I once came across a story on the internet that went something like this: A Catholic man is giving his Muslim friend a tour of his Catholic Church. He shows him the holy water at the door and how we bless ourselves with it. He points out the stained glass windows and the stations of the cross, explaining how these present the majore events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He shows him the statues and the crucifix and finally the tabernacle.
“That’s the tabernacle. Inside that box is the Eucharist. It looks like flat, white bread, but it is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, our Savior and God.”
The Muslim man looks at the tabernacle, pauses in thought, looks at his friend, and says, “If I believed that God was really present in that box, I wouldn’t let my face come off of the floor.”
Whose approach towards God is the right one: the Catholic’s or the Muslim’s? When we come up to receive communion we do not crawl up on our faces, but should we?
Christians relate to God as we do because of the way Jesus Christ related to us. With the incarnation, God came to us on our level, as one of us. Jesus did not want his disciples to regard him with terror. He invited them to be His friends, and to relate to Him as their Brother. He taught us to call His Father “our Father,” and he made us temples the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives us unprecedented intimacy with God and we are “free to worship Him without fear.”
Yet, there is some truth in the saying that familiarity breeds contempt. When we come to Mass and receive the Eucharist, how well do we prepare ourselves to receive Him? How much do we do to appreciate this priceless gift? This morning I would like to give some ways we can do this better.
Before we even leave home there is a way for us to prepare ourselves. Think of it this way: if you were going to be on TV and seen by a millions, what would you wear? If the president of the United States (whoever he happened to be) were coming to your town, and you were chosen to officially welcome him, how would you dress? At Mass we are not seen by millions, but by billions of angels and saints, and we more than just the president of the greatest country in the world, we meet the King of the universe. When we come to Mass we should wear our Sunday best.
When you arrive at church before Mass begins resist the temptation to just wait out the time until the priest comes out. Take the opportunity to prepare yourself with prayer. At the beginning of the liturgy there are some things we do to tune us into the liturgy, such as the penitential rite and the opening prayer, but if you have not prepared yourself before the Mass begins these will probably just flash by you.
When you get to your pew, say to Jesus, “Lord, I’m sorry for my sins. Please have mercy on me. Please help me to be as fully present as you are present. Help me to receive everything you want me give me in this Mass. I raise up my intention for this Mass you along with all I love and everything I am. Thank you for calling me to know you, and for everything.”
During the Mass, especially when Jesus is on the altar, his throne, we should give Him our full attention. Religious devotion is about more than mere appearances, but shouldn’t we expect a fervent devotion inside to be reflected on the outside?
When I was growing up and beginning to look at my faith more critically, I wondered if we really believed in the Real Presence. I mean, the symbolic understanding, that’s easy—like how the flag reminds us of America, but do we really, really think that’s Him? My CCD teachers insisted that’s what we believed and I found scriptural and historical evidence that Christians had always believed it. Yet, when I looked around at other people at Mass it didn’t seem like they believed they were in the presence of God. Then an important thing happened. A new pastor came to our parish and when he celebrated the Mass you could tell that he believed he held something (Someone) precious in his hands. That priest was Father Paul Gitter, whom you know well.
During the Mass, give God your whole self. Express your devotion. Whenever you sing, don’t just do it because that’s what everyone else is doing—make it an offering, a gift, a prayer. When you are praying to the Father, raise you eyes to Him. When you are speaking to Jesus, turn you eyes to Him. Smile at Him in the cup and on the paten. Celebrate every Mass as if it were your first, your last, and your only.
After you receive Jesus in the Eucharist, open yourself to receive everything that He wants to offer you. In His private revelations to St. Faustina Kowaska (through whom we received the Divine Mercy devotion celebrated throughout the Church) Jesus said many people receive Him and then forget about Him. “My great delight is to unite Myself with souls,” He said. “When I come to a human heart in Holy Communion, My hands are full of all kinds of graces which I want to give to the soul. But souls do not even pay any attention to Me; they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. Oh, how sad I am that souls do not recognize Love! They treat Me as a dead object” (Diary of St. Faustina, #1385) After you receive Him, and kneel down in the pew, ask that you would receive from Him every grace He wants to give you with Himself. And remember to tell Him, “Thank you,” and, “I love you.” It’s the least that we can do.
When we leave church after Mass, let us not think that we have left Gift we have received behind us. Jesus also told St. Faustina that when we receive the Eucharist He remains in our souls until we receive Him again, provided that we do not cast Him out through serious, grave sin. He remains with us and provides what we need to serve Him. We only have to remain open and mindful towards Him.
Jesus feeds us His Body and Blood because He wants us to be extensions of Himself. We the Body of Christ. We are His arms, His hands, and His eyes, ears, and mouth in the world. First, He transforms the bread and wine. Next, He transforms us. And then, He transforms the world. When ‘the Mass is ended,’ that’s just the beginning.
In a few moments we are going to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Let us prepare ourselves and open ourselves to receive this most incredible Gift.