Last week someone shared with me a recent article from Commonweal by Cardinal Blaise Cupich, the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago. Cardinal Cupich is generally considered to be a “progressive” member of the American episcopate, though those types of political labels are often unhelpful when applied to the Church. Irrespective of one’s leanings, the article offers some compelling observations. In it, the Cardinal outlines several themes about the Eucharist that he believes should be the foundation of a strategy to address the significant challenges the Church faces in the United States.
One of the themes he develops is the human need to worship. He points to the dwindling numbers of regular Sunday Mass-goers in the United States and observes that many treat Mass attendance as simply one option among various other things one can do on a Sunday. Sadly, this reflects the consumerist mindset that afflicts our American culture. Cardinal Cupich writes: “If Eucharistic formation, catechesis, and revival are to happen, then the Church and its leaders must address this fundamental question of worship: Is it, in fact, optional or is it necessary?” The fact is, the Cardinal writes, human beings are by nature creatures who are made to worship. We can’t help it. And if it is not God whom we worship, then we will worship something else – even ourselves. He invites us to think of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass as flowing not only from the Third Commandment: “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day,” but even more fundamentally from the First Commandment: “You shall not have false gods before me.” The sin of idolatry plagues our age in the form of consumerism, addiction, work, sports, entertainment, and achievement. “If we are to spare ourselves the entrapments of the many idols that mark our lives, then worship of God is necessary.” There are many idols that seek to seduce us. If we want to know whether we’ve fallen under the spell of a false god, we might start by asking what it is we do on the weekend instead of going to Mass.
Cardinal Cupich also emphasizes that “the Eucharist is a matter of life and death.” Far from hyperbole, this truth is rooted in the words of Christ: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:53-4). He lists several “death-dealing forces,” among which are the pandemic, widespread inner-city violence, the specter of war, disregard for human life, and degradation of the environment. At the Mass, we encounter the Source of Life under the appearance of bread and wine. Part of the task of good catechesis is to help people discover the significance of the Eucharist based on the very words of Christ. Oppressed by the forces of death that beset us on all sides, we must turn to Jesus in the Eucharist so that we might have life instead of death. Moreover, the life that we receive in the liturgy as members of the Church cannot be left behind when we leave Mass. “True participation in the Eucharist,” writes the Cardinal, “necessarily shapes our moral choices, orienting us to serve those in need, and guiding us to strengthen relationships.” Our Lord gives us the gift of Himself in the Eucharist to transform us and make us more like Him. He does this so that we can then bring Him into the world and participate in His work of restoring Creation to Him through our lives of authentic discipleship. The world needs to see the fruits of the Eucharist in our lives. Otherwise, we Catholics will fail in our sacred responsibility to be leaven in the world – and we will have to answer to Jesus for that.