Msgr. Michael K. Magee

I remember as a youth in the United Methodist Church being taken aback when someone first told me that Catholics “believe that the bread and wine really become the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion!”{{more}}

Though already holding the Methodist belief in the Lord’s spiritual presence in the communion service, I had never realized before then that Catholics believed in what the Church has always called the Real Presence: that is, that after the consecration by the priest, the same Body born of the Blessed Virgin is really, truly and substantially present in the Sacred Host while the outward forms (and indeed all of the physical and even molecular properties) of the bread and wine remain.

Later, becoming a Catholic, I was to learn that this belief is entirely in accord with sacred Scripture (see John 6:53, for example) and was believed by all of the Fathers of the Church from the earliest days. What seemed a little disturbing at that time (and still does!) was that many Catholics seem to take such a precious gift for granted, not realizing what a treasure they have before them daily. Consider this: many people happily wait in long lines to get a glimpse of the president or to see the Crown Jewels; do you and most other Catholics you know enter a Catholic church with a vivid awareness that it houses something far more important than any head of state and more valuable than the most precious diamond?

Could it be that many of the Church’s problems today would be remedied most effectively precisely by our becoming more deeply aware of this fact? Why is it that many Catholics do not attend Mass, believing that their personal prayers at home are just as good? Would they feel the same way if they realized that the Lord is present in the Eucharist as truly as He was coming forth from the tomb on the morning of the Resurrection? Why do so many people feel lonely or abandoned? Do they see that their Savior is waiting for them to visit Him in the Blessed Sacrament? Why are there young men whom God is calling to the priesthood who are afraid to follow His call? Do they not realize that it is to priests that the Lord gives the power to call Him down from heaven to be present with His people in this unique way on their altars and in their tabernacles?

In this season of the year, as many parishes celebrate first holy Communions, and as the Church prepares to celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, it is good for us to recall this treasure that the Second Vatican Council said “contains the entire spiritual wealth of the Church” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 5).

Recalling this, we might also simplify our lives very much by realizing that whenever things are not as they should be in the Church, it will probably not be so much because of a failure of good advertising or packaging, public relations, or the quality of preaching, art or music, as it is of a forgetfulness that every one of these things should always be leading us nowhere other than back to the Eucharist, the Church’s most precious possession.

Msgr. Michael K. Magee is the chair of the Department of Systematic Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.