New York archbishop: Look at Eucharist from 3 angles
Cardinal Timothy Dolan expressed gratitude at being invited to speak during the Diocese of Knoxville’s Eucharistic Congress on Sept. 14.
The Archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who also is a good friend of Bishop Richard F. Stika, kept his congress audience members laughing while giving them plenty to think about in a 56-minute keynote address.
“This is great and thank you and, most of all, thank God,” Cardinal Dolan said. “I appreciate the gracious invitation at this historic moment. I’ve been looking forward to this event to be with all of you here in the Diocese of Knoxville as you convene the silver jubilee of this diocese so appropriately by centering upon our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, really and truly present in the most Holy Eucharist.”
The cardinal grumbled lightheartedly that he had only water to drink at the podium during his talk.
“Actually late last night I was thinking very fondly of this diocese here in eastern Tennessee as I was writing my address and as I was sipping on some Jack Daniel’s single-barrel whiskey,” he said. “Jack Daniel’s single-barrel whiskey—probably my second favorite whiskey. My favorite, as you might imagine because of my name and my background, would be Jameson Irish Whiskey—Jameson 18-year-old Irish whiskey to be precise, which my dear father said had to be a darn lie because no self-respecting Irishman would let it sit around that long.”
Cardinal Dolan said “there are a number of reasons I’m glad to be here with you in the Diocese of Knoxville, believe me.
“First of all, it’s always good for my heart, my soul, to be with God’s people in prayer as we seek to renew our faith. That’s what you’re doing here at this Eucharistic Congress. Secondly, the youth and vitality and promise of this great Diocese of Knoxville is inspirational for me. Do you realize that?”
The cardinal hails from an archdiocese that celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2008, while the Diocese of Knoxville kicked off its 25th-anniversary celebration with the Eucharistic Congress.
One reason the cardinal said he was “happy to be here is I’m in the company of a lot of good friends,” including Bishop Stika; Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, Knoxville’s second bishop and the USCCB vice president; and Cardinal Justin Rigali, who was the principal consecrator for both Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Stika’s episcopal ordinations.
Cardinal Dolan’s talk looked at the Eucharist from three different angles.
“I want you to look at the Eucharist as the holy sacrifice, as our communal meal, and as the real presence,” he said. “Sacrifice, meal, and presence—the three angles of this diamond, this work of art, this gift and mystery that we call the most Holy Eucharist.”
On his first point, the cardinal quoted St. Paul: “Every time that you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord.”
“You see what St. Paul is getting at, everybody? There is an intimate connection between the Mass and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross on the hill called Calvary on that Friday strangely called good. That’s why we call the Mass the holy sacrifice of the Mass. In our ancient Catholic belief, the Mass is the renewal of that supreme definitive sacrifice of Jesus on the cross on Calvary that first Good Friday.”
Sometimes “we Catholics are prodded by more fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. You got any here in Tennessee?” Cardinal Dolan said. “Very often, they will say, ‘Aha! Does that mean that you Catholics do not believe that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was not the definitive, once and for all, saving act of redemption?’ And we answer, that doesn’t mean that at all.
“That means that we as Catholics believe, rooted in the Bible and the 2,000-year reflection of the people of the strength of the Church, that the death of Jesus on the cross is so definitive, so dramatic that it is infinite, it is eternal, because the one who offered that sacrifice is not only true man, but true God, so his sacrifice takes upon itself infinite and eternal value.”
That sacrifice on the cross “is still going on because it is infinite, it is eternal, and at every single holy sacrifice of the Mass, we are sucked up into it, we are absorbed into that infinite, eternal act of sacrifice by God the Son to God the Father.”
When he was a priest in St. Louis, then–Father Dolan met the father of a dying girl named Yvonne. As the priest was leaving the girl’s family at the hospital to celebrate a 6:30 a.m. Mass, the father spoke to him.
“He said to me, ‘You know, Father Tim, when you say Mass, when you raise up the paten at the offertory, would you put Yvonne on it?’ That father knew what it meant when we talk about the sacrifice of the Mass.”
While Catholics’ participation in Mass is important, “the Mass is not our doing at all, is it?” Cardinal Dolan said. “The Mass is the action, the saving action, the sacrificial action, of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He never has a bad day. He never does something that doesn’t work. …
“John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, the patron saint of priests, said, ‘All the good works in the world are not equal to one holy sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the work of human beings while the Mass is the work of God. Even martyrdom,’ John Vianney says, ‘shrinks for it is the sacrifice of a person to God while Mass is the sacrifice of God for man.’”
The cardinal’s second point is “my favorite, the Mass as a meal.”
