“The best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated well.”

Let me give you a couple hooks.

When we talk about “the Eucharist” we must keep in mind always that we are talking not only about the Blessed Sacrament, but also the celebration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Also, the Church is all about communication.  God communicates His life to us through the mediation of the Church.  The Church mediates the Gospel to her members (ad intra) and to the world (ad extra).  The Incarnation is communication.  Christ, the Incarnate Word, is the Perfect Communicator (Communio et Progressio, 11).

That said.

I just read another great offering by Leroy Huizenga on the site of First Things.  Be sure to go read the whole thing there.

A key point:

As a new Catholic, I’m beginning to wonder if the way we receive the Eucharist at Mass has served to undercut our particularly Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. Lex orandi lex credendi, after all.

Indeed. The way we worship has a reciprocal relationship with what we believe.  Change how we pray and we change what we believe.. and their other way round.

The Church’s most perfect form of communication with her members and the world is her liturgical worship.

The concluding paragraph:

Given what Catholics believe about the Eucharist, reverence matters, for God’s sake and our own. In any event the Catechism makes clear that the liturgy is “the privileged place for catechizing the People of God”. Indeed, Pope Benedict emphasized in Sacramentum Caritatis 64 that “the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated well.” It’s God, after all.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Virgil says:

    Huizenga’s article is beautifully written! It’s a great reflection about where we are subjectively as we approach the Lord in His Sacrament, and what the structure of the communion procession does (or fails to do) to facilitate our worship. I summarize.

    Physical elements that facilitate a good communion:
    – Kneeling.
    – Slow, careful processions.
    – Time for prayer during the act of receiving.

    Physical elements that disturb Huizenga (and most of us):
    – Standing.
    – Drive-through row-by-row processions.
    – Urgency in the queue.

    May I make a connection to the current events in Phoenix, and risk being a little contrary?

    I would add another element that facilitates my good communion:
    – Receiving of host and cup.

    I find that, even in a hurried, drive-through, standing up, in-the-hand Novus Ordo, . . . I often feel hurried and distracted in the “bread line”. But the cup, often ministered at a short distance from the bread line and spread out, gives me time to collect myself. Also, the physical act of taking the cup and drinking takes some time. And a little more concentration and focus. I find myself much more ready to continue my communion and receive our Lord.

    Must admit that, before this Phoenix bruhaha, I never realized that the GIRM restricted communion under both species. I always assumed that we conservatives, the “do the red” types, were the ones who would encourage wide use of the communion cup. In fact, I would have put it in a class of an “organic development” that increases reverence for the Eucharist.

  2. puma19 says:

    You are spot on here Fr Z. This a matter that is the crux of Catholicism and I believe at the heart of the life of the Church. When I was a boy I was attracted by the archbishop of the diocese I lived in at the way in which he celebrated Mass. He did it with dignity, solemnity and with so much attention to the sacred that it has always remained with me. Every Mass he celebrated was a totally sacred experience especially the consecration. The only other comparison would be watching St Padre Pio whose masses went for over 3 hours. But now we have masses that have thrown out the sacred and replaced them with the banal, the ordinary and the bland. This is the great spiritual crime of the last 3 decades in the Church and an issue that has never really been addressed until recent years. And I have to say that those who experience the latin mass with all the old devotional practices will realise what we have lost in the meantime. We now have a generation of young people who were not brought up with the latin mass and who know next to nothing of the great tradition and spiritual heritage that is the Catholic Church. We have ‘lost out’ to the Orthodox Churches who have not tampered with the Eucharistic celebration and maintain their rich tradition with pride. Instead many catholic churches have become models of minimalism, throwing out statues and anything that breathes of history.
    Where would we be without the great cathedrals of europe with their structures reaching to the heavens with liturgies that sing of the glory of God?
    The great Pope John Paul II was a man of the eucharist, a priest who celebrated with sanctity and whose awareness of the sacred came through in every mass he celebrated.
    Father, you are right, the celebration of the eucharist must be restored to remind us all that this is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Priests and bishops alike must reveal that in every celebration.
    If they and we had just a fraction of the holiness and understanding of St Pio and the Cure of Ars and Blessed M Teresa in the celebration of Mass. Is it any wonder that St Pio went into ecstasy at the consecration and was almost riveted to the altar at that moment, so transfixed was he on the sacred. I fear much of that has been lost in banal celebrations. Communion in the hand has not helped at all and removal of the tabernacle from the central place in the sanctuary has also not helped.

