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“Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary leads us into the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist”

by Fr. Benjamin Reese, S.T.D., Cand.

Introduction

             The theology of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been an integral part of the Catholic faith—from the Protogospel of Genesis to the most recent Papal Encyclical. Mary, the New Eve has been seen as the complement to Christ, the New Adam[1].  Of course, the distinctive feature of the Catholic religion is the Incarnation—God becoming man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Here we see how Mary’s “yes” opened the way for the Son of God’s descent to earth and his taking of her human flesh.  As we meditate on the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, the parallels between it and the Incarnation readily come to mind since it is Jesus himself who becomes present with the very flesh that he once received from his Mother, Mary. 

             In a similar way, we learn to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass in union with Christ’s perfect offering at Calvary where Mary herself co-offered her Son for the salvation of the world.  Indeed, she was not a priest, but through Him she offered her own flesh and blood and the Divine victim back to the Father.  Thus, she remains a kind of exemplar for us as we enter into the sacrifice of the Mass.  Finally, it was Mary, according to tradition, who first greeted her Risen Son, and adored her God on Easter Sunday morning.  Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, then, correctly understood, helps us to enter most completely into the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist and hence enhances our actual participation in the Divine Liturgy itself. 

 The Liturgy of the Word and the Incarnation

             Mary becomes a model for our actual participation in the Liturgy of the Word as a hearer of the Word, a hearer that always obeyed the Word of God and meditated on that mystery in her Immaculate Heart.  In the Liturgy of the Word, we review the history of salvation and realize how few members of the human race actually took God’s word to heart and gave him a whole hearted “Yes”.  The history of the chosen people really begins with Abraham’s submission to God in an heroic faith.  But even Abraham’s faith, a faith that made him our father in faith, was, at times, a weak and vacillating one.  The subsequent history of the Chosen people is indeed a history of much unfaithfulness, but God would preserve a holy remnant, and this holy remnant would give birth to a daughter of Zion through God’s intervention in the Immaculate Conception.  Mary’s faith, then, like Abraham’s, shines out as a model for us.  Pope Paul VI comments in his famous Encyclical, Marialis Cultus.

            Mary is the attentive Virgin, who receives the word of God with faith, that faith which in her case was the gateway and path to the divine motherhood, for, as St. Augustine realized, “Blessed Mary by believing conceived Him (Jesus) whom believing she brought forth”  In fact, when she received from the angel the answer to her doubt (cf. Lk a:34-37), “full of faith and conceiving Christ in her mind      before conceiving Him in her Womb, she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me” (Lk 1:38).  It was faith that was for her cause of blessedness and certainty in the fulfillment of the promise: “Blessed is    she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk    1:45). .  .  The Church also acts in this way, especially in the liturgy, when with faith she listens, accepts, proclaims and venerates the Word of God, distributes it to the faithful as the bread of life, and in the light of that word examines the signs of the times and interprets and lives the events of history.[2]

             Thus, Mary becomes a model of actual or interior participation in the Liturgy itself.  Certainly, this does not mean that we bring Marian devotions into the Liturgy, but Marian devotions and, especially the practice of True Devotion will help us enter into the spirit of the Liturgy.  Mary, the woman of faith and the contemplative virgin can teach us how to listen to the Word of God.  St. Louis de Montfort writes,

             Be persuaded, then, that the more you look at Mary in your prayers, contemplations, actions, and sufferings, if not with a distinct and definite view, at least with a general and imperceptible one, the more perfectly will you find Jesus Christ, who is always with Mary, great, powerful, active, and incomprehensible – more than in Heaven or in any other creature.  Thus, so far from the Divine Mary, all absorbed in God, being an obstacle to the perfect attaining of union with God, there has never been up to this time, and there never will be, any creature who will aid us more efficaciously in this great work; either by the graces that she will communicate to us for this purpose—for as a saint has said, “No one can be filled with the thought of  God except by her”[3]

Consequently, the place for Marian devotion is precisely in the time before Mass[4], so that we can prepare our minds and hearts to receive the Word of God as she did.  If we approach the Liturgy of the Word in union with her heart will be “filled with the thought of God”.

