Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.
attend religious services for various reasons. If I ask why you attend church,
would you offer any of the following replies?
"I go to pray." "I like to hear sermons that help me know how
to live." "I go to ask God for blessings on my family." "I join the priest in
offering the sacrifice of the Mass." "I like the music." "I go to receive our
Lord in Holy Communion."
These are all good answers, but the most Catholic answer
is, "I go to Mass to say thank you to God."
That's why we call the Mass "Eucharist." The word eucharist
comes from the New Testament Greek word for "giving thanks." And at each
Eucharist, as we begin the central act of the Mass which we call the eucharistic
prayer—our great "thanksgiving prayer" —the priest invites: "Let us give thanks
to the Lord our God." And we all respond that "it is right," that it is the
right thing to do to give God thanks and praise.
Because to say "thank you" is what one does when receiving a gift.
I'd be willing to bet that from your earliest years your parents taught you
that whenever someone gives you something, you are to say, "Thank you." And
once you were old enough to write, they encouraged you (forced you might be
more accurate) to write a thank-you note to those who gave you gifts on your
birthday, at Christmas or on other special occasions. "Thank you" is the proper,
human response to a gift. It indicates gratitude and appreciation for something
freely given, something we did not merit or earn. It is the corrective for arrogance.
What a Gift!
Catholics celebrate the Eucharist because we know that we have
been given a gift. Our very existence is a gift; God didn't have to create us.
And not only do we exist. We live redeemed—saved from sin by the death
of Jesus on the cross and destined for eternal happiness. If that isn't a gift,
I don't know what is!
Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we gather with other grateful
Catholics and we listen as the Scriptures are proclaimed. We hear again and
again of God's gifts: creation, freedom, salvation, healing, redemption and
everlasting life. Filled with gratitude for so great a gift, we, in turn, want
to give a gift to God. We bring forward bread and wine, our food and drink,
the symbol of our very lives, and place them on the altar, God's banquet table.
And we say, "Thank you, God!" in our eucharistic prayer. And in the course of
that prayer we remember how—at that first Eucharist—Jesus himself took bread
and wine and gave God thanks.
And then something wonderful happens. God changes our gifts and
gives them back to us as a gift more wonderful than we ever could have imagined:
the very Body and Blood of Christ. And we joyfully process to the altar a second
time—this time not to give a gift of bread and wine, but to receive
a gift—a divine gift, a transforming gift.
Creating a New World
The same Holy Spirit whose power changed the bread and wine now
changes us. "[W]e, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one
loaf" (1 Corinthians 10:17).
We Catholics believe that at the Eucharist we really receive
the Body of Christ. This belief is central to our Catholic identity. But if
we believe that we really receive Christ's Body and that we really become Christ's
Body, then we have to act in accord with that belief.
At the conclusion of each Eucharist we are sent forth, commissioned
to go out into the world and bring Christ's Spirit to everyone we meet and everything
we do. We become ambassadors of encouragement, compassion, generosity, healing,
understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation. The gift of the Eucharist is
the insight that in living for others, we find life's true meaning. Thank you,
Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D., has a doctorate
in liturgy and sacramental theology from the Institut Catholique
of Paris. A popular writer and lecturer, Father Richstatter
teaches courses on the sacraments at Saint Meinrad (Indiana)
School of Theology. His latest book is The
Sacraments: How Catholics Pray (St. Anthony Messenger
Next: Scripture and TraditionGod Speaks to Us
Talk about a Eucharist celebration that was very
special for you.
When do you feel a part of the Body of Christ? What
can you do to experience a closer bond within that Body?
Eucharist: A Family Affair
By Judith Dunlap
Eucharist brings us together to celebrate our oneness in Christ. It is a meal,
a sacrifice and a celebration of new life. Participating in Sunday Mass is even
more satisfying when those same elements are celebrated at home.
The Eucharist is a meal. We remember the Last Supper, the
breaking of the bread, the blessing of the wine, —This is my body. This is my
blood.— Years ago I read that the average family shares only two meals a week
with all members gathered. If this is true for your family, make those occasions
special—meals of gentle conversation without TV, newspapers or interruptions.
The Eucharist is a sacrifice. At the preparation of the
altar we respond, —May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands...— Parents
know about sacrifice—giving up sleep to comfort a restless child, wearing retread
sneakers so a teen can have new soccer shoes. We are doing our children a disservice
if we don—t teach them to sacrifice too. When children —give up— something they
learn the discipline of saying no to themselves and choosing a greater good.
The Eucharist is a celebration of new life. We become a
part of Christ—s body, sharing in his Spirit. In Eucharistic Prayer III the
priest says, —Grant that we...may...become one body, one spirit in Christ.—
Your children experience their life in Christ—s through the give-and-take of
everyday family life. Help them to also experience that life with the larger
Church family by participating as a family in the social and service activities
of the parish.
The Eucharist is a family affair. We celebrate it with
our parish family and we live it day in and day out with our household family.
Thank you, God, for the gift of both families!
