Fifth Week of Lent

What Is the Eucharist?

You may have heard that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. That's very true, but what does it mean? And how does it help us on the spiritual battlefield? Though it may seem simple—bread and wine become Christ's Body and Blood—the Eucharist is an inexhaustible mystery. Here, we'll cover just three aspects of the Blessed Sacrament.

First, the Eucharist is our point of contact with Christ's victory on the Cross. (We'll focus on the Cross more intently during Holy Week.) When he offered himself as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to the Father, he defeated sin, death, and the Devil once and for all. Whenever the Eucharist is celebrated, we are mystically present at Calvary. We may not be able to see our Savior hanging on the Cross, but it is happening right in front of us. Of course, Jesus died only once, but his eternal sacrifice is made present to us in the Mass, allowing us to participate directly in Christ's victory over our spiritual enemies.
Second, because the Eucharist connects us to the salvation Jesus won for us on the Cross, it is our chief source of grace. This is especially true when we receive Holy Communion. According to the Catechism, "Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ increases the communicant's union with the Lord, forgives his venial sins, and preserves him from grave sins" (1416). Closeness with our Lord and captain is the greatest help we can receive in the spiritual struggle, and freedom from sin helps us maintain that intimacy.
Third and finally, the Eucharist is an act of worship and gratitude. In fact, the Greek word eucharistia simply means thanksgiving. Jesus gave thanks to the Father when he instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, setting an example for us. We participate in his act of thanksgiving when we participate in the Mass. As creatures, it is life-giving for us to recognize that everything we are and everything we have comes from our Creator. When we praise and thank our Maker, we put ourselves in right relationship with him, which is essential for success in spiritual warfare.
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

This collect prayer begins the Mass for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Jesus is calling us to "take up battle against spiritual evils." We'll explore fasting itself in a few weeks; during the week of Ash Wednesday, we're going to dig into an important set of weapons the Lord gives us to fight evil: sacramentals.

What's a sacramental? Well, if you attend Mass on Ash Wednesday, you're probably going to receive one on your forehead.