            However, true devotion to the Blessed Virgin not only helps us to prepare for the Liturgy of the Word, and to contemplate that Word during Mass: her intercession also helps us to assent to the Word of God which is directed to us–  to say “Yes” to God  within the context of that Mass. Indeed, the Liturgy of the Word is proclaimed by the celebrant within the liturgical assembly so that they can give assent to the content of the Church’s teaching and preaching.  Just as the people of the nation of Israel consented to the content of the book of the covenant in Exodus 24 before being sprinkled with the Blood of the Covenant, so the people of the new Israel receive the Word of God as preached before drinking of the Blood of the Word made flesh in the New Covenant.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “By the saving word of God faith . . . is nourished in the hearts of believers.  By faith then the congregation of the faithful begins and grows. The proclamation does not stop with a teaching; it elicits the response of faith as consent and commitment, directed at the covenant between God and his people.”[5] Each member of the assembly should listen and then respond to the Word of God as Mary did so that Christ can become Incarnate in their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit poured out during the Eucharistic sacrifice.

            All of this becomes clear as we recite the Creed in which we recall the Incarnation of God the Son. Here, all used to genuflect every Sunday (many still do in Extraordinary form of the Roman Rite) at those words, “Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.”  So many wonderful musical compositions of the Creed have been written and all of them fall into an awesome and tender hush at this moment.  We are finishing the Liturgy of the Word and our hearts are prepared to receive the Word made Flesh who will come very soon in the unbloody sacrifice of the altar so as to be received Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in Holy Communion by the assembly.   In this way, we will become like Mary whose “Yes’ in the Incarnation allowed the Word of God to take flesh from her and become man.

            Just before we begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we offer the Prayer of the Faithful, and once again the Blessed Virgin Mary is discreetly present in the Liturgy as our intercessor before the Father in heaven. I find it theologically interesting to understand the Prayer of the Faithful as a transition between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Indeed, the Catholic Catechism describes it in the section on the Liturgy of the Word, “After the homily, which is an exhortation to accept this Word as what it truly is, the Word of God, and to put it into practice, come the intercessions for all men, according to the Apostle’s words: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings, and all who are in high position”[6]

            The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrystosom contains an ectenia, a prayer of intercession which is contained in the Eucharistic prayer itself.  These intercessions fittingly conclude with a Marian prayer which is an integral part of the Liturgy itself,  “Commemorating our most, holy, pure, blessed, and glorified Lady, Mother of God and Ever Virgin Mary with all the Saints, let us commend ourselves and one another our whole life to Christ, our God.” [7]  It is also interesting to note here the Irish and English Latin Rite custom, approved by their Bishops, of concluding the prayers of the faithful with a Hail Mary “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist and Mary’s role at Calvary.

            If we first imitate Mary in her contemplative stance in the Liturgy of the Word, we can then imitate her self offering and so join her personal offering of the Divine Victim in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, especially at the moment of the representation of the Sacrifice of Calvary in the Sacrifice of the Mass.  Pope John Paul II wrote of Mary’s unfathomable sufferings at Calvary in Redemptoris Mater, “The Council says that this happened ‘not without a divine plan”: by “suffering deeply with her only begotten Son and joining herself with her maternal spirit to his sacrifice, lovingly consenting to the immolation of the victim to whom she had given birth,” in this way Mary “faithfully preserved her union with her Son even to the Cross”[8]

             Fr. Dwight Campbell elucidates on Pope John Paul’s Marian/ Eucharistic theology in an article in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review.  He sees Pope John Paul’s Marian spirituality of the Cross as a key to his understanding of true participation in the Liturgy of the Eucharist – and especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

            The Blessed Virgin Mary was present on Calvary; she is present at each Mass.  At Mass we must invite Mary to be present with us, and strive to imitate her in uniting ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice made present on the altar.  We must learn from her, at her “school,” by studying her interior dispositions, especially those she exhibited at the foot of the Cross: her heroic faith and her spirit of self-oblation in accepting the Father’s will that her Son suffer a horrible death to merit our salvation.[9]

             Yet, this imitation of Mary is not simply exemplary in a historical sense or merely spiritual in as much as the Blessed Virgin Mary is actually interceding for us from heaven. It is indeed “real” because Mary’s sorrowful and Immaculate Heart is “truly” present in the Sacrifice of the Mass itself.  Fr. Campbell cites this remarkable quote from Pope John Paul II,

