One of Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski’s favorite stories relating to the Eucharist involves the late Father Walter Joseph Ciszek, a Polish-American Jesuit priest who did missionary work in the Soviet Union from the late 1930s until the 1960s.
He was imprisoned and sent to a forced labor camp, where other prisoners discovered he was a Catholic priest. They scrounged for scraps of bread and wine so that Father Ciszek could celebrate Mass for them in the pit of a truck repair shop in the prison camp.
“When I think of the heroic deeds of offering Mass in that place — the prisoners risked their lives; Father Ciszek risked his life — it really exemplifies what the Eucharist is to our Church.”
It’s one of countless stories in which Catholics made sacrifices, including risking their lives, to bring others closer to Jesus in the Eucharist, said the archbishop. Nothing is more important to the Catholic faith than the celebration of Mass. And it’s most important when the Body of Christ is together, in-person, for the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice of our Lord, he said.
Almost 14 months after Archbishop Emeritus Robert J. Carlson announced a dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass due to the pandemic, Archbishop Rozanski has ended the dispensation on July 1. A general dispensation for Catholics with illnesses, homebound or with vulnerabilities remains, a practice that’s always been in place under ordinary times.
“Our baptismal call gives us the privilege of being members of the Church,” Archbishop Rozanski said. “Our coming together at the source and summit of our Catholic life is the Mass. What a great gift to gather with others of like belief, who affirm their commitment to the Lord Jesus, being fed by His Word and the sacrament of the Eucharist. … They’re able to face the challenges and the joys and the hopes of the rest of the week nourished with the Lord.”
The archbishop acknowledged that parishes have seen a rise in Mass attendance in the past several months, especially as the COVID-19 vaccine became widely available. He’s also heard from people who have expressed how they’ve become comfortable watching livestreamed Masses from home. While there was a benefit to offering livestreamed Masses during the pandemic — and will continue to be valuable resource to people who continue to be homebound for serious reasons — livestreaming isn’t meant to replace physically being together.
“I think of Jesus’ mandate to us to be His presence in the world,” he said. “Sitting comfortably on the couch watching Mass is not really taking in the fullness of His presence, nor being fully present to Him. They’re missing the beauty of the Eucharist, the nourishment that comes from the Eucharist to our spiritual lives, and the presence of our community gathering together. I have said, who would want to celebrate all their family events by Zoom?”
U.S. bishops focus on the Eucharist
At their spring assembly in June, the U.S. bishops voted to draft a teaching document on the Eucharist
. In the discussion, some bishops stressed that the document was necessary to provide clarity about the significance of the Eucharist. The document fits in with a multiyear National Eucharistic Revival initiative that is part of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2021-24 strategic plan, which has been in the planning stages for more than a year. The initiative aims to renew the Church by enkindling a relationship with the Lord through the Eucharist, and includes among its actions to equip more than 100,000 missionaries to share the love of Jesus in the Eucharist with others.
Archbishop Rozanski said the document would seek to reaffirm the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which he described as “the medicine for immortality.” In a secularized society, which includes those who have skepticism about the Catholic faith, “we need to highlight the vibrancy of our faith,” he said. Other key points of the proposed document, he said, will focus on being conscious of how the Eucharist connects to our daily lives, and importance of the sacrament of reconciliation in preparing a person to worthily receive Communion.
Pope Francis has stressed how the Eucharist gives us nourishment so that we can see Christ in others, Archbishop Rozanski said. There are many notable ways in which parish outreach connects people’s lives — St. Vincent de Paul conferences and respect life committees, to name a few examples — all of which should be rooted in the Eucharist.
“If we have a great appreciation of the eucharistic presence of Christ, then we have a great appreciation of the mission that He gives to us, to bring His life to others,” Archbishop Rozanski said. “The gift we receive in the Eucharist, which is the life of Christ, gives us the ability to share our lives in service to others.”
Some information for this article was provided by Catholic News Service.
>> Everybody Together
Up-to-date information on the lifting of the Mass dispensation July 1, and parish resources on creating a plan for evangelizing to others using the PEW Model (Pray, Engage, Welcome) visit archstl.org/together.