  3. Andy Milam says:

    This is not a cheap pop, although it will sound like it ….

    The most reverent Masses I’ve ever assisted at in both the OF and the EF, have been Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s. He truly understands the lex orandi, lex credendi.

    I want to intimate two quick stories…first, the very first EF Mass I ever assisted at was with Fr. Z. I really had no idea at that point what the EF was (indult), and he and Monsignor Schuler were very patient in explaining what the true understanding of continuity was. This was in 1996!! He then taught me how to serve a low Mass and from there, the rest is history. I now assist 99% at the EF and it is all thanks to Fr. Z and to Monsignor Schuler.

    The second story supports the first. Since I first met Fr. Z and Monsignor Schuler, there have been two things emphasized. Participatio actuosa and authentic continuity (at that point it was strictly couched in the terms of authentic interpretation of Vatican Council II) . Bottom line, if the Novus Ordo was to ever be authentic, then it must be celebrated as the Council Fathers wanted, not any other way….so Monsignor never changed that. His vision was that the OF was an organic growth from the Church. The way the Mass was/is celebrated at St. Agnes speaks to this in a way that is wholly and completely unique. IT IS THE WAY THAT FR. Z SPEAKS ABOUT CONTINUITY. It wasn’t until Benedict started talking about it in earnest that the reality hit me…Monsignor Schuler and Fr. Z were on to something…the rest of the Church needs to listen. It’s no joke. A few key points:

    1. Mass ad orientem all the time, on the same altar from 1888.
    2. High Mass in Latin, low Mass in the vernacular. (Very rarely, if ever was there a High Mass in the vernacular.) Readings only in the vernacular.
    3. Solemn Masses as well as Missa Cantata. Using either two deacons or a deacon and acolyte.
    4. Gregorian Chant propers and either Orchestral/polyphonic ordinaries (except penitential times, chant). Hymns only for low Mass.
    5. Use of all of the ceremonies for Solemn Mass. This necessitated 13 servers for High Mass.
    6. Communion under one species and received at the rail and in the traditional manner.

    There is only one place that I know of in all of Christendom that has remained 100% faithful to the true vision of Vatican Council II. And I learned this from two men. Father Zuhlsdorf is one of them.

    My point in those stories…The Eucharist is the Source and Summit of our Faith. The Mass is the vehicle. When a priest authentically understands that, the Mass will be beautiful and reverent and right. Cadence, posture, devotion and familiarity. They all breed compliance. And that breeds love. And that….well, that breeds the best Mass I’ve ever assisted. It just happens that it was Fr. Z singing High Mass to St. Cecilia’s Mass in 1996, with Monsignor Schuler conducting.

    It changed my life. It put me on a path that is not popular, but it is right. I will fight until my dying breath to see it to it’s logical end…either the authentic implementation of the OF or it’s suppression. The abuse has to be corrected one way or another. The perfect model is the Bandas/Schuler model, as espoused by Fr. Z and a few others. If this cannot be realized, then the EF should gloriously reign as the OF until such time as the Novus Ordo can be authentically implemented, according to the Council Fathers.

    This has never been an issue of validity, only licitness.

  4. KAS says:

    While I agree with the commentator about the beauty of the great Church architecture and the influence it can have, but I do not agree that the loss of these things would be horrible. It would not as long as the priests brought the Eucharist with solemnity, joy, and great care– as long as the MASS happens in a truly sacred manner the people will be taught what is needed.

    Since Vatican II we’ve been distracted by the battles over the horrible architecture and renovations and have not fought hard enough for the Liturgy.