In this “memorial” of Calvary [i.e., the Mass] all that Christ accomplished by his Passion and his Death is present.  Consequently, all that Christ did with regard to his Mother for our sake is also present.  To her he gave the beloved disciple and, in him, each of us: “Behold, your Son!” To each of us he also says: “Behold your Mother!”  9cf. Jn. 19.26-27).[10]

             Her spiritual Motherhood is consequently real – not only in a generic, heavenly way, but because she is precisely there at each and every Sacrifice of the Mass, showing us how to sacrifice the Divine victim and our lives with her at the Foot of the Cross.  Her spiritual Motherhood makes our sacrifice more bearable since she is a sign and a real channel of God’s intimate love for us.   When the sacrifice or the suffering can seem beyond our strength- because it is beyond our strength—we need only to ask her to help.  She will intercede so that we can complete our offering , joining it to hers at Calvary.

            This act of self offering with her in the Mass is a perfection of the True Devotion of St. Louis de Montfort, “to begin, to continue to finish all our actions by her, in her, with her, and for her, in order that we may do them by Jesus Christ, in Jesus Christ, with Jesus Christ and for Jesus Christ, our Last End.”[11]  Such is also the very soul of actual participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where we offer everything “through him, with him, and in him in the unity of the Holy Spirit.” Many Catholics may not yet be spiritually mature enough to participate interiorly in the Liturgy in a full, conscious, and actual manner, but all can and will suffer and in this Our Sorrowful Mother can help them to accept their Crosses with patience and a deep supernatural joy.  We need her prayers then to remain standing at the Foot of the Cross and not to give into fear, pain, or discouragement in times of trial, but rather to accept all from the hands of a loving Father.   We should above all pray to Our Lady of Sorrows in all our troubles.  We should ask her, by the ocean of sorrow she felt during the Passion of Our Lord, to help us.   God gave her all the immense graces necessary to make her the perfect Mother of God, but he also gave her all the graces, the tenderness, the love necessary to be our most perfect and loving Mother.  No mother on earth ever loved a child as Our Blessed Lady loves us.  Therefore, in all our troubles and sorrows, let us go to Our Blessed Lady with unbounded confidence.[12]

             In order to remain strong in faith and to truly offer our minor sorrows with the sacrifice of the Mass,  it is salutary to meditate profoundly on the immense depth of her sorrow.  The English Oratorian,  Fr. Frederick Faber wrote, “The first thing, then, which strikes us about our Lady’s dolours is their immensity… It is to her sorrows that the Church applies those words of Jeremias, O all ye that by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.”[13]  Indeed it is the common teaching of the Saints that Mary suffered more than all the Martyrs at the foot of the Cross[14], entering into the abyss of her Son’s abandonment as he cried out to the Father, “My God, My God, Why have you abandoned Me?”  This dark night of the soul in which her heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow is the basis of her spiritual motherhood and her tender compassion for us sinners.  She entered into this state of  abandonment which was due to us as a punishment for our sins.  Yet she herself was totally innocent, having had no need to suffer for her sins.  In this act of love for God and for us she became our Mother in the order of grace, a New Eve, giving spiritual birth to us in the agony of Calvary.  St. Alphonsus de Liguori comments on these immense sorrows,

             Indeed, the death of Jesus was more than enough to save the world, and infinity of worlds; but this good Mother, for the love she bore us, wished also to help the cause of our salvation with the merits of her sufferings, which she offered for us on Calvary. Therefore, Blessed(now Saint) Albert the Great says, “that as we are under great obligations to Jesus for his Passion, endured for our love, so also are we under great obligation to Mary for the martyrdom which she voluntarily suffered for our salvation in the death of her Son:”. . .  And indeed, we may say that Mary’s only relief in the midst of her great sorrow in the Passion of her Son, was to see the lost world redeemed by his death.[15]

              This was one of the greatest gifts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Cross—the gift of the Immaculate Heart of Mary [16] who would remain present in the Church and even at the sacrifice of the Mass as a consolation and co-offerer with us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  When we turn in devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, whether within Mass or outside of  it, she will always bring us into a mystical union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is a simple lesson, but one not easily learned by self absorbed modern man, often including us priests and religious.  Yet the little children of Fatima were able to live this message of offering all their sacrifices and sufferings for the conversion of sinners through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, inseparably united to his Sacred Heart.

