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“Ask a Priest: Can you explain the connection between the priesthood, the Eucharist, and the Church?”
Q: For the past three Sundays our priest has asked us to pray for vocations to the priesthood and then said, “Without priests there is no Eucharist, and without the Eucharist there is no Catholic Church.” Please explain. Thank you. -K.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: That is a memorable way of describing the link between the priesthood, the Eucharist, and the Church.
It echoes the language of St. John Paul II in his last encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia. In that 2003 encyclical the Pope wrote that “the most holy Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself, our passover and living bread.” In No. 26 of the document he added that “the Eucharist builds the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist.”
The Church is also called the mystical body of Christ. We are incorporated into this mystical body at baptism. This body — indeed, each of us — needs to be nourished to maturity. That nourishment comes, in part, from the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Little wonder that the Catechism, No. 1324, says, “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.'” The Eucharist is the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ himself, under the appearances of what looks like simple bread and wine.
We believe Christ is present in the Eucharist because he himself said so. On Holy Thursday night, “Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins'” (Matthew 26:26-28).
At the Last Supper he also instituted the priesthood, giving mere men the power to consecrate bread and wine in his name and under his power. This is essentially the heart of each Mass: a re-presentation of what Christ gave us at the Last Supper: the gift of himself in the Eucharist.
The fruit of this sacrament, worthily received, is nourishment for the soul and a growth in the practice of charity and — this part might help us understand your priest’s comment — stronger bonds of unity within the Church. The Eucharist brings us closer together and helps us think and love in union with one another.
The Eucharist is a catalyst and point of union for Catholics. If a community wants the Eucharist, it needs a priest. A priest receives ordination from a bishop and assists him in ministering to the flock. The bishop is a successor to the Apostles and is named by the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter, whom Jesus designated as the visible head of the Church on earth. Hence we can see a link between the Eucharist and the Vicar of Christ.
And where do priests come from? They come from families, but the call to the priesthood comes from Jesus, who urges us to “ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Matthew 9:38). One of the best ways to pray for vocations is Eucharistic adoration. Hence the connection between priesthood, Church and Eucharist comes full circle.
I hope this helps. And I would encourage you to pray for vocations. If you find a young man who is interested in the priesthood, think about directing him to vocation.com. God bless.