The Holy Eucharist: Source and Summit of Catholic Education
By Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone
Catholic schools develop in our young people the capacity to recognize the presence of God in all things. They do this most explicitly in theology, religious instruction and sacramental preparation, of course. But every academic discipline and activity of the school is an opportunity to encounter Christ. Through formation in virtue, especially the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, young people come to know themselves and each person they encounter as made in the image and likeness of God. Through service, they practice the corporal works of mercy and live out the command to encounter Jesus in those they serve (Mt 25:40-45). In the study of the natural world, students learn “to discern in the voice of the universe the Creator Whom it reveals.”1 Through music and the arts, students are drawn to God through beauty and come to know Him as the source of all that is beautiful.
Christianity is a way of seeing and Catholic schools help to form this ability to see God everywhere–in everyone and in everything God has made.2 The most profound way that we encounter the living God, though, is in the Most Holy Eucharist. There Jesus is really, truly and substantially present, body, blood, soul and divinity. As the oft-quoted affirmation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, the Holy Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (§1324). It is the “source” because it is Jesus Himself, truly present, and is therefore the reason for our faith and for our lives as His disciples. Everything we do as Christians finds its origin in Him. The Eucharist is the “summit” of the Christian life because it is the very presence of God and a foretaste of heaven (Catechism, §1090, 1326). The Catechism puts it succinctly, stating “For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself.” (§1324)
Love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament ripples out into other areas of our lives, too. Once we encounter Him there, we find that our encounter makes us more able to love our families and our neighbor. It helps us to see Christ in the poor and animates our concern for justice. St. Teresa of Calcutta recognized that her commitment to the poor began by seeing Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, explaining, “unless we believe and see Jesus in the appearance of bread on the altar, we will not be able to see Him in the distressing disguise of the poor.” Pope Francis has even called attention to the connection between reverence for Christ in the Eucharist and our care for creation. In “Laudato Si,” his encyclical letter on care for creation, the Holy Father explains, “The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist…Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.” (236)
Sadly, you may have heard about the 2019 Pew Research poll which revealed that only 37% of Catholics say that they believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. What a tragedy, to have the Lord in our midst and not to recognize Him! Being denied the ability to meet Jesus in the Holy Mass because of the pandemic has no doubt only made this problem worse. What is needed is a true revival of our recognition of and reverence for the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
On June 10 this past summer, the Archdiocese hosted an Archdiocesan Eucharistic Congress at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. Thousands of Catholics gathered to celebrate the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and to be a part of the National Eucharistic Revival. One of the highlights of the Congress for me was being joined by more than 1,500 people in a holy hour to adore our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and also the beautiful Mass with the Corpus Christi procession to conclude the Congress.
Pope Benedict XVI said, “first and foremost, Catholic schools are a place to encounter the living God in Jesus Christ.”3 The most profound encounter we can have with Jesus is in the Eucharist, the “source and summit of the Christian life.” Through participation in the Mass, by visiting Jesus in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and by making the Eucharist the source and summit of all that they do, our Catholic schools play a vital role in Eucharistic revival. As our Catholic schools begin a new academic year, may our young people learn to know and adore the Real Presence of Jesus. May our Catholic schools be places of true Eucharistic revival!