            The Second Vatican Council summarizes Mary’s role in the Church thusly and this helps us to understand her role for us in the Liturgy,

The Motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the Cross, until the eternal fulfillment of the elect.  Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office, but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. . . . Therefore, the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. This, however, is so understood that it neither takes away anything form nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator.[17]

 Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Communion

            Mary is also the greatest teacher with regards to devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and hence the most fruitful way of making our Holy Communions.  St. Louis de Montfort teaches us some methods of preparing for and devoutly receiving the Most Blessed Sacrament in Holy Communion.  He also instructs us how to make a proper thanksgiving, something that is often neglected today.  According to this Saint and Marian doctor, the result of such Holy Communions, made with her, will be an increase of the Divine Life of the Holy Trinity within us and a decrease of our selfishness and sin:

My Jesus, You must increase in my soul, and I must decrease (Jn. 3:30); Mary, you must increase within me, and I must be still less than I have been. “O Jesus and Mary, increase in me, and multiply yourselves in others also.” ((cf. Gen. 1:22 ff). There are infinity of other thoughts which the Holy Ghost furnishes, and will furnish you, if you are thoroughly interior, mortified and faithful to this grand and sublime devotion which I have been teaching you.  But always remember that the more you allow Mary to act your Communion, the more Jesus will be glorified.”[18]

 Hence, we see that Mary can truly help us to participate in the most profound way in her very relationship with her Divine Son in heaven and in the most Holy Eucharist.

The Blessed Virgin and the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside Mass

             Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is one of the best ways to prepare for Mass, and once again Mary can teach us how to better adorers of Christ in spirit and truth.  Contrary to the popularized teachings of some liturgists, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was not discouraged by Vatican II, and, to the contrary, it has been heartily encouraged by all the post-conciliar Popes, both in word and deed.  On the subject of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and authentic Liturgical participation, the Church has this to say,

            The same piety which moves the faithful to Eucharistic adoration attracts them to a deeper participation in the Paschal Mystery.  It makes them respond gratefully to the gifts of Christ who by his humanity continues to pour the divine life upon the members of his body.  Living with Christ the Lord, they achieve a close familiarity with him and in his presence pour out their hearts for themselves and for those dear to them;  they pray for peace and for the salvation of the world.  Offering their entire lives with Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, they draw from this wondrous exchange an increase of faith, hope, and love.  Thus, they nourish the proper disposition to celebrate the memorial of the Lord as devoutly as possible and to receive frequently, the bread given to us by the Father.[19]

            Adoration itself was a very intimate experience for Mary as the Mother of God who carried the Word made Flesh in her womb.  According to tradition, she was the first to greet and adore the Risen Lord, and certainly she participated daily in the Mass of the Apostle John, with whom she lived.  Therefore she can be our teacher in the true spirit of adoration in the Spririt and in truth.

Conclusion

             If Mary is our Mother in the order of grace and the Mediatrix of all graces, then she is intimately involved in the sacramental economy of the Church in a mysterious and sublime way that goes far beyond the limited scope of this brief reflection: She is indeed “the Woman clothed with the Son”, totally immersed in the very life of the Most Holy Trinity to such a degree that only the mind of God can fathom her ineffable holiness. Yet we poor sinners can invoke her intercession so as to enter more perfectly into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and she is always ready to obtain special graces for her children and especially for her priest Sons who offer the Divine Sacrifice.  The Holy Catholic Church proclaims this in the Prayer of thanksgiving after Mass which she officially issues with the Roman Missal,

            Mary, Holy Virgin Mother       

            I have received your Son, Jesus Christ,

            With love you became His Mother,

            gave birth to Him, nursed Him,

            and helped Him grow to manhood.

            With love I return Him to you,  

            to hold once more,       

            to love with all your heart

            and to offer to the Holy Trinity 

            as our supreme act of worship. Amen.[20]


[1]   Paul Haffner, The Mystery of Mary. ( Chicago, Illinois :Liturgy Training Publications, 2004)

[2]   Pope Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, An Apostolic Exhortation, in Mary in the ChurchA Selection of Teaching Documents. (Washington, DC: United States  Conference of  Catholic Bishops,  2003 )

[3]   St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, translated by Fr. Frederick Faber. (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, 1985).