    A priest hiding in a cellar in a slum can do the Divine Liturgy beautifully and well and the people will grow stronger in Christ– it is not the place but the Liturgy that is essential because the Liturgy brings us Scripture and Eucharist– the two things we most need to live as Catholics.

    This article is wonderful and I will certainly go read the rest! :)

  5. lhuizenga says:

    Thanks very much for the link, and glad you liked the piece. First name is “Leroy”, though, not “Louis”:) I’ve gotten “Larry” a number of times, but never “Louis.” [My deepest apologies. No disrespect was intended. I’ll make the correction, above.]

  6. AAJD says:

    Every semester I ask my students to attend an Eastern Catholic or Eastern Orthodox divine liturgy and then write about the experience. Every semester, without fail, the Roman Catholic students unanimously exclaim that they have never had so deep an understanding into the mystery of the Eucharist until they saw the majesty and beauty with which it is surrounded in the Byzantine-Constantinopolitan liturgical tradition. They are amazed and awed by this, and it is a profitable moment of “eucharistic catechesis” hitherto denied most of them–not a few of whom end up saddened that their own Roman liturgical experience has deprived them of these insights and this beauty.

  7. I’ve seen great beauty and great meaning in all sorts of Masses, said by priests in all sorts of styles, in all sorts of buildings and vestments. But a priest who cares about what he’s doing won’t say Mass any which way, and a congregation that cares about Mass can make a shed into a beautiful church. So why are so many people stuck with such ugliness?

    I don’t think that Catholics today are so much uncaring about the Eucharist, as taught to distrust their instincts on how to care for it, or not taught the right way to go about it. There’s also that terrible distrust by liturgists of anything in the least bit quiet or introverted, as if to prevent mysticism at all costs. It’s hard to have beauty and holiness and understanding linked with constant busy-ness, without having anything restful at all.

  8. ReginaMarie says:

    I concur with the comments of KAS & AAJD in regards to the Divine Liturgy. For those who feel, as puma19 said, that “we have ‘lost out’ to the Orthodox Churches who have not tampered with the Eucharistic celebration and maintain their rich tradition with pride” — please recall that the Eastern Catholic Churches have a long & rich history of celebrating deeply reverent Divine Liturgies. There are 5 Catholic parishes in our middle-sized university town. Having attended them all in the 20+ years that I have lived here, the tiny Byzantine Catholic parish is the only parish where I have never experienced questionable liturgical practices & shenanigans on the altar. After first attending the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom at this parish some 6 years ago, we never left the parish. Soon after, my husband & I requested a canonical transfer to the Byzantine Catholic Church for us & for our children. I pray that the situation in other towns is not so bleak. Thanks be to God for our tiny Byzantine Catholic parish! If it closes, we will drive to the next state to attend the DL.

  9. ReginaMarie says:

    Lex orandi, lex credendi.

    During the Divine Liturgy, the priest prays the following as he offers the Holy Eucharist to each communicant:
    “The servant (handmaid) of God _______, partakes of the precious and holy Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins and unto life everlasting.”

    This Communion Prayer is prayed right before the Eucharist is given to the faithful:
    “O Lord, I believe and profess that You are truly Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. Accept me as a partaker of Your mystical supper, O Son of God; for I will not reveal Your mystery to Your enemies, nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief I confess to You: Remember me, O Lord when You shall come into Your kingdom (bow & make the Sign of the Cross). Remember me O Master, when You shall come into Your kingdom (bow & make the Sign of the Cross). Remember me O Holy One, when you shall come into Your kingdom (bow & make the Sign of the Cross). May the partaking of Your Holy Mysteries, O Lord, be not for my judgment or condemnation, but for the healing of soul and body. O Lord, I believe and profess that this, which I am about to receive, is truly Your most precious Body and Your life- giving Blood, which, I pray, make me worthy to receive for the remission of all my sins and for life everlasting. Amen. O God, be merciful to me, a sinner (bow & make the Sign of the Cross). O God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy on me (bow & make the Sign of the Cross). O Lord, forgive me, for I have sinned without number (bow & make the Sign of the Cross).”

