The Eucharist: A Foretaste of Heaven
by Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk
time we celebrate the Eucharist we reach out for heaven. At the end
of every preface at Mass, "we join the angels and the saints as
they sing their unending hymn of praise." In Eucharistic Prayer
I we pray that God's angel may take our sacrifice to his altar in heaven.
In Eucharistic Prayer III we pray that Christ will "enable us to
share in the inheritance of God's saints." Elsewhere the Church's
liturgy speaks of the Eucharist as a pledge (or foretaste) of the glory
to come (i.e., of heaven).
is heaven, anyway?
the connection of the Eucharist with heaven, we have to have a clear
concept of what heaven is. It is an important element in our faith,
but it seems to mean different things to different people. For many,
heaven suggests harps and little angels and lots of singing, and is
a place which, on reflection, is not particularly attractive. Some wonder
if it might not turn out to be rather boring.
of a more religious cast of mind, heaven is the dwelling place of God
and the angels, where all those who are redeemed will ultimately receive
their eternal reward. Virtuous people can look forward to "going
In the New
Testament, several images speak of the ultimate happiness that we associate
with heaven. Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 4:17), of
seeing God (Matthew 5:8) and of entering into the joy of the Lord (Matthew
25:21-23). The Letter to the Hebrews promises Christians that they will
enter into God's rest (4:9-11).
over the centuries have reflected on what revelation has taught us about
"heaven." They see it as a state of ultimate, final and full
happiness. This does not mean numberless ice-cream cones and puppy dogs,
but rather the healthy and permanent satisfaction of our deepest needs.
Because only God can fully satisfy all human needs, final happiness
necessarily involves communion or togetherness with God.
stage' of nearness
not so much a place where God puts good people as it is a state, a situation
in which those who know and love God and share his life through grace
reach the final stage of nearness to him. In heaven God gives himself
to the beloved in the fullest and most definitive way. (Similarly, hell
is not a place where God puts bad people. Hell is a state in which people
are unable to accept and enjoy the only thing that remains for them
after this earthly life: the love and respect of God.)
a social dimension to heaven, too. Primarily there is the presence of
the Trinity. By God's grace the citizens of heaven share in the knowledge
and love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But there is also the loving
community of the blessed in heaven with each other. Just as God's goodness
and generosity were expressed for us on earth through the women and
men whose lives touched ours, so also those in heaven find joy and fulfillment
in knowing and being with others who are enjoying the presence of God.
we experience little hors d'oeuvres for heaven in our earthly life,
experiences that give us some idea of what final and full happiness
must be like. The extended experience of love that is part of marriage
or friendship reflects the lasting relationship with God
that will be the cornerstone of our heavenly happiness. The sense of
awe that we feel sometimes at sunrise or sunset or in great music is
something like what our awareness of God in heaven will evoke in us.
What we feel at the end of a memorable liturgical occasionwhere
everybody has been singing and praying together, sharing the joy of
being in the company of the risen Christis a sample, though provisional
and pale, of what we can expect from heaven.
But the most persistent,
recurrent and habitual foretaste of heaven that God has provided for
us is the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is both
sacrament and sacrifice, an encounter with Christ that
we experience and an action of his that becomes present for us. Both
aspects of the Eucharist have profound resonances with the realities
as sacrament is a personal encounter with the risen Christ that
comes about through our reception of Jesus, body and blood, soul and
divinity, under the appearance of bread and wine. It's important to
remember that our reception of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the
Eucharist is not just a matter of his being with us for a few minutes
after we receive Communion, as if he were dropping in for a little visit.
The reception of the Eucharist is a dynamic event that has several purposes
and several effects, each of which also has a dimension that connects
us with heaven.
all, holy Communion increases and energizes and strengthens the life
of Christ in us. Our whole relationship with God depends on the life
of Christ in us, on what we call grace. Without grace, we are out of
touch with God, on our own to sink or swim as best we can with energies
and capabilities that are simply insufficient for the challenges we
face. Moreover, grace is what qualifies us for heaven, what makes us
capable of the contact with God that provides our eternal happiness.