[4] An example of this is the prayer to the Virgin Mary provided for priests to be said in preparation for a devout and fruitful celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, “Mother of mercy and love, blessed Virgin Mary, I am a poor and unworthy sinner, and I turn to you in confidence and love.  You stood by your Son and He hung dying on the Cross.  Stand also by me a poor sinner, and by all the priests who are offering Mass today here and throughout the entire Church.  Help us to offer a perfect and acceptable sacrifice in the sight of the holy and undivided Trinity, our Most High God. Amen.” Daily Roman Missal, ed. James Socias, (Chicago: Scepter Publishers, Midwest Theological Forum, 1993) 1963.

[5]  Catechism of the Catholic Church,  Libreria Editrice Vaticana  (Bloomingdale, Ohio: Apostolate for Family Consecration, 1994)  para 1102

[6]  Ibid, para. 1349

[7] The Divine Liturgy of  St. John Chrystosom, (New York, New York: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, 1966) p. 55

[8] Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, in Mary in the ChurchA Selection of Teaching Documents. (Washington, DC: United States  Conference of  Catholic Bishops,  2003 )

[9] Fr. Dwight Campbell, “A Marian Spirituality of the Eucharist,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review, (January, 2006):  9.

[10]  ibid., 9

[11] St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, 70

[12]  “ A Devotional Prayer Book”,  Holy Wounds Apostolate, Wis. Rapids, WI, p. 18

[13] Fr. Frederick William Faber, The Foot of the Cross, the Sorrows of Mary( London: Burns, Oates, and Washbourne LTD, 1857), 7.

[14] St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary, “ Part III, The Dolors of Mary”, trans. Eugene Grimm,

( Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, 1931), p.463-544.

[15] St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary, 477

[16]  St. John Eudes, The Admirable Heart of Mary, (New York: P.J. Kenedy and Sons, 1948)

 [17] Second Vatican Council, “Lumen Gentium,” in Vatican Council II:  The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1975), # 62.

[18]   St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, nos. 272-73.

[19]  Congregation for Divine Worship. “On Holy Communion and the Worship of  the Eucharistic Mystery Outside of Mass, quoted in “In the Presence of  Our Lord” by Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R. and James Monti,(Huntington, Indiana:  Our Sunday Visitor, 1997),  270-271.

[20] Daily Roman Missal, Socias, 1979.

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“Give Us This Day Our Daily (Supersubstantial) Bread”

Fr. Ben Reese, S.T.D. Cand.

 The “Our Father” is the most common and the most important prayer in the Christian world.  Yet no matter how often we pray it, there remains a greater spiritual depth to be discovered since its very words come from the Son of God and lead us back to him as our last end.  Indeed, the baptized Christian (in a state of grace) is not merely doing what Jesus taught when he prays the “Our Father” but Jesus is praying in him.

The whole prayer, in a sense, can be understood as a summary of the Gospel and as the perfect prayer in which we are instructed to ask for all we need.  Furthermore, this perfect prayer was initially prayed by Christians thrice daily according to the Catechism of  the Catholic Church and is ideally prayed in a liturgical setting in which we pray in the name of the whole Church –  saying “Our”  not my “Father”.  Through divine adoption or filiation we enter into the very heart of the prayer of the Man/God Jesus to his Heavenly Father.  He is the first born and high priest of a new priestly community so this prayer reaches its peak intensity in the Liturgy and especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where the priest in persona Christi offers the divine victim to the Father, the priest’s own prayer, and the sacrifices of the faithful in perfect thanksgiving for all the benefits which we, his Church, have received. 

In and through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we have participated in the great sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary, his resounding yes to the Father which has undone the sin of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. It would seem that only at the Mass, is it truly possible to say, “Thy Kingdom Come Thy Will be Done” because there we are all saying it in union with the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of the Mass, where the “Yes” of Jesus is being re-presented by a priest who has been sacramentally ordained to join his human yes and the “yes” of the assembled community to the perfect obedience of Jesus on the Cross and in heaven.   In his justly famous book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote,

