Dear Father Angelo,
I know a lot of people who have been going to mass and receiving Communion for ages but are not good Christians at all.
I am aware that the Eucharist is not a “magic wand” and that it does not automatically transform into Jesus whoever receives it, but then I ask myself: what is the point of taking Holy Communion? Perhaps it ought to be preceded by a good confession, whereas many people do not go to confession so often.
Or maybe people should make a greater effort so as to lead an authentically Christian life (as the old saying goes: God helps those who help themselves). I hope you will cast some light on this matter.
Thank you very much and kind regards.
1. After reading your email some time ago, I finally have time to reply only today. As for your remark about people who go to mass, receive communion but then are not good Christians, I can answer by reminding you that we see only the outward appearance. We do not know what their lives would be like without the Eucharist. We will see how they would have been like only when we are in heaven.
Nevertheless, I take the cue from your email to say what we should do in order for Mass and Holy Communion to produce transforming effects in our life. I say transforming because Saint Thomas Aquinas states that the effect produced by the Eucharist is our transformation into Christ.
Of course, we all feel that we are very distant from this. What should we do?
You say: we should go to confession and confess our sins well. This is correct, it is necessary to go to confession, especially if we are aware that we have grave sins that have not been absolved yet.
But there is also another thing that we should do any time we go to Mass.
2. I begin by the statement of the Holy Cure of Ars, who used to say: “the reason for the priest’s relaxation is that he does not pay attention to mass”. The same can be said about every Christian.
3. The Second Vatican Council says in its constitution about liturgy: “the Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration” (Sacrosantum Concilium, 48).
It also adds: “ by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves” (SC, 48).
What the Council urges us to do is a lesson never sufficiently learnt. Every day it is like a new endeavor.
4. What the Holy Cure of Ars used to say about priests applies to everyone: “what prevents the priest from being holy is the lack of reflection; we do not return to ourselves, we do not know what we are doing; we need reflection, prayer, union with God”.
5. How many people among those who celebrate or go to mass are conscious that the Passion of Christ is made present through the priest?
Because mass is exactly this, as the Sacred Scripture says:“for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1Cor, 11:26).
“You proclaim the death of the Lord”! This means: “you make it present”. Is there anything greater and more fearsome than this?
6. The Magisterium of the Church says that: “no other work can be performed by the faithful so holy and divine as this tremendous mystery itself, wherein that life-giving victim, by which we were reconciled unto God the Father, is daily immolated on the altar by the priests” (Council of Trent, session 22).
7. The Holy Cure of Ars, using very simple words, would say that: “all good works together are not of equal value with the sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the works of men, and the holy Mass is the work of God.
Martyrdom is nothing in comparison; it is the sacrifice that man makes of his life to God; the Mass is the sacrifice that God makes to man of His Body and of His Blood” (Monnin, The Spirit of the Curé of Ars, edited by J. E. Bowden, London 1865, p. 74).
8. Saint Alphonsus Liguori is of the same mind: “God himself could not enable man to perform anything greater than the celebration of Mass. All the ancient sacrifices, by which God was so much honoured, were but shadows and figures of our sacrifice of the altar.
All the honour that angels by their adorations, and men by their good works, austerities, and even martyrdoms, have ever rendered or will ever render to God, never could, and never will, give him so much glory as one single Mass; for, while the honour of all creatures is only finite, that which accrues to God from the holy Sacrifice of the Altar is infinite, inasmuch as the victim which is offered is of infinite value” (Discourses on the Mass and on the Divine Liturgy, translated from the Italian of Saint Alphonsus Liguori by Rev. James Jones, London 1878, pp. 7-8).
9. Saint Thomas Aquinas says that the Eucharist is “the sacrament of our Lord’s passion” (Commentary on John, n. 963) because “it contains in itself the Christ who suffered. Thus, whatever is an effect of our Lord’s passion is also an effect of this sacrament” (Ibidem).
10. For this reason, it is reported that the Holy Cure of Ars “did everything that there was to be done to stir up the reverence and love of the faithful for Christ hidden in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and to bring them to share in the riches of the divine Synaxis; the example of his devotion was ever before them. To be convinced of this — witnesses tell us — all that was necessary was to see him carrying out the sacred ceremonies or simply to see him genuflect when he passed the tabernacle” (John XXIII, Sacerdotii nostri primordia, 47).
11. Therefore, here is what we should do: bear in mind that when we go to mass, we are actually going to make present and offer the passion of Christ for ourselves and for everyone. And that we do this so as to conform our feelings to those of Christ immolated for the redemption and the sanctification of everyone.
We should live with an attitude of continuous offering and oblation, especially when it costs.
12. Also in this regard it is useful to remember what the Holy Cure of Ars used to say: “the works of penance abound in such delights and joys that once they have been tasted, nothing will ever again root them out of the soul…. Only the first steps are difficult for those who eagerly choose this path.”
I heartfeltly wish this for you and for myself, I assure you my prayer and I bless you.