I’ll admit it, entering the Catholic Church as an adult wasn’t easy. When I began attending the Catholic Church with my Catholic girlfriend, who later became my wife, I felt like I entered a strange new world. She didn’t fill me in on all the ins and outs of the Church. I remember thinking I would get a workout with all the sitting, standing and kneeling. I didn’t know that making the sign of the cross was something people actually did. No one told me that Latin would be sung. I tried to participate and would sing the Latin Mass parts in the English words I thought I heard them saying. When the choir sang “Donna no bis pachem,” I sang, “Don’t I know He’s watchin’.” Then came the moment to receive Communion, when I was informed that I could not receive the Eucharist if I was not Catholic. At the moment, I was offended. I thought, “It’s the same Jesus. How dare you keep me from Him!” Later that year, I signed up for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). It was during RCIA that I received answers to most of my questions. The one question I still didn’t understand was, “What is the Eucharist?” The answer was explained to me in different ways, but I still didn’t understand.
Years later, a non-Catholic asked me, “Why can’t I receive Communion in the Catholic Church?” Without thinking, I began to answer. I asked this person, “Respectfully, why would you want to receive Communion in the Catholic Church?” Then I followed up with another question, “Do you receive Communion in your church?” She replied, “Yes.” I asked, “Why do you do it?” She responded, “For us, it is a time to pray, connect with Him and remember what He did for us.” I said, “That’s great, but you can do all of that while sitting in the pew.
“So, how would what you receive as a wafer and a sip of wine enhance that?” “I don’t know,” she said. I replied, “That’s why. Because you don’t know. Not being able to receive Communion in the Catholic Church is not something to offend you or keep you out. It is actually meant to draw you in. For example, I would never give you half of a gift. I want to give you the whole gift, which is what the Catholic Church does for us. The Church invites us to receive the whole gift. The Eucharist is that gift.” I was stunned at the words that came out of me.
At some point, I came to understand the Eucharist and didn’t realize it. I always focused on the relationship with Christ, not the encounter with Him.
The Eucharist and Invitation
From a young age, we were taught to strive to understand that we have a relationship with Christ. But what is a relationship without an encounter? Through prayer and reflection, we come to understand the relationship with Christ. However, through Mass and adoration, we encounter Christ because the Eucharist is Christ. Receiving Him in Communion is not simply consuming Him, but a process of invitation and response to the invitation. During Communion, the priest says, “The body of Christ.” His words are an invitation to encounter and receive Christ. I respond by saying, “Amen (I believe).” This is my affirmative response to the invitation.
However, consuming the Eucharist is another invitation. It is an invitation from me to Jesus, asking Him to live in me and work through me. At that moment, my work as a disciple of Christ is renewed. While this is a physical encounter with Christ, there is a prayerful encounter with Him through adoration.
It took me a little while to understand adoration. I felt somewhat disconnected from Christ as I sat in the pew far removed from Him. There were times I would look at Him and my mind would go blank. I didn’t know what to say. In fact, I recall attending a conference, struggling with self-esteem issues and comparing myself to other well-known people in ministry.
I wondered why I even bothered continuing with ministry, since I would never live up to what these more well-known ministers had achieved. I began to consider giving up the ministry. Then came a time of adoration. I sat near the front and looked up at Jesus. Once again, I had nothing to say except, “I’ve got nothing. You talk now.” Then in the silence of my heart, a voice said to me, “You are no one’s understudy. I do not need copies of the others in ministry that you constantly compare yourself to. I created you with gifts no one else has. Go be the person I created you to be.” These words changed everything for me. It was truly an encounter with Christ in adoration. It was a gift. But it is always a gift. So, now, I keep these questions to myself in mind:
Am I taking every opportunity I can to receive this gift?
Am I responding to the invitation, or just going through the motions?
Am I offering the invitation for others to receive this gift?
And so I invite you to ask these same questions as you consider the whole gift of Christ in the Eucharist in your own encounters.
By Chris Rogers
Director of the Office for Family Life