The following was a college essay written by Maureen Francois. It has been edited and approved by Ariel Hobbs. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.
By Maureen Francois, Benedictine College
The reflections found in the fifth chapter of The Enduring Faith and Timeless Truths of Fulton Sheen focused on the Holy Eucharist. The word “Eucharist” is derived from Greek and means to give thanks. The purpose of this sacrament is to nourish and revitalize our souls, filling us with God’s grace and strengthening our desire to glorify the Lord by our lives. At the time of consecration, “the elements cease to be bread and wine and become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.” (Zia, page 54) The reception of our Lord and Savior in this form is an incredible gift. But another way that we can adore Him in the Holy Eucharist is through a Holy Hour. Also known simply as Eucharistic Adoration, this is a sixty minute time interval “spent in prayer before Jesus Christ in the monstrance.” (Zia, page 58) We can stay for longer or shorter periods of time, or we can make it a strict hour. We can pray, meditate, or focus on the loving presence of our Lord. The chapter ended on the topic of kneeling. We take a knee before the Blessed Sacrament to show humble reverence and homage for our King.
Something that I have had trouble understanding throughout my life is the concept of the Mass as a sacrifice. I’ve never really understood the meaning of an “unbloody manner”, but I found it helpful to see it phrased as “the unbloody re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice.” (Zia, page 54) Jesus is not sacrificed again, physically or spiritually. Instead, “the fruits of his one and perfect sacrifice are brought into the present.” (Zia, page 54) Jesus becomes present on the altar, not as the slain Christ, but as the risen Christ.
When I was a small child, my family and I went to Mass every Sunday morning, at a parish that had Mass practically every hour. One Sunday, my parents did not get out of the pew immediately after Mass, but rather stayed there kneeling for a long time. I whispered, “Daddy, aren’t we gonna go?” He answered my question with a question of his own: “Who would leave Jesus alone?” We stayed until people began to show up for the next Mass. That was the first time I thought about what Jesus must feel like in the tabernacle when no one comes to see Him. In reading chapter five, I was deeply moved by Sheen’s insight that “‘What happened there on the Cross that day is happening now in the Mass, with this difference: on the Cross the Saviour was alone; in the Mass He is with us.’” (Zia, page 54) Loneliness is a painful existence, but if we spend time with Jesus, He is no longer alone, and neither are we. When I began my college career at my local community college, the misery of culture shock and loneliness settled in. At 18 years old, I fell into a deep state of depression, which lasted for two years. One summer, finding myself lacking in peace and fulfillment, I decided to volunteer at a vocations retreat put on by my diocese. Late at night, at an hour that I ordinarily would have spent downstairs, walking around all by myself, I was asked to take a shift in the adoration chapel. I was not excited when I went in, but once I knelt down and recognized our Lord’s presence, I found myself captivated by His love. I had always known that he heard my prayers, but at that moment, I felt both that He was listening to me, and that He had something to tell me.
One concept that I never considered much before is why the priest consecrates exclusively bread and wine. Until reading this chapter, it did not occur to me that bread and wine are common sustainers of mankind. (55) According to Aristotle, this would make them part of our natural bodies, in a certain sense. When we bring our very selves to the altar in this way, the elements become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and when we eat and drink, partaking in the everlasting feast, we become one with our God in a uniquely intimate way. Another reason for the bread and wine, is that they reflect the sacrifice of Abel, who brought the best fruits of his labor to the altar of sacrifice for God. In the Eucharistic prayer, the priest praises God for the His gift of bread, “fruit of the earth and work of human hands” (The Order of Mass, page 11). As a token of our thanksgiving, we offer the bread back to Him. Sheen further elaborates that bread and wine symbolize unity, since many grapes and grains of wheat become one; and brokenness, since grapes are crushed in the making of wine, and the Bread is broken on the altar. These symbols reflect our unity as the mystical Body of Christ, and Christ’s physical body, broken and shared for all.
I found amusement in the Archbishop’s story about sleeping during a Holy Hour. My dad and I have joked about falling asleep in adoration, and whether that counts as a meditation on Christ’s agony in the garden from the perspective of the apostles. Regardless, my dad says that as long as one does his best, it is better for him to be there asleep than not to be there.
In current times, an unfortunate number of people do not see the value or necessity of attending Mass. It is often seen as outdated, extra, or irrelevant. Venerable Fulton Sheen addressed a few excuses for avoiding Mass, including boredom and lack of conscious spiritual gain. To these he replies with great wisdom, that firstly, in order to be a free species, we must overcome the constant need of entertainment; and secondly, if we are not gaining anything from the Mass, it is because we are not bringing enough of ourselves to the Mass. This reminded me of a joke about our modern attitude. The reasons people give for not going to Mass could also be applied as reasons not to take a shower: you were forced to shower as a child, people who shower are hypocrites for thinking they are cleaner than everyone else, there are too many kinds of soap, and you can’t decide which one is right for you, showering is boring, you only shower for special occasions such as Christmas and Easter, your friends don’t shower, you don’t think you need to shower until you are older and dirtier, the people who make soap are just after your money, you don’t have the time to shower, or maybe the first time you used soap, it gave you a terrible rash, and you’ve avoided it ever since. But at the end of the day, the reason we go to Mass is not to be entertained, emotionally uplifted, relieved of trauma, or to reunite with our friends and family every year, although some of these things are beautiful graces that can come from the Mass. We go to enter into communion with Our Lord, receiving first His word, then His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Through reading chapter five, I have come to a better appreciation of the Eucharist, the most important sacrament, as an encounter with Love incarnate. God longs so deeply for unity with us, that He comes to us physically under the appearance of bread and wine. At every Mass, the angels and saints are present before the altar, and Heaven and Earth are united in praise and celebration. Our Lord comes to be one with us in the flesh, and for fifteen minutes we are granted a small glimpse of the beatific vision of His glory, which we anticipate the full revelation of at the end of time.
Zia, Mark. The Enduring Faith and Timeless Truths of Fulton Sheen. Cincinnati: Servant books, 2015.
MacMichael, Brian W. “The New Translation of the Mass: The Liturgy of the Eucharist”. PDF.