I’ve received some feedback from catechists and students as to how to go about teaching the sacraments. when speaking of grade-school children, it’s more straightforward. Teaching teens, however, can be a challenge. Some are a little more skeptical and a little less open to the Word of God.
I’ve found that talking about the Mass and Eucharist with teenagers is not that difficult. There is a simple reason for this: the True Presence is not well understood by very many Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant. The distinction between impanation and transubstantiation (for instance) is not well-known. Therefore, I don’t have to worry about explaining the difference.
The Last Supper
One thing I do when discussing the Eucharist is to make sure students understand that this tradition (the Eucharist, not the Mass) began at the Last Supper. This locates the event in history, and it establishes a link with Jesus Christ. It’s always nice to point out that Jesus himself is the one who originated this most important Sacrament.
It’s also important to point out that Jesus himself said “this is my body” and this is my blood.” He also said, “do this in memory of me.” In other words, Jesus establishes a precedent to repeat, remember and make present the event of the Last Supper in particular, and the Paschal Mystery in general.
The Grace of the Cross
Students know that the Sacraments are “visible signs of an invisible grace.” But I’ll ask them, “from whence does the grace of the Mass or Eucharist come from?” The answer is simple, “from the grace of the cross.” Or more accurately, the grace of the Paschal Mystery. The Eucharist has meaning and it is a source of grace because Christ was nailed to a cross and rose from the dead. Without the Resurrection, there can be no Eucharist. Without the Eucharist, there is no definitive affirmation of the Resurrection. That is why, when we receive communion, the minister says, “body of Christ,” and that is why we say “amen” (I believe).
I also like to point out that the Eucharist represents a confluence of Jewish traditions. The symbolism of the Passover event, Synagogue worship, Temple worship and Jewish daily prayers of thanksgiving are all incorporated into the Eucharist or Mass.
An Encounter with God
In the Old Testament, Moses could not look upon the face of God. In fact, this was a near impossibility in the Old Testament. There was, under to Old Law, some distance between God and his chosen people. This situation changes with the Incarnation. Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us. Jesus promises us that, Lo I am with you unto the end of the age. These are among the last words spoken in Matthew’s Gospel, and Jesus promises us, in the present tense, that he remains with us. Not as spirit (which he is not), but as person. We encounter Christ as person under the accidents of bread and wine in communion.
A Communal Act of Worship
The Eucharist is a communal act of worship. It is the place where the entire community gathers before the altar and the priest to worship and give thanks to God. It is the place where our own lives are placed upon the altar and made an oblation or gift to God, in much the same way that Christ made an offering of his own life.
A Work of the Priest, a Work of Jesus Christ
Only the priest can recite the Eucharistic Prayer and effect the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But this work is really done by Christ himself. The priest recites the prayers, but only Jesus can turn ordinary bread and wine – the fruits of the earth – into his own body and blood.
God established a covenantal promise with the Church that authorized the Apostles and their successors to continually and regularly celebrate the Eucharist and thus make Christ present among and within a community of believer – in the bread and wine. Christ works through the priest to accomplish this feat – in persona Christi capitis.