Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"On being a Eucharistic people"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the June 9, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Recently we celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Jesus. In this Year of the Eucharist, the feast had special significance for me.

In these last few months I reflect upon the significant celebrations of Eucharist that have been especially meaningful to me. Most of us watched closely the funeral liturgy for Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. Hundreds of thousands of people were gathered around the table of the Lord to celebrate his death and great transformation of life. Just over two weeks later, the inauguration or Pope Benedict XVI provided another very special time as Eucharist was celebrated to formally begin his papal ministry.

During these past few months I have been part of dozens of celebrations of Confirmation/First Eucharist, all over the diocese. Those who receive for the first time are so excited! One mother told me that her young daughter informed her after a Saturday evening celebration that they would have to come back tomorrow to do it again. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that level of fire and enthusiasm constantly filled our hearts!

In the early part of this month, I was privileged to celebrate the baccalaureate Mass at Gonzaga University, in their new arena. There must have been over 6,000 people present on that Saturday afternoon. There was an obvious spirit of reverence, gratitude, and joy.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Eucharistic celebrations are not more meaningful simply because more people participate. Every celebration of Mass, however great or small, offers us the opportunity to recognize Jesus in the “breaking of the bread.”

When he opened the Year of the Eucharist last October, Pope John Paul II issued a special Apostolic Letter, titled “Remain With Us, Lord.” In that letter, he focused on three themes: 1) Eucharist as mystery of light; 2) Eucharist as source and manifestation of communion; and 3) Eucharist – principle and plan of mission.

In the first theme, the pope spoke of the table of the Word and table of the “Bread.” In his Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul reminds us that God’s Word is “living and effective, sharper than any two edged sword. It penetrates and divides soul and spirit…it judges the reflections and thought of the heart.”

How can we live well without taking to heart those words? When we reflect on the table of the “Bread,” we remember Jesus’ words that “if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:52). Those words are direct, simple, unambiguous, and powerful.

Appropriately, Pope John Paul II referred to the Eucharist as mystery of light. We will never fully understand this mystery. We continue the search for an ever deeper understanding and appreciation of this sacrament. Intrinsic to that search is regularly participation in Eucharist. I very much admire people who never miss Sunday Eucharist. There are a certain number of people in our parishes who participate in daily Eucharist as well.

Second, Eucharist is a source and manifestation of communion. A couple of weeks ago, Cardinal Kasper, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that “the sacrament of Eucharist is pre-eminently the sacrament of unity in the church…. No community that celebrates Mass can isolate itself, withdraw into itself.”

In his Apostolic Letter, Pope John Paul spoke similarly about Eucharist as a source of unity, and also its manifestation. In every Mass we are called to measure ourselves against the ideal of communion.

For us, Eucharist is a principle and plan of mission. When we leave Mass, we are to be a Eucharist people to the world. We are a people who are grateful. “Remain With Us, Lord,” tells how, in solidarity with one another, we celebrate Eucharist as “a sign and instrument not only of intimate union with God but also of the unity of the whole human race.” Every Mass celebrated has a universal character. As we go out the church doors after celebrating Eucharist, we should have the commitment to build a most just and fraternal society and world. We must be advocates for peace and justice.

In concluding these reflections, I would suggest several areas of how we might be on fire about the gift of Eucharist:

Have the enthusiasm and burning heart to participate in Eucharist every Sunday.

Participate enthusiastically in response, song, and generous service. I note a wide variation of congregational participation in response and song in parishes around the diocese. Some of our smaller parishes are the most responsive and participative.

Be serious and generous in offering your resources and gifts as action flowing from Mass. We are sent on mission, all of us. Can you imagine what would happen if everyone took this invitation and mandate seriously?

As Pope John Paul II concludes at the end of “Remain With Us, Lord,” “May we discover a new enthusiasm for the Church’s mission and come to acknowledge even more fully that the Eucharist is the summit and source of her entire life.”

And may we all say a resounding amen! to that!

Peace and blessings.

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