The food of the Eucharist is a source of life and energy for our spirits
just as material food is a source of life and energy for our bodies.
It makes us grow in grace and thus grow in our aptitude for heaven.
since this life of Christ in us is a relationship, it is capable of
growth and development, just as any friendship is. Each time we receive
holy Communion, we deepen our friendship with the risen Christ. We increase
our resistance to everything that would keep us apart from Christ. In
this way, too, we become more qualified to participate in the joy and
fulfillment of heaven.
the Eucharist unites us more closely to Christ, it also unites us more
closely to all those who are at one with him. The Eucharist is the one
bread that makes us all into one body, the Body of Christ which is the
Church. This is the Body that will take its final form in heaven, when
all those who shared the life of Christ will be together with him forever.
The deeper our participation in the Church, the deeper will be our sharing
in the life of heaven.
because the life and ministry of Christ and of the Church are extended
to all men and women, our increased participation in that life through
holy Communion also makes us capable of increased love and care for
our brothers and sisters, especially those in need. Because we are like
Christ through faith and the sacraments, we are called to behave like
Christ. Because we are members of the Church, we are called to take
part in its mission. Behaving in a Christlike way and participating
in the Church's mission contribute
to our readiness to share the heavenly blessedness God promises us.
But the Eucharist
is not just a sacrament. It is also a sacrifice.
as sacrifice joins us with Jesus' death on the cross. The significance
of the cross does not lie in the brutal reality of Christ's suffering
and death, as if the Father's justice could be appeased by the painfulness
of what his Son experienced. No, the significance of the cross lies
in its expression of the love of Christ for his Father, of his faithfulness
from the first instant of his human existence. He persisted in love
and faithfulness throughout his early, hidden life in Nazareth, throughout
the efforts and frustrations of his public ministry, even to the point
of accepting death as a criminal rather than backing away from his mission.
In his sacrifice of himself on the crossbut also throughout his
whole lifehe was submitting his human will to that of his heavenly
Father. Jesus gave obedience to God to make up for the disobedience
of all of humankind. This brought about our redemption. In his faithfulness
and love is our salvation.
But his faithfulness
and love are not over yet. The self-giving of Jesus, the submission
of his human will to the loving will of his heavenly Father, still continues
in heaven. It's not as if Jesus had a role to perform in a kind of stage
drama and, now that the drama is over, he can take off his makeup and
forget about the role. Jesus is still a human being, though with a risen
and glorified humanity, and his dedication and obedience and love toward
his Father still continue in heaven. Our redemption, our salvation,
is still going on because Christ continues to intercede for us, to love
us, to express through his human will the obedience of all humankind.
of heaven (at least as concerns its human citizens) is Christ the king
and redeemer, now and forever sitting at the right hand of the Father,
representing humanity, mediating between us and the Father, offering
himself even as he did during his earthly life. He is our way of access
to the Father and the channel through which the Father's love reaches
us. We have a claim on heaven because his sacrifice of himself has made
up for our sinfulness and has made us like him and continues to do so.
centerpiece of heaven, this sacred, eternally ongoing event, is not
just something that continues way off outside the realms of earth. It
is also an action that is part of our life of faith each day. Whenever
the eucharistic sacrifice is celebrated, the sacrifice of Christ is
renewed. It is not that Jesus suffers again and dies again another time,
but that the faithfulness, love, dedication and obedience that Jesus
expressed through his acceptance of death on the cross and now expresses
in heaven becomes present to this group of Christian believers, in this
place, at this time. The celebration of the Eucharist serves to put
the followers of Jesus from every time and place into contact with his
one sacrifice. Their needs, their sufferings, their joys, their frustrations,
their desires, their successes are now associated with his sacrifice.