     “As St. Maximus the Confessor showed so splendidly, the obedience of Jesus’ human will is inserted into the everlasting Yes of the Son to the Father. This ‘giving’ on the part of the Lord, in  passivity of his being crucified, draws the passion of  human existence into the action of love, and so it embraces all the dimensions of reality—Body, Soul, Spirit, Logos. Just as the pain of the body is drawn into the pathos of the mind and becomes the Yes of obedience, so time is drawn into what reaches beyond time. The real interior act, though it does not exist without the exterior, transcends time, but since it comes from time, time can again and again be brought into it. That is how we can become contemporary with the past events of salvation. Bernard of Clairvaux has this in mind when he says that the true semel (“once”) bears within itself the semper (‘always’). What is perpetual takes in what happens only once. In the Bible the Once for all is emphasized most vigorously in the epistle to the Hebrews, but the careful reader will discover that the point made by St. Bernard expresses its true meaning. The ephapax (‘0nce for All’) is bound up with the aionios (‘everlasting’).”[1]

In this way, by participating in the great obedience of Jesus on the Cross, we are joined to his reparation for the great disobedience of Adam and Eve.  We are refusing the temptation of the devil to be like God, deciding what is right and wrong for ourselves. Instead, we are offering the whole of our lives with its all its full assent to divinely revealed truth, specifically chosen moral acts, and salvific sacramental graces in union with the perfect offering of Christ in the re-presentation of  Calvary at the Sacrifice  of  the Mass.  By this mystical/ sacramental sharing in his obedience to the Father we are thus undeservedly given to eat of the fruit of the supernatural true tree of life, the body and blood of Christ which is the food of everlasting life.

It is no coincidence then that the Our Father is said after the consecration and before Holy Communion in all the ancient Eucharistic Liturgies of the Catholic Church,

      “In the Eucharistic Liturgy the Lord’s Prayer appears as the prayer of the whole Church and there reveals its full meaning and efficacy.  Placed between the anaphora (the Eucharistic prayer) and the communion, the Lord’s prayer sums up on the one hand all the petitions and intercessions expressed in the movement of the epiclesis and, on the other, knocks at the door of the Banquet of the kingdom which sacramental communion anticipates.”  (CCC 2770)

But is the Holy Eucharist of the Eucharistic banquet also the daily bread of the Our Father?  If the Our Father is the perfect prayer which is most perfectly prayed in the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, then does it not make sense that the daily bread which we most need and so ask for is the supersubstantial bread of the Holy Eucharist?

It may surprise many Catholics to learn that this indeed is the teaching of the Catholic Church as expressed by the Council of Trent and as re-proposed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Furthermore, many Protestants who say this prayer daily may be shocked to learn that they are truly praying to receive Holy Communion daily and that this interpretation goes back to very words of Our Lord in the “Our Father” — “Give us This Day, Our Daily Bread”.    The Greek word here is epiousion, a hapax or a word that is only used here and nowhere else in the Greek language,  and so presupposed to be the Greek equivalent of whatever word Our Lord may have used in Aramaic or Hebrew.  Most Protestant commentaries translate it as daily and this goes back to the Latin of St. Jerome who renders “arton epiousion” as “panis quotidianum” or daily bread in Luke.  However, he translated it as “panis supersubstantialem” in the Gospel of St. Matthew.  In other words, Jerome who realized  that this Greek hapax could not be expressed in Latin with both meanings at once, chose to give it one meaning in Matthew – “daily” and a another in Luke–“supersubstantial” so as to preserve both senses of the word for Latin speaking Christians, albeit in two distinct biblical locations.  In English, we have lost this second original meaning – supersubstantial, and so are usually unaware of this lost Eucharistic connotation in our recitation of the Our Father. 

Since Latin, also failed to express both meaning at once, St. Ambrose faced the same problem of expressing both significations of “epi-ousion” when teaching the “Our Father” to his catechumens in ancient Milan.  He asked them why we use the word bread after the consecration since he had previously explained that after the words of the priest it is no longer bread and wine, but the very Body and Blood of Christ.  Consequently, Saint Ambrose seized on the Greek, “epiousion” of the Our Father, commenting “He (Jesus) called it bread indeed, but he called it “epiousion”, that is, supersubstantial.  It is not the bread that passes into the body but that bread of eternal life, which sustains the substance of our souls.  Therefore, in Greek it is called epiousios.”[2] This concept of substance (epiousion) in the Holy Eucharist as applied above by him in De Sacramentis was very similar to the interpretation of St. Cyril of Jerusalem—supersubstantial food for the soul. Yet in a later quote from De Sacramentis (below), we will see how St. Ambrose interprets the concept of substance in a new way which will be crucial for the development of substantial change in the theology of real presence. Remember, too that Ambrose was combating Germanic Arianism in his diocese as he sought to defend the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son against the Arians who denied that Jesus was one in being (homo-ousion) with the Father.  Hence, it would seem only natural that the concept of substance or ousia would be in the forefront of his mind as he wrestled with the terminology of the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

