Before we attempt to discuss the intriguing phrase that is the title of this essay,1 we must begin by defining our terms. First, what does it mean “to live”? Second, what are “The Eucharistic Mysteries”?
Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1965) offers three definitions for “live” used as a transitive verb: (1) “to pass through or spend the duration of”; (2) “enact, practice”; (3) “to exhibit vigor, gusto or enthusiasm in.” For our purposes, we will focus on the third meaning.
“The Eucharistic mysteries” are those truths based on events from the life of Christ that are especially connected to the primary reason why He—the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity—was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, namely to give glory to the Godhead by suffering, dying and rising in order to reconcile us to God. It is the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus that is recalled and commemorated with profound gratitude in each celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
It is the Most Holy Eucharist that gives a form to and provides a backdrop by which we remember and rejoice in the selfless salvific action of the Risen Lord that effected our purification from sin and our victory over death.
Therefore, the Eucharistic mysteries taken as a whole are the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ that we find represented by: (a) the Mass, which is the perpetuation of what Jesus did for us on Calvary; (b) the Most Blessed Sacrament, which is the fruit of the Messiah’s obedient Sacrifice to His Father.
Before continuing, we should refer to another important phrase that is often used in conjunction with “the Eucharistic mysteries,” namely “the Paschal Mystery.”
The Paschal Mystery
The term “the Paschal Mystery” is used often by the Church, especially in her Sacred Liturgy and in official magisterial explanations of Jesus Christ’s salvific mission. Just what is precisely the Paschal mystery?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly asserts: “The Paschal mystery of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection stands at the center of the Good News that the apostles, and the Church following them, are to proclaim to the world. God’s saving plan was accomplished ‘once for all’ by the redemptive death of His Son Jesus Christ” (571).
Therefore, the Paschal Mystery is the redemptive Death and glorious Resurrection of the Messiah. This author will limit himself to only a few comments regarding the first aspect of the Paschal Mystery, namely Our Blessed Lord’s selfless Death on Calvary which, naturally, implies His agonizing Passion leading up to His Crucifixion.
The Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity became man in order to save us from sin. Having lost our friendship with the Almighty due to the sin of our First Parents, we were in desperate need of a Savior. The God-Man—one Divine Person with two natures, one divine and the other human—set about the essential task of reconciling His creatures with His Father and theirs.
Undoubtedly, the eternal Father could have chosen any means by which to “right the wrong” of Original Sin. What he did decide was that his beloved Son would suffer at the hands of sinful men and be mercilessly raised up on the gibbet of a coarse, wooden cross. The painful Passion and Death of Christ, however, would not be a mere feat of human endurance. Rather, the loving and free surrender of the Son to the Father would signal a new era for all children of God: the possibility of imitating Christ. The Anointed One joyfully laid down His sinless life at the behest of His compassionate Father.
We, too, in following Jesus, would now carry any burden which God required, realizing that in this sacrifice, the Lord would be praised, we would proceed further along to Paradise—that endless condition which signifies perfect conformity to Christ—and we would give good example to our brothers and sisters in their selfsame struggle to be faithful to God.
There are, of course, any number of poignant reflections on the Passion and Death of Jesus offered by dozens of saints in the annals of the Church. St. Leo the Great († 461), Pope and Doctor, in one of his sermons (15) dedicated to the Passion of the Lord (De Passione Domini), captured the attitude which each disciple of the Master should have towards Christ tormented and crucified. “True reverence for the Lord’s Passion means fixing the eyes of our heart on Jesus crucified and recognizing in Him our own humanity.”
The redemptive suffering of Mary’s Son has long-lasting ramifications for the People of God. St. Leo continued: “No one, however weak, is denied a share in the victory of the Cross. No one is beyond the help of the prayer of Christ. His prayer brought benefit to the multitude that raged against Him. How much more does it bring to those who turn to Him in repentance.”
Far from being solely an historical event, the Passion and Death of Jesus still resounds two millennia later. Those who delight in the name “Christian” look to Our Lord’s heroic suffering for solace and inspiration. As He has endured, so we must endure whatever is asked of us by our beneficent Father. And it is the express wish of the Lord that we wholeheartedly follow Christ’s lead. Again, St. Leo the Great: “The business of this life should not preoccupy us with its anxiety and pride, so that we no longer strive with all the love of our heart to be like our Redeemer, and to follow His example. Everything that He did or suffered was for our salvation: He wanted His Body to share the goodness of its Head.”
We share in the Paschal Mystery whenever we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and whenever we sincerely offer our sufferings—large and small—to God, acknowledging that only the Father can use them by uniting them to the redemptive suffering of Jesus. How Christ wants to take our sufferings! He has already shown us the path that leads us to Calvary and the empty tomb.
The Passion and Death of Jesus infallibly results in His Resurrection. In His Letter to the Romans (6:4), St. Paul wrote: “Through baptism into His Death we were buried with Him, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life.” Our present suffering and eventual death—if obediently surrendered to Christ—will give way to our future resurrection. Jesus has given us the example. Now, it is our sacred duty to follow Him lovingly to Blood-stained Calvary, assured that we will also rise—glorious and immortal—with Him.