    Towards the end of the Divine Liturgy, the priest prays:
    “Having partaken of the divine, holy, most pure, immortal, heavenly, life-creating, and awesome Mysteries of Christ, let us worthily give thanks unto the Lord. ”

    Lex orandi, lex credendi.

  10. digdigby says:

    That was full of splendor, but I could no more become an Eastern Orthodox than I could a Swedenborgian. The Catholic Church is built on the rock of St. Peter. The Eastern churches have un-Catholicized into national and ethnic enclaves, competing patriarchs and a great deal of scandalous one-upmanship, particularly here in the USA. I, myself have serious concerns about the ‘married priesthood’. I am grateful for my ‘Father’ who doesn’t go home to his ‘real’ family at the end of every day. Once I truly understood that the Church of Jesus Christ can NOT decrease one iota in holiness and that the body of that church is indivisible and no way reduced no matter the number of Arians, Reformations and ‘Springtimes’- once I remember that, I’m at peace. Monsignor Gilbey said it best, “As a Catholic you are not asked to believe 25 things or 8 things but one thing.”

  11. Andy Milam says:


    Do you ever ask them to assist at a Solemn Mass in the extraordinary form?

    I daresay that if your Roman Catholic students were exposed to that, they would be even more moved; due to the fact that it is their own heritage they are witnessing.

    This is not a rant on you, but rather a lament overall, please understand…

    Far too often the Latin Church has been lamented in the fact that we are mired in mediocrity when it comes the worship of the Mass (and to a certain extent it is true), but there is a 1600 year span in which the normative Latin Divine Liturgy was just as, if not more beautiful than the Eastern Divine Liturgy. In the West, we had development and we had maturation of the liturgical action to the point where it was (as Fulton Sheen put it) the most beautiful thing, this side of heaven.

    And then…. Bugnini…….

    Whereas the Eastern Divine Liturgy didn’t undergo (for the most part) any liturgical reformation, the Latin Church was forced into 40+ years of mediocrity with regard to the liturgical action. And the great sham of the “Old Mass being suppressed” was pulled over our eyes. Thankfully, some fought hard and with many spiritual wounds, to help dispel that myth and we now know that the “suppression” of the TLM was not a proper view to hold and that the TLM, now rebranded as the EF is (and always has been) a legitimate source of assistance to our Faith.

    It is time that the Latin Church exposes the youth of today to the TLM or EF. It is time that they wrote about their own heritage and find solace in that, as opposed to looking to the Orthodox or some other avenue for their spiritual heritage. The Roman Catholic youth should see the Mass for all that it is, not what it was made to resemble.

    This is a request for you now, AAJD, have your students assist at a Solemn Mass and reflect upon that in writing. Expose them to their own heritage and not the heritage of another Church. For it is the Latin Church to which they belong and it is the Latin Church to which they should find and renew their spirituality in Holy Mother Church. Perhaps the East served a purpose for you to foster education prior to 2007, but I daresay that today, our youth must be exposed to the TLM. That is their heritage and that is their end, not the Eastern Divine Liturgy.

    Just my thoughts.

  12. ReginaMarie says:

    Andy M.,
    I would heartily second your suggestion to AAJD to have students assist at the TLM or EF, absolutely! However, I’m not sure I agree with your take on the Eastern Catholic Churches somehow being less of our own spiritual heritage, unless one is going no deeper than ethnicity.

