahead of time they are on the US Bishops website here.

The Mass was the center of St. Padre Pio's spirituality

"On August 10, 1910, at the age of twenty-three, Padre Pio was ordained to the priesthood. The celebration of the Holy Mass was for Padre Pio, the center of his spirituality.  Due to the long pauses of contemplative silence into which he entered at various parts of the Holy Sacrifice, his Mass could sometimes last several hours. Everything about him spoke of how intensely he was living the Passion of Christ. The parish priest in Pietrelcina called Padre Pio's Mass, 'an incomprehensible mystery.' When asked to shorten his Mass, Padre Pio replied, 'God knows that I want to say Mass just like any other priest, but I cannot do it.' " Padre Pio Devotions webpage

Summary: Besides our private prayer life and spiritual practices, it is important that we also receive the sacraments. The Eucharist is one sacrament that we are able we should receive regularly. It is of such importance that the Church calls the Eucharist "the source and summit of the Christian life." We need to be a member of the Church and in the state of grace to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. If we have committed any serious (mortal) sins, since our last good sacramental confession, the Church teaches we must first go to the sacrament of Penance (confession) before receiving the Eucharist.

CCC1496: "The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:
- reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;
- reconciliation with the Church;
- remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
- remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;
- peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
- an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle."

Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you." (John 6:53) Read the rest of John 6 to see just exactly what Jesus did say regarding this. In receiving the Eucharist we are receiving Christ. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life". (John 14:6) It is Jesus that we receive in Holy Communion.

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©2010 Kathryn Marcellino. Please do not forward these lessons to others.
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