When I was about 10 years old, I began to serve Holy Mass. I was very proud and happy to become an altar server but also just a little nervous about the distinct possibility that I would make some pretty serious mistakes. By and by I got over that nervousness and, if I may say so, I became a seasoned altar server. I was among those who were always called upon for complicated liturgies such as the Holy Saturday Vigil.
At one point, my home parish had its annual Forty Hours celebration, a period of time set aside each year for Eucharistic devotions. Parishioners were invited to come and spend time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, placed in a monstrance on the altar. As one of the altar servers, I was expected to take a turn kneeling at a prie dieu in the sanctuary for about an hour. To a boy of 12, an hour can seem like an awfully long time and I was no exception. But something happened during that hour. What my parents and teachers had taught me about the Most Blessed Sacrament began to sink in. I realized that I really was in the Presence of Jesus and that He loved me. It was as simple as that. It was a watershed moment in my young life.
Pope Benedict XVI once said that “…being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament so long ago, I could not have said it so eloquently – but that’s what happened to me. I truly encountered the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I realized that he loved me and that made all the difference. It’s why I strive, in spite of all my faults and failings, to be a Christian, a follower of Christ and a member of Christ’s Body, the Church. This is why I am a priest.
In this month of June, the Church celebrates the feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Lord’s Body and Blood. This great feast is an invitation for us to encounter the Lord more deeply in the Eucharist, the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. It is also a grace-filled opportunity for us to renew our understanding and love of this Sacrament, for it is the most powerful and effective way to encounter Jesus, to enter into his Presence, and to realize that he loves us.
At the heart of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist is a wonderful and consoling truth. The Son of God who became one of us, who preached the good news, died and rose to save us, and is now exalted at God’s right hand – this Lord Jesus remains with us in the Sacrament of his most holy Body and Blood. By the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the words of consecration uttered by the priest, bread and wine are completely changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. Although the appearances of bread and wine remain after the consecration, in fact, they are no longer such, but rather the living personal Presence of Christ, crucified, risen and exalted.
We call this miracle that takes place on our altars “transubstantiation”. This is how Jesus becomes our spiritual food and drink so as nourish our souls. This is how it happens that Jesus’ heart truly speaks to our hearts. This is how Jesus remains with us, even after Mass is ended, in the tabernacles of our churches. And for this reason the Church lovingly invites us not only to attend Mass but also to take part in Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and to take time to pray before the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle.
Once we have welcomed the Eucharistic Lord into the depths of our hearts, nothing really remains the same. Christianity becomes, not a sideline, but a way of life. What we say and what we do, the choices we make, the way we treat others, most especially the poor and the troubled, all are shaped by our repeated encounters with the Eucharistic Lord. United deeply to Christ our life, we commit ourselves to the Church’s mission of spreading the Gospel. We see the Church not merely as an institution but as the Body of Christ of which we are living members. We want everyone to know Jesus and to welcome him into their hearts. We want the Church to be strong and unified so that others may believe.