As Our Lord Jesus Christ is the true Son, not by grace in the manner of men, but as Son of the substance of the Father, so it is true real flesh as he himself said which we receive and his true/ real blood is imbibed.  But perhaps you might say what the disciples said when they heard him saying: “Unless one eats my flesh and drinks my Blood, he shall not dwell in me nor have eternal life—perhaps you might say “How is it true?  I see the analogy, but I do not see the true/real blood.’  First of all, I (Ambrose) told you of statement of Christ which acts so that it can change and convert the established species of nature (mutare et convertere genera institute naturae).  Then when Christ’s statement is not accepted by his disciples but hearing that he gave his flesh to eat and gave his blood to drink they turned away and only Peter said “You have the words of eternal life and how can I turn from you?’ Therefore, so that others could say this without the horror of experiencing blood but dwell in saving grace, you receive the sacrament in an analogous experience, but truly the grace and power of its nature. ‘I am” he declares the bread of life which comes down from heaven.  But flesh did not come down from heaven, this flesh he acquired on earth out of the Virgin.  How then did bread come down from heaven and be living bread?  Our Lord Jesus Christ at the same time shares divinity and corporality, and you who partake in this food receive the flesh of his Divine Substance. (emphasis mine)[3]

The concept of ousia or substance in regard to the Eucharist seems to be used for the first time by St. Ambrose in De Sacramentis.  Yet is nothing more than an elaboration of the very term “epi-ousion” of Christ in the “Our Father”, rethinking the concept of “ousia” as it came to him from the Council of Nicea.

This theology of substantial presence and substantial change will continue to develop in the subsequent centuriesThe term substance will officially appear in the oath prescribed to Berengar of Tours by the Council of Rome. Meanwhile the term transubstantiation will be used for the first time by a theologian named Roland Bandinelli who later became Pope Alexander III (1140-42), and it will be used again by Innocent III in a papal document. The Fourth Lateran Council will formulate it more precisely and hence it will be demanded of the orthodox by the Profession of Faith at the Council of Lyons.  Finally, it will be fully developed by St. Thomas Aquinas and enshrined as Catholic dogma at the Council of Trent.  Pope Paul VI will strongly insist on the continuing dogmatic value of this term in his Encyclical, Mysterium Fidei.

The declaration of the Council of Trent about the dogma of transubstantiation seems to be well known, even by many opponents of Catholicism, even if not well understood by them or even by many modern Catholics.  Yet what is less well known is that the Council of Trent also insisted that the words “epi-ousion” spoken by Our Lord mean both that the Eucharist is super-substantial bread and that it should be received daily, in other words it taught both senses of the word as understood by St. Jerome and St. Ambrose

Finally, the holy council with true paternal affection enjoins, exhorts, begs, and entreats through the tender mercy of our God (Lk 1:78) that each and all who are marked by the name of Christian should now, at long last, join together and agree in this sign of unity, this bond of love, this symbol of harmony; and that, mindful of the so great majesty and surpassing love of our lord Jesus Christ, who gave his own dear life as the price of our salvation and his own flesh for us to eat(Jn 6:48-59), they should believe and reverence these sacred mysteries of his body and blood  with such constancy and firmness of faith, such dedication of mind, such devotion and worship, that they may be able to receive frequently that supersubstantial bread(Mt 6:11), and that it may be for them truly the life of the soul and the unending health of the mind; thus, strengthened by its force, may they be able after the journey of this wretched pilgrimage to reach the heavenly fatherland, there to eat without veil the same bread of angels(Ps 77:25) which they now eat beneath  sacred veils. [4]  

Indeed, that holy Council encouraged all Catholics to attend Mass frequently (frequenter) and to receive Holy Communion whenever they were well disposed to do so, and even daily. This teaching was long ignored during the dark years of Jansenism but Pope St. Pius X in Sacra Tridentina resurrected this clear teaching of the Council of Trent and forcefully opposed all restrictive theologies of the reception of Holy Communion.  Thus, St. Pius X was actually hearkening back to the clear words of Jesus and finally applying the great Eucharistic teaching of the Council of Trent that all the faithful should receive the Holy Eucharist frequently and at each Mass they attend,