    This piece from New Advent sums up the Eastern Catholic Churches well:

    “It is, in the first place, a mistake (encouraged by Eastern schismatics and Anglicans) to look upon these Catholic Eastern Rites as a sort of compromise between Latin and other rites, or between Catholics and schismatics. Nor is it true that they are Catholics to whom grudging leave has been given to keep something of their national customs. Their position is quite simple and quite logical. They represent exactly the state of the Eastern Churches before the schisms. They are entirely and uncompromisingly Catholics in our strictest sense of the word, quite as much as Latins. They accept the whole Catholic Faith and the authority of the pope as visible head of the Catholic Church, as did St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom. They do not belong to the pope’s patriarchate, nor do they use his rite, any more than did the great saints of Eastern Christendom. They have their own rites and their own patriarchs, as had their fathers before the schism. Nor is there any idea of compromise or concession about this. The Catholic Church has never been identified with the Western patriarchate. The pope’s position as patriarch of the West is as distinct from his papal rights as is his authority as local Bishop of Rome. It is no more necessary to belong to his patriarchate in order to acknowledge his supreme jurisdiction that it is necessary to have him for diocesan bishop. The Eastern Catholic Churches in union with the West have always been as much the ideal of the Church Universal as the Latin Church. If some of those Eastern Churches fall into schism, that is a misfortune which does not affect the others who remain faithful. If all fall away, the Eastern half of the Church disappears for a time as an actual fact; it remains as a theory and an ideal to be realized again as soon as they, or some of them, come back to union with Rome.”

  13. lhuizenga says:

    Not a problem, Father. God forbid my parents would have named me “John” or something…

  14. lhuizenga: We all have our Crosses to bear.

  15. AAJD says:

    While I appreciate the suggestion of several of you to have students attend the EF of the Roman Rite, it would make no sense for me to expect my students to do that because my courses are devoted precisely to Eastern Christianity, not Western. When, however, I teach comparative liturgy, then I have several of them attend the EF. To date, the reactions to that have been very mixed indeed.

  16. drea916 says:

    “The best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated well.”
    YES! Celebrated well!
    I went to a wedding recently where the priest explained everything that was going on, a few times he repeated himself. (I wondered if he was sober.) After the bride and groom ended the Mass by singing a duet (!) A friend turned to me and said “I’m so glad that the priest explained what he was doing and what everything means.” (She’s a Catholic, btw) I thought to myself “Well, if the priest justs says the black and does the red, it explains itself, you just have to pay attention.”

  17. GregB says:

    The title of this article concerns me. Is Sola Scriptura about to have a liturgical equivalent? Are we being asked to embrace Sola Liturgia? (Latin is my downfall, please correct the Latin if I have it wrong, and if so, please accept my apologies) If we need the Church to pronounce on the proper interpretation of the Bible, then don’t we also need the Church to pronounce on the proper interpretation of the Liturgy?

    Lex orandi, lex credendi is all well and good, but it is my understanding that graces are received in the mode of the recipient. The better the preparation of the believer, the more efficacious are the effects of the graces received.

    One of the primary characteristics of the Eucharist is that the Real Presence is not sense perceptible. In the Eucharist we have the hidden Christ, the wholly interior Christ Who can only be seen with eyes of faith. This is completely in line with the ways of mystical contemplation.

    When Christ joined the two disciples on the road to Emmaus His encounter looks like a Mass. He started with the Scriptures, complete with an exegesis of the parts concerning Himself. This was then followed by the breaking of the bread. Once Christ was recognized He disappeared. This and the Ascension appears to me to be like the withdrawal of sensible consolation that takes place whenever God desires to lead the contemplative deeper into their mystical journey. The life of mystical contemplation is the work of the Holy Spirit, as was Pentecost.

    At Pentecost the Church needed to develop an interior spiritual life, so as to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. St. Peter came to his understanding of the Church’s mission to the Gentiles via an interior trance with the sheet coming down with the unclean animals on it. The sensible consolation of Christ’s presence had to be withdrawn by the Ascension so that the Apostles could give the Holy Spirit their undivided attention. Christ went back to the Father to prepare a place for His bride, while the Holy Spirit was sent to prepare the bride for her Bridegroom.

    With the Eucharist having the Real Presence in a non sense perceptible form, the Eucharist is completely compatible with every stage of mystical contemplative prayer.

    It is my view that a proper understanding of the Eucharist requires that a person has some kind of interior spiritual life. The same goes for Transubstantiation, and the male priesthood. This interior spiritual life needs to be grounded in sound religious instruction.

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