How to Live the Eucharistic Mysteries
Now that we have defined our terms, how do we live the Eucharistic mysteries?
Combining our aforementioned definitions, we exhibit vigor, gusto or enthusiasm in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ which are recalled whenever we attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, receive Holy Communion or pray in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Hence, the answer is adoration. We acknowledge that Jesus is present in the Most Holy Eucharist, and it is our common duty to live this mystery. We do so by our sincere and humble adoration of the Eucharistic King.
Adoration of and Love for the Most Blessed Sacrament
The doctrines of the Holy Catholic Church, although extremely subtle and profound, are really quite simple, as is the case with the dogma of the Most Holy Eucharist.
The explicit teaching of the Church regarding the Most Blessed Sacrament is the same for a devout child of seven years preparing for his First Holy Communion as it is for a learned theologian: the Most Holy Eucharist is the real, true and substantial Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, present under the appearances of bread and wine. After the Consecration of the Mass, the physical characteristics (accidents) of bread and wine remain on the Altar, while the substance (essence) has now been changed to Jesus Christ Himself. (Precise language is vital in words and liturgical music when referring to the Most Blessed Sacrament. We must never call Holy Communion “bread and wine,” an assertion that is patently false.) Every particle of the Sacred Host and every drop of the Precious Blood contain the entire Jesus—the very same Messiah who lived on earth for thirty-three years and now lives risen and glorious in Paradise. Only duly-ordained priests can transform (transubstantiate) bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
The Most Holy Eucharist is Jesus Himself. In asserting the Real Presence of Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament, we may justly and unhesitatingly use the concise equation: The Most Holy Eucharist = Jesus.
Jesus is present… every time that two or more persons are gathered in His Name… in the soul that lives in the state of grace, that is the friendship with God, and is free of mortal sin… in the Sacraments of the Church… and during the Mass in the Word of God proclaimed, in the assembled body of believers and in the person of the priest. But Christ is present in a most exalted way in the Most Blessed Sacrament because He, God-made-man for us, is really, truly and substantially present in His sacred divinity and His holy humanity, the latter whom Blessed Mary conceived in her chaste womb through the power of the Holy Spirit, without relinquishing her Virginity. Mary brought Him forth in a humble stable in obscure Bethlehem on the first Christmas Day.
God, the supreme Being who created the heavens and the earth from nothing, must be adored by us, his human creatures. And since the Redeemer Who is God is really present in the Holy Eucharist, the Most Blessed Sacrament deserves the same adoration as the Lord of the Universe.
Our holy Catholic Church possesses the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Catholics, regardless of age, race, wealth, education or depth of devotion, enjoy the exceptional opportunity and duty to love and adore the Holy Eucharist before, during and after Mass.
How can we demonstrate our genuine love of and adoration for the “Bread of Life and the Chalice of Everlasting Salvation?” Here are what we may call our “Ten Commandments for the Adoration of the Holy Eucharist.”
- Attend Mass daily, if possible. Catholics are required to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. This serious obligation begins for children when they reach the “age of reason” (that is, when they can distinguish good from evil). To participate in the Mass during the week is an inestimable privilege and strongly recommended by the Church. We participate in the Mass—“the greatest communication between the Almighty and His sons and daughters”—by responding to the prayers and singing and listening attentively. We adore the Holy Eucharist by our full, active and conscious participation in the Mass, during which Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is manifested on our Altar when the priest utters those indescribable words: “This is My Body . . . This is the Chalice of My Blood.”
- Prepare well for every Mass we attend. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, rooted in the Last Supper of Jesus that was celebrated on the evening of Holy Thursday, is “Calvary perpetuated” because it is the representation of Christ’s Sacrifice on Good Friday. The Holy Mass extends to this very day the Calvary event—that selfless Sacrifice of Jesus to His Beloved Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. We adore Our Eucharistic Lord when we prepare ourselves, according to the practice of the Church, to receive Him worthily in Holy Communion. We abstain from food and drink (medicine and water may be taken) for at least one hour before receiving Holy Communion (the sick are excused from this law). We also confess to a priest our mortal sins that we have not confessed before within the context of the Sacrament of Penance. (A mortal sin is a thought, word, desire or action that concerns grave matter with sufficient reflection and full consent of the will.) Here, we recall that only those persons whose marriages are recognized as valid by the Holy Catholic Church may approach the Altar to receive the Savior. (One’s confessor will explain this matter more fully.) Frequent Confession of venial sins is highly encouraged. Many choose to avail themselves of one of the following spiritual “exercises” before Mass: reading the Sacred Scriptures that will be used during the Sacred Liturgy, reciting the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, making the Stations of the Cross (Via Crucis).
