by Nathan Maurer
When I was about five years old, I remember asking my mom if I could receive Communion at Sunday Mass. At the time, I think it had more to do with wanting to be like all of the adults and “big kids” than with my own holiness. But even so, God uses everything, and I believe that he was drawing me to himself in that innocent desire. My mom at the time responded with a question: “Do you know who that is? That’s Jesus. In a couple of years, you can receive him, too.”
What a beautiful answer to a small child. To this day, I’m so grateful that she used the words she did. Rather than “do you know what that is”, she said “WHO that is”. From that young age, I had a sense of that monumental truth of our faith: that the little host at Mass was somehow no longer a thing, but a person. And that person loved me.
A couple of years later, when I was about to receive my first Communion, I had another key interaction with my mom. (I guess I can attribute a lot to her). On a car ride together, just the two of us, she said something that I’ll always remember. “Some things in life are just pretend. The Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, those are just make-believe. But you’re going to receive Communion soon. And I want you to know: this is different. The bread and wine really turn into Jesus’ body and blood. It’s not just make-believe. Does that make sense?” I think I was initially stunned into silence by this revelation about my imaginary childhood benefactors, but that conversation has always stayed with me. My mom wanted to make sure that I understood: when we talk about the truths of our faith, they aren’t just fairy tales or things we tell ourselves to feel warm and fuzzy. They are real. They have deep meaning. And they should change our lives.
Once the central truth of the Eucharist comes into focus, all of the Church’s teachings surrounding it begin to, as well. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is why, whenever possible, we place Holy Communion in vessels of gold and other fine metals. It is why we genuflect when we enter the pew for mass. It is why we need to go to confession before receiving Holy Communion if we have committed a mortal sin. None of these practices make sense if the Eucharist is just a symbol or a nice gesture. They are signs of our own love and reverence for the reality of what is happening on the altar at every mass. And that reality is the presence of Christ himself, the God who loves us, the God who saves us, the God who wants to bring us out of sin and darkness and into joyful life with him.
Don’t be afraid to pray with this teaching, ask questions about it, and really let it sink in. It can be difficult for us in our materialistic culture to wrap our heads around a clearly supernatural reality like this. My advice for increasing love for and belief in the Real Presence is simple: just spend time with him. Maybe it’s getting to Mass 15 minutes early, or staying 15 minutes afterwards to pray in silence. Maybe it’s briefly stopping in to a local church during your lunch break. Maybe it’s joining us for one of our weekly Adoration hours on Sundays and Thursdays. Whenever and wherever you choose to meet him, know that his Real Presence is always there, ready to meet you.