The most precious gift God entrusts to His Church is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus' perpetual presence is the fulfillment of the promise He made before ascending to the Father: "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Mt. 28:20). Of course, the Lord always keeps His promises, and He remains with us not only spiritually, but He is also really, truly, and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament (The Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], §1330).
Before Jesus instituted the "Sacrament of sacraments" at the Last Supper, He introduced the Eucharist to His disciples in The Bread of Life Discourse (Jn. 22-59). Upon hearing this, many disciples murmured, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" (Jn. 6:60). They had believed in Jesus to that point, yet abandoned Him because they could not accept this teaching. The same response occurs even among baptized Catholics to this day. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center study, 69% of surveyed Catholics in the United States do not believe that the Eucharistic bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus through transubstantiation, while only 31% believe in the Real Presence of Jesus. This report indicates a significant spiritual crisis among Catholics.
The Real Presence of Jesus is a fundamental Catholic teaching, and the Church, as the Bride of Christ, has remained faithful through the ages to His unequivocal words: "This is My Body..." and "This is My Blood..." (Mt. 26:26-28; Mk. 14:22-24; Lk. 22:19-20). Doctrinal teachings cannot change, because Truth never changes. What has changed over the last several decades is the understanding of these teachings among both the lay and religious. If we truly believe that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament, then we should be in sincere awe of the Eucharist and adore our Lord with the utmost reverence. Of course, numerous Catholics throughout the world honor the Sacrifice of Jesus in this way, but clearly there is a widespread factor -- or combination of factors -- that has misled far too many Catholics concerning the Real Presence of Jesus. Catholic clergy members and lay Catholics have suggested remedies to the problem that require pastoral attention, which is necessary when addressing any challenge the Church faces. However, since all members of the Church encompass the Body of Christ, every Catholic has a responsibility in this matter, and it begins in the human heart. Whether we wholeheartedly believe in the Church's teachings on the Eucharist or have doubts, this Lenten season is an opportune time to reflect on the meaning of the Real Presence, as well as our personal relationship with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Some suggestions for consideration are as follows:
- Familiarize yourself with the Church's teaching on the Eucharist. Understanding the significance of Eucharist will increase personal devotion and prepare one to share the Truth of the Real Presence with others who question this teaching.
- Read the Last Supper accounts in the Bible, and contemplate why Jesus instituted the Sacrament. The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides clear explanations of the Eucharistic celebration and would serve as valuable sources for meditation. A few select passages are listed below.
1323 At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet "in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us."
1333 At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ's Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lord's command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the eve of his Passion: "He took bread...." "He took the cup filled with wine...." the signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ...
1353 In the epiclesis, the Church asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit (or the power of his blessing) on the bread and wine, so that by his power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit ...the power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ's body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.
- Receive Holy Communion regularly as long as one is in a state of grace. Participate in the Eucharistic celebration with reverence, approach the Lord with humility, and offer thanksgiving for the gift of the Eucharist. Do not take advantage of Jesus' Presence, but prepare to receive Him worthily. Recall the words of Saint Paul: "Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Cor. 27-29).
- Visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament whenever possible. Spend quality time in adoration, placing everything in His care.
- Make a daily examination of conscience and spiritual communion on days when you do not attend Mass. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Alphonsus Liguori are two of many saints who practiced and recommended this devotion, noting the benefits of uniting spiritually with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
- Daily recite the following prayer to Jesus in the Tabernacle, which is promoted by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood:
With Mary Immaculate, let us adore, thank, implore and console the Most Beloved and Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
O Divine Jesus! lonely tonight in so many Tabernacles, without visitor or worshipper...I offer Thee my poor heart. May its every throb be an act of Love for Thee! Thou art always watching beneath the Sacramental Veils; in Thy Love Thou dost never sleep and Thou art never weary of Thy vigil for sinners. O lonely Jesus! May the flame of my heart burn and beam always in company with Thee. O Sacrament most Holy! O Sacrament Divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!
The Sacred Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus is really, truly, and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament, "the source and summit of the Christian life" (CCC, §1324). Remember, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, not just for thirty-three years, but forever, and He could not have given us a more precious gift in our earthly lives (cf. Jn 3:16).
May the Heart of Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored, and loved, with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the Tabernacles of the world, even to the end of time. Amen.