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Eucharistic Education Today
by Fr. John A. Hardon
Our last four conferences in this series will be on the apostolate of sharing with others our faith in the seven sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ. More specifically, I hope to instruct, and according to Gods grace, inspire you to cooperate in the Marian Catechist movement
The Marian Catechists came into existence when the Holy Father told Mother Teresa to train her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, as catechists. I was directed by the Holy See to organize this catechetical training program.
The Marian Catechists were founded first to cooperate with the Missionaries of charity, whose catechetical achievement has been nothing less than phenomenal. However, the Holy See wanted the Marian Catechists to extend their labors to train the Catholic laity in evangelization and catechesis, not only in the United States, but throughout the world.
Marian Catechist Apostolate
The heart of the Marian Catechist apostolate is to fulfill Christs directive to proclaim the gospel to all nations, teaching them to observe everything which He had commanded His disciples.
Marian Catechists, therefore, are to engage in extending the Kingdom of Christ here on earth, in order to extend His dominion over the hearts of men in the kingdom of heaven for all eternity.
Their motto is the Saviors declaration in His prayer to the Father at the Last Supper, This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).
The key work in the apostolate of the Marian Catechists is to make God known through Christ so that knowing God, people might love Him, and loving Him might serve Him, and serving Him might save their souls.
As explained by Pope John Paul II everything else than Jesus Christ is secondary. The primacy and essential object of catechesis says the Holy Father, isthe mystery of Christ. The main purpose of catechizing is very simple.
It is to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of Gods eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person.It is to seek to understand the meaning of Christs actions and words and of the signs worked by Him, for they simultaneously hide and reveal His mystery. Accordingly, the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity (Catechesi Tradendae, 5).
This stress on making God known in the Person of Christ is not coincidental. It is of the essence of Christianity. Why? Because, faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ (Romans 10:17). Those who believe in Christ must witness to their faith in Christ so that others might hear and see the faith professed and thus be led to believe (or deepen their belief) in Jesus Christ.
Marian Catechists are to be living witnesses to their faith in Christ and thus become channels of believing grace to other people.
Why is Eucharistic Education Important?
In asking this question, we are understating the importance of the Holy Eucharist.
What are we saying? We are saying that the Holy Eucharist is literally the mystery of Christian revelation. Everything which the Son of God came into the world to teach the human race is contained in the Eucharist. To believe in the Holy Eucharist means to believe in the Incarnation, to believe that the Incarnate God became man for two fundamental reasons: to die on the cross for our redemption and to rise from the dead in order to communicate the graces which the human race needs to reach its heavenly destiny.
This risen Savior ascended into heaven to the right hand of His heavenly Father. But He remains on earth in the Eucharist to channel the blessings He merited for us on Calvary. He is therefore as true God and true man, emanating the graces we need through His living humanity. No words can exaggerate, not just the importance, but the indispensability of the Holy Eucharist as the divinely ordained means for returning in heaven to the God from whom we came for our temporary exile here on earth.
Once we recognize the primacy of the Eucharist in Catholic Christianity, we instinctively see how devastating are the errors about the Eucharist that have plagued the church over the centuries. These errors have reached nothing less than an apex in our century.
Anyone who knows the Churchs history has no illusions. She is going through the gravest crisis in her two thousand years of existence. And the core of this crisis is the epidemic of disguised untruths about the Blessed Sacrament.
Pope Paul VI, who confirmed the Second Vatican Council, did the unheard of thing of publishing the whole encyclical on the Real Presence before the council closed. In this document he declares, There are not lacking reasons for serious pastoral concern and anxiety. The awareness of our pastoral office does not allow us to be silent in the face of these problems. There are those who consign to oblivion doctrine already defined by the Church, or interpret in such as way as to weaken the genuine meaning of the words or the approved import of the concepts involved.
The pope goes on to identify some of these heretical ideas that have penetrated Catholic circles. Transubstantiation is being redefined to deny the Real Presence of the living Christ in the Holy Eucharist. The Mass is being redefined as a mere symbolic recollection of Christs sacrifice on Calvary.
We are asking why Eucharistic education is important. A better question would be why Eucharistic re-education is necessary, not only to refute the widespread erroneous ideas, but to restore the true Eucharistic faith among, I dare say, millions of professed Catholics.