The life of each believer (and of each group of believers) is changed
and deepened and sanctified to the extent that it is associated with
the sacrificial life and death of the risen and living Christ, risen
from the dead and living in heaven.
and death of Jesus in time at the end of his earthly life are the core
that enables us to understand the meaning of his whole life. Christ's
ongoing offering of himself in heaven gives force and validity to human
salvation. Our sharing in the sacrifice of Christ through the Eucharist
here and now connects us both to his original offering long ago as well
as to his ongoing eternal sacrifice in heaven. It is a memorial of the
past and a preview of our heavenly future.
both as sacrament and as sacrifice, orients us toward heaven and makes
us ready for it. We can learn what lies in store for us there only to
the extent that we are attentive to the Eucharist here.
E. Pilarczyk is archbishop of Cincinnati. His most recent book is Believing
Catholic (St. Anthony Messenger Press).
Of all the roles Carroll O'Connor has played,
including that of Archie Bunker on All in the Family,
the real-life role of father has been most precious to him.
Surely his 50-plus years as a professional actor have offered
him a series of thrilling moments on the stage, as have the
awards he has won for his work. But most enduring has been his
off-screen role as a father to his son, Hugh.
From the day in 1962 that Carroll and Nancy O'Connor
adopted one-week-old Hugh in Rome, the tug was strong. "Hugh
gave me the greatest pleasure for 33 years," Mr. O'Connor
says. "He was everything a father could want in his son."
The strong bonds would become tested as Hugh entered his teen
years and developed a drug habit. Despite attempts at rehabilitation,
the habit continued into adulthood. It marred Hugh's acting
career, threatened his marriage and strained his relationships
with family members, including his beloved father.
Carroll O'Connor lost his son to suicide on March
28, 1995. The young man he had helplessly watched spiral downward
from a mixture of cocaine and alcohol gave up the struggle.
For Mr. O'Connor, Hugh's death became, among other
things, a test of his own relationship with God. His Catholic
faith had always been an important part of his life, but would
it sustain him? "I don't believe God 'allows' things to
happen. We do. God gave us free will," Mr. O'Connor says
The tragic loss of his son has led Carroll O'Connor
to take on a new role, that of spokesman in the fight against
drugs. His familiar face can be seen on a public service announcement
that briefly tells Hugh's story of involvement with drugs over
many years. "When his life became confused, unreal,"
the famous father says into the camera, "he ended his life.
Get between your kids and drugs any way you can."
Although he keeps a hand in acting, Carroll O'Connor
is at heart a devoted father seeking to prevent others from
the tragedy he and his family have known. And he is a man of
faith who believes his son is now with his heavenly father.
"I think of heaven as a place where souls are able to live
in full knowledge of everything and in peace. I believe Hugh
is at peace now."
by Judy Ball
crowds of pilgrims traveled to Rome for the International Eucharistic
Congress scheduled for June 18-25. But smaller, historic national
eucharistic congresses also have left their mark.
Antilles Eucharistic Congress in St. Lucia, observed May 17-20,
was the highlight of the Jubilee Year in the Caribbean region.
Participants included 2,000 pilgrims from the 19 dioceses that
make up the Antilles Episcopal Conference as well as a papal
representative. "What a great privilege it is for us to
be living at this particular period in history," said Archbishop
Kevin E. Felix of Castries, St. Lucia, in anticipation of the
City, tens of thousands of pilgrims, accompanied by the sound
of indigenous drums, participated in a historic outdoor religious
procession the first in nearly 150 yearsthrough
the center of the ancient city. In 1873, outdoor religious ceremonies
were prohibited, one of the restrictions on the role of the
Church growing out of a series of "reform" laws. In
another major event of the congress, the 300-year-old Basilica
of Guadalupe, the site of Mexico's 1924 Eucharistic Congress,
was reopened. It has not been in use since the new basilica
was consecrated in 1976.