The Eucharist

“Why do I have to go to Mass? It’s so boring! I don’t understand it, and I get nothing out of it!”

By Fr. Dennis J. Billy, CSsR

You may have heard such complaints before, possibly from members of your own family, maybe even from a small voice deep within your own heart. Such complaints can come from almost anywhere: a fallen-away Catholic, a teenager, a regular churchgoer who attends more out of habit than a deep understanding of what is happening. The list goes on and on. The typical response depends on who’s asking the question but often sounds something like, “Because I said so!” or, “Because the Church says so!” or, “Because that’s what Catholics do!”

Such answers aren’t really answers at all and usually go in one ear and out the other. A more substantial answer might sound something like, “Because the Third Commandment says, ‘Remember the Lord’s Day!’ ” or, “God wants us to do this!” or, “If you don’t go, you are committing a mortal sin!” Although these responses have some merit, going to Mass out of fear of offending God, or simply to obey a commandment aren’t noble motives.

To understand why we should go to Mass (especially on Sunday), we must first understand what Mass is about. As Catholics, we believe the Eucharist lies at the very heart of our identity. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council tell us this sacrament is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11). Without it, the Church wouldn’t exist, and we wouldn’t have access to the means God has set for us to experience life in all its fullness.

Whenever we celebrate this sacrament, Chronos (historical time) becomes Kairos (sacred time).

The word “sacrament” comes from the Latin sacramentum, a translation of the Greek word for “mystery” (mustérion). The Eucharist is called the “sacrament of sacraments” (the “mystery of mysteries”) because it makes present and immerses those celebrating it in the central mystery of the Christian faith: the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and passage to new life isn’t merely represented at the celebration of the Eucharist, but actually takes place during it. This is so because Christ’s paschal mystery is an event that happens both in and out of time.

Although it occurs at a particular moment in time and space, Eucharist also transcends time and space. Whenever we celebrate this sacrament, Chronos (historical time) becomes Kairos (sacred time), and those present enter another dimension of existence. The events of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday are transported out of time and made present to us in a mysterious, unbloody fashion. For this reason, the mystery of the Eucharist lies at the very heart of the Church’s existence, so much so that it both constitutes it and is constituted by it.

Above all, the Eucharist is an action of Christ. He allows us to participate in this action through faith, which makes us members of his body, the Church. Saint Paul tells us, “[Christ] is head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). As the body can do nothing apart from the head, so the Church can do nothing apart from Christ. We celebrate this sacrament only to the extent that we celebrate it in Christ. The Mass is a celebration of Jesus Christ who, as head of the Church, has conquered sin, overcome death, and empowered us to do the same. Eucharistic worship is done through, with, and in Christ. There is no other way that it can be celebrated and remain a sacrament.

Marks of the Church

The Eucharist is closely identified with the Church because it bears her four main marks. Like the Church, it is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The Eucharist is the source of the Church’s unity, the goal of perfection toward which it strives, the sign of God’s universal love for all humanity, and the reminder of the witness of faith upon which the Church is founded.

These marks lie at the very heart of the Church’s identity and remind us that we are called to live in communion with one another, to strive for holiness, share God’s love with everyone we meet, and to give witness to Christ as those who have gone before us in faith. When we gather as a community of believers to celebrate Eucharist, we reaffirm our belief in the power of Christ’s resurrection to change our lives on every level of our personal makeup.

This power comes to us from Christ himself, who gives us his Body and Blood as food for our earthly and heavenly sojourns. This food has a transforming effect upon our lives, since it is the Body and Blood of the risen Lord himself. When we partake of the sacrament—the God of the universe, the Creator of all that ever was, is, and will be—the God who became one of us and died for us, enters our personal space and makes his abode in us. God yearns to dwell within our hearts, and the Eucharist is the primary way in which he accomplishes this. Receiving holy Communion is the greatest honor we can receive in this life; an honor bestowed upon us by God the Father who, because of Christ’s Incarnation and paschal mystery, looks upon us his own beloved sons and daughters.

Sacrament of Love

“God is love” (1 John 4:8), the Scriptures tell us. As Catholics, we believe that selfless love, what the Greeks call agape, forms the very fabric of God’s existence. We believe that God is an intimate community of love who has existed from all eternity in a reciprocal relationship of selfless giving and receiving. This intimate community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit lies at the very heart of all reality.

The Eucharist is a celebration of this love and from its earliest days was known as the agape meal. Those who participate in the sacrament are sharing in the banquet of divine love. At Mass, this participation in Trinitarian love comes through most clearly after the consecration, when the priest raises the precious Body and Blood of Christ and says, “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.” To which we respond, “Amen,” that is, “So be it!”

The Eucharist is a lasting sign of God’s presence among us. Through it, God recapitulates all things in him and makes all things new. For this reason, it’s a sacrament of the new creation and points to a reality already present yet still to come. The bonds of love existing within God are the very bonds that bind the Christian community together. Through the Eucharist, God transforms humanity, embraces it, and even makes it divine. Through our participation in this sacrament, selfless giving and receiving become such a part of our identity that we can hardly conceive living without them. Through the Eucharist, God’s love becomes our love, and our love God’s. We gather for it to receive God’s love and to share it with others.

For this reason, it’s a celebration of communion: with God, with others, and with our very selves. These words from the ancient Christian manual known as The Didache aptly describe the Church’s intimate and inexorable unity with the one eucharistic bread: “As this piece of bread was scattered over the hills and then was bought together and made one, so let your church be brought together from the ends of the earth into your Kingdom” (chapter 9). The Eucharist celebrates the union of love that exists within God and longs for this love to reach its fullness in the community of believers. It touches the very heart of Jesus’ desire in his farewell discourse to his disciples, “May all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you” (John 17:21).


The Eucharist has many titles: the Lord’s Supper, the Table of the Lord, the Mass, the Holy Sacrifice, the Memorial of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection—to name but a few. It is all these things and much more. In Greek, the word “Eucharist” (eucharistia) itself means “Thanksgiving.” For this reason, it’s not only the “sacrament of sacraments” and the “sacrament of unity” but also the “sacrament of thanksgiving.”

We should go to Mass on Sunday not merely out of habit, to fulfill a command, or for fear of punishment, but to express our gratitude to God for all he has done for us. We gather for Eucharist simply to give thanks. We give thanks to God for creating us, for redeeming us, and for sanctifying us. We give thanks to God for adopting us as his sons and daughters in Christ and for calling each of us individually to be members of his body, the Church. We give thanks to God for hearing our prayers, forgiving our sins, and for promising us a share in his divine life.

When we gather for Eucharist, we do so not merely with those physically present, but with the entire community of believers, both living and dead. We gather around the table of the Lord with the saints in heaven and all who are still finding their way to his side—us included. We gather as a pilgrim people seeking nourishment for the journey on the long road ahead. The Eucharist is our home. It where we, the members of Christ’s body, the Church, are most ourselves. It’s where we, in faith, recognize Christ burning within our hearts “in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35).


By Fr. Dennis J. Billy, CSsR, author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Liguori Publications, 2014. This story is reprinted with permission from Liguori Publications.