How is Eucharistic Education to be Given?
In asking this question, we are opening the floodgates of Catholic religious pedagogy as we come to the close of the twentieth century. The issue at stake is nothing less than authentic Catholic education in one Western country after another.
Take the United States. As late as the middle of the nineteen hundreds, Catholic parochial schools were flourishing on a scale that was nothing less than the envy of other countries. Hundreds of thousands of children were being taught the fundamentals of their Catholic heritage by tens of thousands of dedicated religious women.
Then came the volcanic eruption of Marxist feminism. In less than two decades, most of the Catholic elementary schools of America lost their consecrated teachers. The result has been nothing less than chaotic. Some years ago, I was in conversation with the bishop of a large American diocese. He hold me that, in a private audience with the Holy Father, the pope broke down and wept, saying, Whatever happened to your consecrated religious women who trained whole generations of children in their Catholic faith?
What happened was the demonic seduction of these once-dedicated spouses of Christ. Let me quote just one paragraph from Donna Steichens classic book, Ungodly Rage. The nuns abandonment of identifying religious garb, their demands for autonomy in place of hierarchical obedience, for altar service as Eucharistic ministers, lectors or acolytes, for ordination as deaconesses and even as priestesses turned out to be merely predatory. When they encountered appeasement in some of those areas, they pressed more astonishing moral and dogmatic claims.
Of course, behind this destructive feminism were the so-called dissident male theologians. But the most drastic effect was on young Catholic children who were deprived of the basics of their faith, including their faith in the Holy Eucharist.
You might ask, What has this to do with how Eucharistic education is to be given? Everything!
Eucharistic education must begin from the childs tenderest years. Clearly, this means from infancy and, more specifically, from the Eucharistic faith and life of the parents. Parents personally nurture their children in things of the spirit, here in the faith and love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. They do so by what they are, by what they do, and by what they say.
First of all, by what they are. The proverbs of all nations are filled with eloquence on the persuasive power of good example. Yet, there is more than example implied in saying that parents teach their faith in the Eucharist by what they are. We are here dealing with the supernatural. In the ordinary providence of God, He uses those who are most closely united in Him by their virtue to communicate to others the grace which they possess. The deeper and more devout is their faith in the Eucharistic Christ, the more surely will their children inherit this faith from their parents.
Secondly, by what they do. This may seem to be unnecessary after having said that father and mother give Eucharistic upbringing by what they are.
On the contrary. In things of the spirit, it is not enough to be a Catholic who believes in the Blessed Sacrament. A person must act like one.
Why is this important to stress? Because there is in all of us a tendency to divide our lives into two compartments. There is a temptation to claim, honestly and sincerely, to be one thing and yet to behave like something else. The Jekyll and Hyde separation in us is neither rare nor surprising. Remember St. Pauls confession about himself, The good things that I will I do not do; but the evil things that I will not, that I do.
At the heart of the Eucharistic education of children is the practice of a Eucharistic life by their parents. Their frequent, even daily, assistance at Mass and reception of Holy Communion; their prayerful adoration before the Blessed Sacrament is of the essence of rearing their children in a Eucharistic life.
Thirdly, by what they say. Again we enter a mystery; the mystery of how our words are a channel of ourselves. Among all the means of self-communication, none is more effective than the spoken word.
The fundamental and primary communicative agent of religious belief and practice is the parent. This is the common verdict of Christian history, as it is also the common teaching of the Catholic Church. Children begin to ask intelligent whys long before they are able to conceptualize and much less, rationalize, the meaning of their questions. I quote one specialist who says that the whys which appear between the age of three and seven are extremely numerous. Yet he calls this already the second stage of why in the child, implying that children can begin to ask why before they are three years old.
Evidently, it makes all the difference in the world how a childs whys are answered.
Of course, all we have said applies to the whole spectrum of the Christian faith. But, it is most relevant for teaching children the mystery of mysteries, which is the Holy Eucharist.
Someone may object that I have put too much stress on the role of parents in training their offspring in Eucharistic pedagogy. However, a half-century in the priesthood has taught me it is impossible to exaggerate the providential purpose of father and mother in sharing not only their natural, but especially their supernatural life with the children whom God has given them to prepare for heaven.