- Demonstrate with our behavior that we believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. Whenever we enter or leave the church, we turn our glance to the Tabernacle where Jesus is reposed and we genuflect (those who are physically unable to genuflect may bow their heads towards the Tabernacle as a sign of reverence). We genuflect when we pass before the Tabernacle or the Altar on which the Body and Blood of Christ rest. To genuflect is a fitting act of adoration for the Blessed Sacrament. Our modest and decent dress (revealing clothes are inappropriate) demonstrates our faith in and adoration of the Holy Eucharist. We should dress as if we truly believe that Jesus lives in the Tabernacle and desires our love for His Sacred Body and Precious Blood. We avoid chewing gum in the church as a testimony to the unequaled splendor of the Holy Eucharist and in recognition that we are close to Emmanuel—“God with us.”
- Enjoy the silence to which the Holy Eucharist beckons us. Whether grandiose or simple, an ornate basilica or a sparsely-decorated prison chapel, any space that hosts the Most Blessed Sacrament is special and unique from every other. There, one acts differently. We maintain a respectful decorum in the presence of the Holy Eucharist. Before, during and after Mass, we refrain from useless chattering before the Tabernacle in order to adore and concentrate our attention on the Risen Lord Jesus. Christ invites each of us to reflect in silence on the mystery of His Body and Blood. “Who is He?” “Who does God want me to become?” Talking unnecessarily in the holy presence of the Word made flesh destroys a golden occasion to learn at the feet of the Master. There is a time to open our mouths: responding to the prayers, singing, greeting our brothers and sisters in Christ before or after the Mass outside of the church or in its vestibule. But when in the church proper, we demonstrate our love and adoration for the Eucharistic Jesus by opening our hearts and ears, and closing our mouths so as to hear the “pearl of great price.” Silence helps us to bask in the matchless glory of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
- Receive Holy Communion with joy and fervor. The worthy reception of the Body and Blood of the Savior—the “taste” and the “pledge” of Eternal Life—impels us to be authentically charitable towards the poor, the weak and the needy, and summons us to angelic chastity. Receiving Holy Communion should be the summit of our day, week, month, year… life! Preparing ourselves as indicated, joyfully and fervently, leads us toward the Altar. We receive Jesus on our tongues or in our hands (a profound bow before receiving Holy Communion is very appropriate), according to the local Episcopal Conference. When we receive Jesus on our tongues, we simply say “Amen” and permit the priest to place Christ there. If we receive in the hand, then we make a throne for the Lord, placing our “stronger” hand on the bottom and our “weaker” hand on top. Proclaiming “Amen,” we receive the Host (rather than lunging for It), take a step to the side, stop and place the Host in our mouth using the stronger hand underneath. We must never receive the Sacred Host “on the run.” If we receive the Most Precious Blood of Christ (an option in some Dioceses, but never an obligation, since we receive the entire Jesus—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—even under one species), then after saying “Amen,” we receive the Chalice and consume the Precious Blood. Our diligent reception of Holy Communion demonstrates our love and adoration for Christ. With what dignity, adoration and love should we receive the Son of God!
- Pass time with the Eucharistic Jesus outside of the Holy Mass. The Eucharist is always to be adored—before, during and after the Mass. During Eucharistic Processions, Forty Hours, Holy Hours and visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament (whether exposed in the Monstrance or reposed in the Tabernacle), we adore the Messiah, while simultaneously growing in His likeness. These precious moments with Jesus help to ensure that we will really be converted to Him and will be able to accept His plan for us.
- Make frequent Spiritual Communions. The beloved practice of the “Spiritual Communion,” in which we invite the Lord into our souls in a similar manner as when we sacramentally receive Holy Communion, should be encouraged as a stellar act of love and adoration. Spiritual Communions, which may be made anytime and anywhere, signify the intense desire to receive Our Eucharistic Jesus when we are impeded from receiving Him sacramentally.
- Cultivate a special relationship with Mary, the Woman of the Eucharist. Holy Mary, present with her Divine Son on Calvary, is present in some distinct way during each Holy Mass. True veneration of Our Blessed Lady leads us infallibly to genuine adoration of the Master. Our kind Mother teaches us to love, adore and receive Jesus in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
- Develop a friendship with the saints who are remembered for their incredible love for the Holy Eucharist. The history of the Church is filled with men and women, boys and girls who loved, adored and even died for the Most Holy Eucharist. To become aware of their affection for Holy Communion stimulates our capacity to develop in love and adoration of Our Eucharistic Jesus.
- Request the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to be offered for the living and the dead. There is no gift more beautiful and effective for the living and the deceased. Requesting Mass from a priest for a specific intention demonstrates one’s own faith in the power of the Sacrifice of Calvary. Thus, the Holy Eucharist—the “Treasure of Treasures”—is further adored and enriches both those who arranged for the Mass and those for whom it is offered.
Our attitude of adoration for the King of Kings present in the Most Blessed Sacrament compels us to respond to that alluring invitation: Venite adoremus—Come, let us worship!
God wants us to live—exhibiting vigor, gusto or enthusiasm in—the Eucharistic mysteries. The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus become vivid to us when we connect ourselves to the Most Holy Eucharist. No greater joy can be ours than when we conform ourselves to the Crucified and Risen Christ through the adoration and reception of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
1 This essay, reprinted here with permission and with slight adaptation, was originally published in 2005 by the Institute on Religious Life (P. O. Box 7500, Libertyville, Illinois 60048-7500).