The past fifteen months have been a time of crisis and deep challenge for our country, and they have been a particular trial for the Catholics. During this terrible COVID period, many of us have been compelled to fast from attendance at Mass and the reception of the Eucharist. To be sure, numerous Masses and Eucharistic para-liturgies have been made available online, and thank God for these. But Catholics know in their bones that such virtual presentations are absolutely no substitute for the real thing. Now that the doors of our churches are commencing to open wide, I would like to urge every Catholic reading these words: Come back to Mass!
Why is the Mass of such central importance? The Second Vatican Council eloquently teaches that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life”—which is to say, that from which authentic Christianity comes and toward which it tends. It is the alpha and the omega of the spiritual life, both the path and the goal of Christian discipleship. The Church Fathers consistently taught that the Eucharist is sustenance for eternal life. They meant that in the measure that we internalize the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are readied for life with him in the next world. Thomas Aquinas said that all of the other sacraments contain the virtus Christi (the power of Christ) but that the Eucharist contains ipse Christus (Christ himself)—and this would help to explain why St. Thomas could never make it through the Mass without shedding copious tears. It is precisely at the Mass that we are privileged to receive this incomparable gift. It is precisely at the Mass that we take in this indispensable sustenance. Without it, we starve to death spiritually.
If I might broaden the scope a bit, I would like to suggest that the Mass is, in its totality, the privileged point of encounter with Jesus Christ. During the Liturgy of the Word, we hear not simply human words crafted by poetic geniuses, but rather the words of the Word. In the readings, and especially in the Gospel, it is Christ who speaks to us. In our responses, we speak back to him, entering into conversation with the second person of the Trinity. Then, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the same Jesus who has spoken his heart to us offers his Body and Blood for us to consume. There is simply, this side of heaven, no more intimate communion possible with the risen Lord.