Nevertheless, everything we have said about how Eucharistic education is to be given applies to all those who will enter the childrens lives over the years. Priests and teachers in school, catechists and those who preach, those who write books or use the media for communicationall without exceptionwill be only as effective in providing others with authentic Eucharistic training by what they are, by what they do, and by what they say. The more Eucharistic they are, the more Eucharistically they live, and the more Eucharistically they speak, the more Jesus Christ, to coin a word, will Eucharisticize those who enter their lives.
Understanding the Real Presence
Underlying everything we have so far said is a basic principle of Christianity. It is not enough to believe in the Eucharist. We must understand what we believe, at the risk of having the evil spirit steal the faith from our hearts.
As we have said in the conferences on the Blessed Sacrament, Eucharistic education must be directed to a deeper, clearer, more certain and reproductive faith in the Real Presence. The reason should be obvious. Unless we understand the Real Presence, everything else about the Eucharist will be not only misunderstood but, as we see all around us, perverted beyond anything in the twenty centuries of the Catholic history.
Books are now being used in Catholic seminaries that simply undermine the real, physical presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The following are just a few sentences from a widely read textbook.
The author of the above is no longer in the active priesthood. But many Catholic priests in America have been shaped by his thinking.
Another writer is more dramatic. Also a priest, he has remolded hundreds of thousands of still professed Catholics and has been a leader in the New Age movement that is undermining Christianity throughout the Western world. In context, he is speaking of what we still call the Real Presence.
If Jesus Christ is Mother Earth crucified, then the eating and drinking at the Eucharist is the eating and drinking of the wounded earth. The ingesting of the sacrificial victim brings about an awakening of consciousness to the sufferings of Mother Earth and all her children.
We are all food for one another. Take and eat for this is my body. The body we eat together is no longer limited to a matter of bread, whether leavened or unleavened, but the bread is seen for what it is: a cosmological gift, twenty-billion-years old, a gift of earth, air, fire, water, of photosynthesis and the sun, of supernova explosions and of original fireballsindeed the ingenuity to make the bread from wheat and soil and to harvest the grapes is itself a cosmic of light waves and brain energies that allowed such imagination into the human consciousness.
So the litany of demolitionists goes on. I could quote literally hundreds of writers whose explanation of the Real Presence is totally at variance with the historic teaching of Catholic Christianity.
Let me be as clear as possible. In His mysterious providence, God allows error to penetrate Christianity in order to arouse us, not only to cope with the errors, but inspire us to reflect on what we believe and come to a deeper grasp on the ocean of truth which the Lord in His goodness has revealed to our minds.
How to grow in our understanding of the Real Presence? There is no more effective way than by speaking to our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, while asking Him to deepen our grasp of what we believe. It is now over seven hundred years that St. Thomas Aquinas composed the hymn Adore Te. This hymn was ordered by the Bishop of Rome for the Divine Office of Corpus Christi. In the thirteenth century arose the first major heresies denying the Real Presence. In our day, these heresies are becoming so widespread as to threaten the survival of the Catholic Church in more than one part of the modern world.
I could not think of a better way to close his conference than to quote the full text of the Adore Te. As we go through this prayer, let all of us unite ourselves with our Lord really present in the Holy Eucharist.
I adore you devoutly, Godhead unseen, who truly lie hidden under these sacramental forms. My soul surrenders itself to You without reserve, for in contemplating You it is completely overwhelmed. Sight, touch, and taste are no guide in finding You, and only hearing is a sure guide for our faith. I believe everything that the Son of God has said, and nothing can be truer than this word of the Truth. Only the Godhead was hidden on the cross, but here the humanity is hidden as well. Yet I believe and acknowledge them both, and make the same request as did the repentant thief. I do not see the marks of the wounds, as Thomas did, and yet I too own You as my God. Grant me to believe in You always more and more, to place my hope in You and love You. Living bread, that ever recalls the death of the Lord and gives life to His servants, grant my soul to live by You and always to taste Your sweetness, Lord Jesus, loving pelican of heaven, cleanse me, a sinner, with Your blood, for a single drop can save the whole world from all its sin. Jesus, as I look on Your veiled presence, I pray that what I long for so ardently may come about, and that I may see your face unveiled and be happy in the vision of Your glory. Amen.
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