Have a special meal on Pentecost, the last Sunday
of this month. Let everyone help in the preparations.
At the meal talk about what you like about your parish
when it appeared in theaters, the documentary film Spellbound is now
available on DVD. It has all the elements of good entertainment: interesting
characters, suspense, drama.
Spellbound follows eight participants in the 1999 National
Spelling Bee from their victories in area competitions through the pressurized
national event. These young people and their families put a face on the rich
diversity of our country, reflecting a wide geographic, economic and social
spectrum. Before the nail biting begins, the film introduces the students in
their home settings.
Angela, who hails from Texas, is the daughter of first-generation
immigrants from Mexico who do not speak English. For April, home is a small
working-class town near Philadelphia that has seen better days. Emily comes
from an upscale Connecticut home.
A strong work ethic is notable in all of the contestants, but
no one takes this further than Neil and his East Indian father, who set up an
elaborate study system in their California home. Nuper, from Florida, is also
of Indian descent. Ashley is the African-American daughter of a single mother
in Washington, D.C. Ted hails from rural Missouri where only sports count, and
Harry is a brilliant hyperactive kid from New Jersey.
We catch these contestants preparing like elite athletes training
for the Olympics, determined and dedicated, practicing hours each day, not just
memorizing words but also learning word origins and language roots.
We recognize that in the end only one contestant can become the
national champion. And we hope it will be one of "ours," the ones that the documentary
filmmakers chose to follow. This is not a drama, after all, where the writer
can decide who wins. And when the parents and their children fly to Washington,
D.C., for the competition, suspense grows.
One by one our students step forward to the microphone, hear the
word, perhaps ask for a definition or clarification and then take the plunge.
We become aware of the pressure they face, the confidence they do or do not
display, the element of luck in their assigned word. All of ours make it through
the first two rounds.
With each round tension goes up a notch and spikes in the fifth
round when the bright television lights of CNN signal the beginning of live
television coverage. At this point, four of ours are still in the running, and
all make it to the final eight.
One by one, contestants have been hearing the feared signal that
they have misspelled a word. We learn a lot about winning and losing as downcast
contestants are escorted offstage to a consolation room and eventually sit down
to talk about their experience. Their sometimes poignant reactions as they struggle
with disappointment speak volumes. And we watch, spellbound.
What values do you find in this film?
AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball
St. Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444)
people seem to shine at any tasks or challenges before them and to have all the
gifts they need to accomplish them. Bernardine of Siena was such a man.
One of the most outstanding preachers of his day, he was called
a second St. Paul. Bernardine—s words left audiences spellbound—audiences so
large that they gathered in open spaces rather than the confines of a church in
order to hear him call for personal change and social reform within and outside
the Church. His voice, chronically hoarse and weak, could somehow reach up to
30,000 people at a time.
Born near Siena, Italy, Bernardine was orphaned by age seven.
He was nurtured by extended family members who made certain he received a solid
education. At age 20, when the people of Siena were suffering from a terrible
plague, he nursed the dying for several months. He entered the Franciscan Order
at 22. Following his ordination he spent many years in prayer and solitude.
That rich period prepared him for the rigorous life of preaching and travel
(typically on foot) that lay before him.
Bernardine was persuasive and witty, insightful and intuitive,
humble and holy. He led others to his devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus by
devising a symbol—IHS, the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek—in
Gothic letters and surrounded by rays of the sun. It soon replaced many of the
superstitious symbols of the day.
Bernardine declined three requests to serve as a bishop in
various parts of Italy. Instead, he served the people by modeling Jesus and by
preaching the gospel. He died on the eve of the Ascension in 1444 at age 64. He
was canonized by Pope Nicholas V six years later. Bernardine of Siena—s feast
day is May 20.
Lillian Kennel closes her classroom door at St. Louis School in Batesville,
Indiana, at the end of this month, it will be for the last time. After 44 years
of teaching second-graders, she is retiring from a career that has enriched
her and the lives of her students.
Instead of a public reception and gifts, she has asked that well-wishers
help toward a scholarship fund that will enable needy youngsters to experience
the benefits of a Catholic education. "I wanted to leave with something I can
see," Miss Kennel told Every Day Catholic.
Of course she's left her mark on hundreds of youngsters. Although
she has taught many subjects over the years, her hands-down favorite is religion,
and the best part of the school year comes when preparation for First Communion
"Second-graders thrive on religion," she says. Their interest
is only heightened when she begins an intense eight-week preparation program
for First Communion. That's when the youngsters start the official countdown
to the big day.
In addition to classroom work, students create a scrapbook with
their parents. All second-graders are formally introduced to the parish at a
candidate Mass. They share a day of reflection with their godparents. Field
trips take them to the Oldenburg Franciscan convent, where they like to tell
the Sisters "what they have been doing to get ready for Jesus." They visit a
local carving shop to see how altars and church furniture are made.
Miss Kennel understands the importance of the celebrations that
often follow First Communions. But, she reminds her students that "the main
guest that day is Jesus. I want this to be the beginning of a lifetime of devotion