This wish of the Council fully conforms to that desire wherewith Christ our Lord was inflamed when He instituted this Divine Sacrament. For He Himself, more than once, and in clarity of word, pointed out the necessity of frequently eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood, especially in these words: “This is the bread that has come down from heaven; not as your fathers ate the manna, and died. He who eats this bread shall live forever.” From this comparison of the Food of angels with bread and with manna, it was easily to be understood by His disciples that, as the body is daily nourished with bread, and as the Hebrews were daily fed with manna in the desert, the Christian soul might daily partake of this heavenly bread and be refreshed thereby. Moreover, we are bidden in the Lord’s Prayer to ask for “our daily bread” · which words, the holy Fathers of the Church all but unanimously teach, must be understood not so much that material bread which is the support of the body as the Eucharistic bread which ought to be our daily food.[5]

St Pius X stressed the necessity of daily Communion for the struggle against sin and human frailty, calling daily communion “the antidote whereby we may be freed from daily faults and be preserved from mortal sin.”  According to the Saintly Pope of the Eucharist, the early Christians also daily hastened to the temple and to “the breaking of the bread” (Acts 2: 42 & 46). Such Eucharistic teaching can be found in the Magisterium of his successors and in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church,

“‘Daily’ (epiousios) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Taken in a temporal sense, this word is a pedagogical repletion of ‘this day,’ to confirm us in trust ‘without reservation.’ Taken in the qualitative sense, it signifies what is necessary for life, and more broadly every good thing sufficient for subsistence. Taken literally (epi-ousios: ‘super-essential’), it refers directly to the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, the ‘medicine of immortality,’ without which we have no life within us.’  (CCC 2837)

Conclusion:  The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to highly recommend the daily celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and consequently the daily reception of the Most Sacred Body and Blood by the faithful whenever possible.  According to St. Pius X this should be done with due reverence and firm faith, but all that is necessary is that the communicant should be free from mortal sin and approach Our Lord with a right and devout intention.  He knew that many would approach with venial sin, but he encouraged them by saying that “it is sufficient that they be free from mortal sin, with the purpose of never sinning in the future” And with great pastoral wisdom he adds that “if they have this sincere purpose” they will with time and effort “free themselves from venial sins and from all affection thereto.”

As the Church confronts this new millennium, with its all its challenges and possibilities for a new evangelization, is there any greater hope for the triumph of the faith then can be found in the devout daily celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

What greater plan for Christian unity could be conceived than is already expressed in the words, “Give us This Day Our Daily Bread?”  If all the baptized Christians in the world really understood and lived out this petition by attending daily Mass and receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord daily, what power would be unleashed?  Can we even imagine the power of one billion Holy Communions received devoutly and with a right intention on a daily basis?  Not only would mortal sin cease, but even venial sins would gradually be extinguished and the world would see how much we love God and each other.  Truly, we would become one with Our Lord and God in Holy Communion and the poor would be fed and world wide peace established, based on universal solidarity.  The Church would become once again a school of Saints, and the increase of consecrated vocations and the flourishing of family life would finally usher in the renewal so long desired by the Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council.  This may seem utopian, but God’s Kingdom on earth would be the real result of that mysterious petition of the Our Father, “Give us This Day Our Daily (supersubstantial) Bread.”


[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 56

[2] St. Ambrose, De Sacramentis, 5. 4. 24;  English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Saint Ambrose,(Washington: CUA Press, 1963)

 [3]  “Ego sum, inquit, panis vivus, qui de caelo descendi.  Sed caro non descendit e caelo, hoc est carnem in terries adsumpsit ex virgine. Quomodo ergo desccendit panis et caelo et panis vivus?  Quia idem dominus noster Iesus Christus consors est et divinitatis et Corporis, et tu, qui accipis carnem, divinae eius substantiae in illo participaris alimento.  St. Ambrose of Milan, De Sacramentis 6:1.1-4 

[4] The Council of Trent, “Session 13, Decree on the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist” in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Vol. 2,  English ed. Norman P. Tanner S.J.(Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1990), 697

 [5] St Pius X, Sacra tridentina, “On Frequent and Daily Reception of Holy Communion”, Vatican official website at www.Vatican.va (April 5, 2007).

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