By Fr. Brian G. Paulson, SJ
Provincial, USA Midwest Province
“Look, O Lord, upon the Sacrifice
which you yourself have provided for your Church,
and grant in your loving kindness
to all who partake of this one Bread and one Chalice that,
gathered into one body by the Holy Spirit,
they may truly become a living sacrifice in Christ
to the praise of your glory.” (Eucharistic Prayer IV)
April 12, 2019 — Do we as Catholics today have a sense that we bring something to the Mass as an offering to God as well as receive something from the Mass? Do we have a sense that through participating in the Eucharist we become a “living sacrifice” to the praise of God’s glory? The root meaning of the word sacrifice is to “make holy.” In this case, the offering we bring to be sacrificed—to be made holy—is our lives poured out in love and service to others in imitation of Jesus Christ. This is a priestly exercise of our baptism, offering our lives back to God, in the body of the Church, in union with Jesus’s self-offering 2,000 years ago rendered sacramentally present at each Eucharist. Yes, it’s that simple…and, yes, it’s that hard.
CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz
I suspect that some churchgoers understand this sacramental theology (those who are well-catechized), but that many don’t…and perhaps many others find themselves somewhere in between. Fortunately, thanks to the way in which the words and symbols of the Mass speak to us and form us— even subconsciously—most practicing Catholics likely have a vague, intuitive sense of this “economy of grace” which is an exchange of gifts, human and divine. I am convinced that we would be stronger as a church if we deepened our catechesis around these dimensions of the Eucharist, helping all of us as believers to connect more consciously our daily lives, our commitment to service, corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and the promotion of social justice, with our experience of the Eucharist.
The spirituality I describe above is related to that of the “Morning Offering” made by millions of Catholics from previous generations who learned to offer up their daily lives to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, perhaps through the Apostleship of Prayer (now known as the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network) or the Eucharistic Youth Movement (more popular in Europe than in the United States). I can still visualize 50 years ago being intrigued by the “Morning Offering” card on the mirror in my Grandmother Corcoran’s bathroom when a cousin my age and I would stay overnight at her house for a sleepover. Perhaps the “Morning Offering” devotion—a simple, but profound “spiritual exercise”—is a spirituality worth retrieving for our day, especially for our young people who do not experience a felt connection between their daily lives, their commitment to service, their relationship with Christ and the Eucharist.
As Catholics, we bring to the Mass an offering of our whole selves and all the activity of our daily lives—our work, our home life, our attempts to love and do God’s will, as well as our failures to love and, of course, our sinfulness. We come to adore, give thanks, ask forgiveness, and pray for our intentions both for ourselves and for others and for the Church. Our ordinary sins are forgiven in and through our participation in the Eucharist—that’s why there is a penitential rite at the beginning of each Mass. We sincerely hope that we will be fed by the Word of God, both by the scriptures proclaimed and the homily which follows, and we believe we will be nourished by the Body and Blood of our Lord, the sacramental presence of the risen Christ under the form of bread and wine, recalling both the Passover celebrated by Jesus at the Last Supper as well as Jesus’ “passing over” from death to life. Our faith and our prayer is that we “become what we receive,” in the words of St. Augustine. In the words of Eucharistic Prayer IV, we pray that we become a “living sacrifice in Christ to the praise of (God’s) glory.” This precious, personal transformation in Christ is what we receive from the Eucharist. We become more deeply connected to the Paschal mystery which allows us to enter into the pain and suffering which surrounds us with a sense of peace and hope.
Fr. Paulson (back row, center) visiting Colegio Cristo Rey in Tacna, Peru.
A brief story: I recently had the privilege of visiting the Jesuits in Peru in June. There is a long relationship between the Midwest Jesuits and the Peruvian Jesuits. One day I was concelebrating a Mass with a local Jesuit for about 50 boys who were about 10 or 12 years old at Colegio Cristo Rey in Tacna, a school which educates boys from about four years of age to about 17. (Having ministered for many years in Jesuit high schools in the U.S., it was refreshing for me to be with these middle school aged boys who still had a ways to go before being “cool” high school boys.) The Peruvian Jesuit gave a stirring homily which could have been given at any Jesuit school in the world, exhorting these young men to become men for others in imitation of Jesus Christ, offering their lives in love and service to others, especially those who are poor or vulnerable in any way. The boys seemed receptive to the message.
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Note: The “Anima Christi” was a prayer which was very popular around the time of St. Ignatius. In the printed versions of the Spiritual Exercises he recommends this prayer to retreatants. Many have mistakenly believed that St. Ignatius wrote this prayer, but it dates to the 14th century, more than one hundred years before St. Ignatius.
After communion, something happened which was new for me. One of the boys got up to lead his classmates in reciting the “Anima Christi.” The student leader prayed in Spanish, “Soul of Christ” and the boys responded, “sanctify me.” Next, the leader prayed “Body of Christ” and the boys responded, “save me.” This call and response continued until the end of the prayer. I was impressed by the devotion and piety of the students, as well as by the “liturgical” use of this prayer in a call and response mode, led by a student, one of their peers. Clearly, reciting this prayer after communion is a tradition at this school and the students know the prayer by heart, just as all the students at the Jesuit high school I led in Chicago could recite St. Ignatius’s “Prayer for Generosity” after the first week of school freshmen year.
Reflecting on this moment in Peru, my hope is that through praying the Anima Christi and meditating on its words, as these students pray to be united more deeply with the risen Christ whose Body and Blood they just received, they would grow in their understanding of what they receive and experience in and through receiving the Eucharist and feel more deeply connected to God. I also hope and pray that they would connect this message with the message they received in the homily exhorting them to be men for others, because the deepest reservoir of spiritual strength to be men for others in imitation of Jesus Christ can be found in their relationship with the Lord which is rooted and grounded in the Eucharist and the Paschal mystery. I couldn’t help but think how formative it must be for these students to pray this prayer after Communion throughout their years in grade school and high school. I would wager that the alumni of this school remember this prayer years later, and perhaps they even pray it on their own after receiving Communion later in their lives—not bad for simple, practical liturgical catechesis! The veteran Jesuit high school administrator in me then imagines what it would be like to have 1,400 Jesuit high school students in the USA reciting this same prayer after Communion at each Mass as a “new tradition”? Best practices deserve to be replicated!
To bring this full circle: Imagine if more of us as Catholics developed a Eucharistic spirituality whereby we self-consciously brought all “the stuff” of our lives—our whole selves—to church as our personal spiritual sacrificial offering. All of this “stuff” would then be united with the bread and wine to be blessed, consecrated and broken by the priest—and together—all of this—our lives, along with the consecrated bread and wine—all of this would become the perfect sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God. We’d be doing what Jesus told us to do. As a church, the people of God, we would truly become more and more a living sacrifice of praise to God.
Jesuit Brothers recite the Anima Christi
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