By Bishop David A. Zubik
That’s probably an easy question for you to answer. Whether at age seven or seventy-seven, First Communion is something we never forget. Most of us can describe what we were wearing, who was there, the name of the priest who celebrated the Mass. And we remember so clearly that moment when we received the Body and Blood of Jesus.
This is true of both daily-Mass Catholics and our friends who might have wandered away from the Church decades ago. Just try that question on them some time. If you have a friend who hasn’t been to Mass for years, ask him or her if they remember their First Communion. I’ll bet they do. And it could be a very good starting point to get them thinking about where they have been—and where they might be going.
Too often we don’t think about it—or live it—but we are the people of the Eucharist. We can talk about a million beautiful, important aspects of our faith, but it all begins and ends with the Eucharist. The Eucharist is at the center of our lives as Catholics because it is Christ truly real, truly present, truly with us, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.
Jesus told us directly: “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never hunger. … 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” (John 6.35; 48-51).
Just last week on Holy Thursday, we solemnly celebrated His precious gift to us at the Last Supper, the Eucharist, just as we do at every Mass. It is intimately connected with His death on Good Friday and His glorious Resurrection on that first Easter.
The Eucharist connects all of us in the Body of Christ, reaching back to the earliest days of the Church. Think of Saint Paul reminding the Corinthians that the Eucharist bonded them together as the People of God: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10.16-17).
Doesn’t that take your breath away! It should! The Eucharist is the promise of Jesus that He will be with us always and forever. Our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist ultimately defines who we are as Catholics. Our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is the foundation of our faith.
In today’s world, we are urged to blur the clarity of our faith, to tone down its boldness, to speak with a little less assurance for fear of giving offense.
But certain things can’t be compromised, can’t be conditional. Among Catholics, “Eucharist” means only one thing —the Real Presence of Jesus, which is the source and summit of our faith.
When we use the word “Eucharist,” we are speaking of the central sacrament of Christ, Who is with us and in us.
More than forty years ago, when I was a student at Saint Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, one of my professors invited all of his students to pray these words quietly before receiving Holy Communion: “May the Body of Christ enable me to embody Christ.”
Wow! What a thought! Wow! What a reality!
Once again, a question for you: Do you remember your First Communion?
Some of you may remember Bob Lockwood. He was our director of Communications for some years. Some years ago, Bob shared with me something about his First Communion day. He was dressed in a white suit for First Communion. While his mother was getting everyone else ready for Church, Bob wandered into the backyard—and returned with grass stains on his pants.
His mother started a lecture like only a mother can give. But as his eyes filled with tears, she pulled back, then hugged him. She assured him that when he approached the altar for his First Communion—grass stains and all—she would be so proud. And she was, he told me fifty-seven years later, smiling as if it had happened just the day before.
And what about you? Do you remember your First Communion? And is it more than a memory? Is it a reality for you today? Do you receive Him as the center of your life?
The Eucharist is an ongoing miracle in our lives. In 1958, when I was in third grade and preparing for First Communion, Sister Eugenia taught us this prayer, which has shaped my devotion ever since:
As I receive You in Holy Communion,
Every time I receive You in Holy Communion,
Help me to receive You as if it were my first time, my last time, my only time
That is us. That is who we are. That is what we believe. Wow! What a reality!
May the Body of Christ enable us, you and me, to embody Christ.