November 10, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Prayer: The Eucharist is more than prayer

John F. Fink(Fifth in a series)

Liturgical prayer is the public worship of God. St. Benedict wrote that contemplative prayer, which I discussed last week, should be inspired by liturgical prayer and should be the normal crown of that prayer.

St. Francis de Sales wrote, in Introduction to the Devout Life, “There is always more benefit and consolation to be derived from the public offices of the Church than from private particular acts. God has ordained that communion in prayer must always be preferred to every form of private prayer.”

The eucharistic celebration (the Mass) is the summit of liturgical prayer. St. Francis de Sales called it “the sum of all spiritual exercises—the most holy, sacred, and supremely sovereign sacrament and sacrifice of the Mass, center of the Christian religion, heart of devotion, and soul of piety, the ineffable mystery that comprises within itself the deepest depths of divine charity, the mystery in which God really gives himself and gloriously communicates his graces and favors to us.”

Attendance at weekly Mass has slipped badly during recent decades because some Catholics have never learned to appreciate what we have in the Mass. The Eucharist is prayer, but it is more than prayer. It is the source and summit of the Christian life, the sacrament of all sacraments, the memorial of Christ’s work of salvation accomplished by his death and resurrection.

Christ himself offers the eucharistic sacrifice and it is Christ himself, really present in the bread and wine, who is offered. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice. The celebration of the Eucharist includes thanksgiving and praise to the Father, the sacrificial memorial of Christ and his body, and the presence of Christ by the power of his word and of his Spirit.

Too many people today, though, say that they don’t go to Mass because they “don’t get anything out of it.” Or perhaps it’s more along the lines of, “I have a close relationship with God, pray privately and try to do good for others. I can be a good Catholic without going to Mass.”

To understand why it’s essential for good Catholics to attend Mass, whether or not they “get anything out of it,” remember what a Catholic community is: the people of God gathered around the person of Christ and sharing in his Spirit. The Church is the people. It has Christ as its head, the Holy Spirit as the condition of its unity, the law of love as its rule, and the kingdom of God as its destiny.

We must stop trying to figure out what we can get out of going to church and concentrate more on what we can contribute by our presence and active participation in worshiping God.

The purpose of going to church is to give adoration and praise to God—to give, not to receive. If we do that, we probably will quickly learn that we are also getting more out of going to church. †

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