Prepare Yourselves to Live a Eucharistic Lent

Since Jesus in the Eucharist is the source and summit, the root and center of the Christian life, Lent, too, should draw its life from the Eucharistic Jesus and lead us to him.

Lent is about going spiritually to the state of the desert, about uniting ourselves to, and imitating, Jesus’ fasting, praying and charity. It’s a time to repent and believe. 

We’re summoned to render our hearts open to God, to reflect on the meaning and trajectory of our life, as we recall that we are dust and to dust we shall return. It’s a period of mercy and conversion, of grace and holiness that we’re supposed to receive fruitfully and not in vain. 

This Lent is special, taking place within the parish phase of the three-year-plus Eucharistic Revival. Since Jesus in the Eucharist is the source and summit, the root and center of the Christian life, Lent, too, should draw its life from the Eucharistic Jesus and lead us to him. It’s important, therefore, to look at our major Lenten practices through a Eucharistic lens. 

The first is fasting. In the Gospel on Ash Wednesday, Jesus says to us, “When you fast ...” In contrast to many of Jesus’ contemporaries, who fasted for show, supplication, penance and self-mastery, Jesus wants our fasting to be to bring into communion those parts of our life that are not yet united to him, those areas in which Jesus the Bridegroom has been “taken away” and is not yet present. Through Isaiah, God tells us that fasting is ultimately to learn to hunger for God and for what he hungers. 

The reason why the Church has a discipline of fasting before receiving Holy Communion is to help us calibrate our appetites to God’s. Jesus told us, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27). 

Jesus has a huge hunger to feed us. His incarnation, hidden life, public ministry, passion, death and resurrection all culminated in his giving us his Body and Blood, the means by which he would fulfill his promise to be with us always until the end of time. Jesus’ most eager desire, as he told us on Holy Thursday, was to celebrate “this Passover,” the new and eternal covenant, with us. He wants us to hunger for him, to work for the food he himself will give us more than a greedy Wall Street trader works to make money. That’s the ultimate purpose of our specifically Eucharistic fast as well as all fasting.

But our hunger to eat his flesh and drink his blood is meant to lead us to draw our whole life from him. A Eucharistic life extends beyond Mass. 

A second major Lenten theme is the desert. Jesus calls us, especially in Lent, to “come away for a little while to a deserted place to rest a while” (Mark 6:31). Each Lent, the same Holy Spirit whom St. Luke tells us led Jesus into the desert wants to guide us into the desert with him, so that we, apart from distractions, in sacred silence, can prayerfully focus on who we are and on our relationship with God and others — and, with Christ’s help, can confront and overcome the way that the devil seeks to distort those relations and that image. 

Satan’s final temptation in the desert was to promise Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would fall down and adore him. Jesus replied, “The Lord your God shall you adore, and him alone shall you serve” (Luke 4:8). 

We’re called to adore and serve the Lord. Pope Francis says that we’re always adoring either the Lord or something or someone else. Eucharistic adoration helps crush our idols: our disproportionate focus on work, material possessions, entertainment, our families, or our egos. In the state of the desert, spending time with Jesus in prayerful adoration, we learn how to prioritize him, to unite all parts of life to him, and to ensure that he alone is our God. That’s why Eucharistic adoration is so important in Lent and life.

The third Lenten practice is almsgiving. Giving himself to us in the Eucharist, Jesus seeks to transform us to live truly Eucharistic lives, giving our own body and blood out of love for others. Jesus began the celebration of the first Mass on Holy Thursday, washing the feet of the apostles as an example for them likewise to serve others with love. 

Jesus prepared the apostles for the Eucharist through the miraculous multiplications of the loaves and fish, in which he sought to get them to share his mercy with the crowds. Our contact with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is meant to impel our charity. St. Teresa of Calcutta used to stress that the same Jesus who says, “This is my body,” tells us, “I was hungry and you fed me.” 

A final Lenten theme is the spiritual work of mercy of sharing the faith. On Ash Wednesday, St. Paul, as an ambassador of Christ, summons us to seize the day of salvation and be reconciled to God. Jesus’ plan for us, just like his first followers, is that, after being with him, he can send us out as ardent apostles to complete his saving work. Lent is a time in which the Lord Jesus wants to renew us not just in holiness but Christian mission. The celebration of the Mass, in which we receive the Lord Jesus within, finishes with the Lord’s blessing and the command, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” 

Our Eucharistic relationship with the Lord is meant to make us all ambassadors of Christ: God, as it were, appealing through us. In the Eucharist, we’re called to recapitulate the mystery of the Visitation, in which Mary went with haste to take the in utero Savior to St. Elizabeth and St. John the Baptist; after receiving the same Lord Jesus in Holy Communion, we are similarly impelled urgently to bring Jesus to others so that his joy may be in us and our joy perfected can make them, too, leap for joy.

Right after the consecration, we underline this connection between Mass and mission. The priest says, “The Mystery of Faith,” and we show the connection between our faith in Jesus’ Real Presence and our sharing it in two different acclamations: 

“We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again,” and “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.” 

In the Eucharist, we are called both to proclaim Jesus’ self-giving death for us and our salvation as well as profess his resurrection, that the Eucharist is Jesus’ risen Body and Blood, with us until the end of time in the new modality the Resurrection makes possible. Like the disciples in Emmaus after Jesus celebrated Mass in their home, we are called to go forth to share with burning hearts the joy he gives when he comes into us. 

We’re all called to be contagious witnesses of the mind-blowing self-gift of Jesus in the Eucharist, to take him out in processions in monstrances and within ourselves, to help others learn to relate to him in his Eucharistic presence as those 2,000 years ago related to him in his tunic and sandals. 

“Missionary outreach,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Sacramentum Caritatis, “is thus an essential part of the Eucharistic form of Christian life.” The Eucharistic Jesus must be the central content of our sharing and living the faith, because the Eucharist is not a “thing” but the Lord himself. 

This Lent is a sacred and propitious time to recommit ourselves to these essential Eucharistic dimensions of our Christian existence, as we, through fasting hunger for Christ in the Mass, go into the desert to adore him outside of Mass, are impelled by him within toward Eucharistic charity, and are commissioned by him to proclaim his presence by word and life.