Cardinal Dolan was speaking at the congress on the day of Yom Kippur. He said he asked a rabbi in New York to explain the Jewish feasts to him.
“He said, ‘I’ll try my best, but this is the best way to remember. Every Jewish holy day, every Jewish feast, boils down to this: they tried to kill us, God saved us, let’s eat. . . .’
“I don’t want to be irreverent here, folks, but in a way, that’s what Jesus is saying at every Mass. ‘They tried to kill me; God, my father, saved me; let’s eat.’ Because the Holy Eucharist is part a communal, or spiritual or supernatural family meal.”
Jesus’ post-resurrection apparitions “more often than not took place in the context of a meal,” the cardinal said. That reminded him of his first choice of a motto when he was named auxiliary bishop of St. Louis. Then–Archbishop Rigali told him he needed to choose one, and the future cardinal said he had a favorite quote of Christ.
“I said I think of the verse in the Gospels where Jesus, after Easter, appeared to his disciples on the Sea of Galilee, and he said to them, ‘Does anybody have anything to eat?’ [Archbishop Rigali] didn’t go along with that!
“The point is true, right? When our Lord showed up after Easter, more often than not, he shared a meal with his apostles, and that’s what he does with us at every single Mass. He feeds us, he breaks bread with us, he shares a meal with us—his supernatural family—and everybody, that’s why we crave Holy Communion. That’s why we love to receive the Eucharist. That’s why the highlight of the week for a faithful Catholic is that sacred Sunday meal when we are fed by Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.”
Pope St. Pius X “said it well: ‘This side of heaven, there is no way to be closer to Jesus than to worthily receive him in Holy Communion,’” the cardinal quoted.
“We’re hungry for the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is our spiritual food—it satisfies the deepest hunger of the human heart, and this sacred meal of the Mass is the place where he feeds us.”
A New York cabbie knew that St. Patrick’s Cathedral is just such a place, the cardinal said. The cabbie was asked to take a Methodist Church benefactor to Christ Church but drove him instead to St. Patrick’s.
“The gentleman said to the cabbie, ‘This isn’t Christ Church,’ and the cabbie, as only a New York cabbie could, turned around and said, ‘Look, buster, I don’t know anything about religion. All I know is that here in New York, this is where he lives,’” Cardinal Dolan said. “I use that a lot on appeals! ‘This is where he lives,’ see? This is where he feeds us the communal meal we call the holy sacrifice of the Mass.”
On the Mass as the real presence, Cardinal Dolan told the story of Thomas Merton’s conversion. Merton, then a teacher at Columbia University, would “sneak in the back” of the Catholic student center, “and he would sort of sarcastically, cynically, aloofly, but with great interest watch the people at Mass, and that’s what moved him.
“He records in Seven Storey Mountain that he watched the people, especially when the priest held up the sacred host at Mass, and he said, ‘These people have the look of awe and faith. They really believe that host is divine.’ It was that simple faith in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist that was the final attraction to him to join the faith.”
Elizabeth Ann Seton had a similar conversion story, the cardinal said. The future saint, then an Anglican, was staying with an Italian Catholic family in Livorno, Italy, after her husband died. On the feast of Corpus Christi, she accompanied the Italian family “as the Blessed Sacrament was carried in procession on the streets of Livorno, and as it came by, she saw all the people go down on their knees. And behind her was the minister of her church, and the minister said to her, ‘These stupid peasants believe that the son of God is present in that wafer of bread.’ St. Elizabeth Ann Seton thought, ‘So do I.’”
Cardinal Dolan said he once had the high honor of carrying the Blessed Sacrament in Orvieto, Italy. As he passed down one street, he saw a young Italian father with his 2- or 3-year-old boy.
“As I’m walking by, I see the father whisper in his boy’s ear, then point to the holy Eucharist in the monstrance. I hear the father whisper to his little boy, ‘Ecco, Jesu.’ ‘There is Jesus.’ I thought to myself, that boy might have 30 years of Catholic education, and he’s never going to get a lesson in faith like he just got from his father. ‘Ecco, Jesu.’ Jesus is really and truly present in the most blessed sacrament of the altar.”
The cardinal recalled going to this summer’s World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, where 2.5 million youth attended a Mass with Pope Francis on Copacabana Beach—renamed “Popacabana” for the occasion.
“All you could see was young people,” Cardinal Dolan said. “They were rowdy, a lot of applause for Pope Francis. It was tremendous—a lot of exhilaration, a lot of noise, a lot of enthusiasm. But at the certain moment when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed on that altar and the pope kneels down on the altar—dead silence. Two and a half million young people—dead silence as they knew of the real presence. …These young kids know what the real presence is. They know he is alive and present in the Eucharist.”