An interesting discussion with Michele Thompson about how the Eucharist is foundational and transformational. It's the cornerstone of our journey of mission - taking the message of Christ beyond the church walls.
As we continue our winter pilgrimage through the season of Advent, the coronavirus pandemic still dominates media headlines – particularly the impact of variants like Omicron. As a Catholic community, we support each other and remain vigilant to ensure our churches are safe places to worship.
The Bishops of England and Wales are encouraging all Catholics to reflect on the centrality of the Eucharist to their lives and take into consideration their personal circumstances and the reasons as to whether they can now attend the Sunday Eucharistic Celebration.
For this third discussion in our series Dies Domini – Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy, our Mission Adviser, Elliot Vanstone and Natalie Orefice from the Archdiocese of Birmingham have an interesting discussion with Michele Thompson about how the Eucharist is foundational and transformational. It’s the cornerstone of our journey of mission – taking the message of Christ beyond the church walls.
Michele has spent seven years working in evangelisation for the Diocese of Plymouth and is co-founder of the Genesis Mission – an initiative that prepares disciples for mission in the Catholic Church.
Welcome back to our discussion on the document Dies Domini written by Pope St. John Paul II. In this discussion, we’re going to focus on his teaching ‘From Mass to Mission’, which is so very important for all of us. I’ll quote from the document and what John Paul II tells us here:
For the faithful who have understood the meaning of what they have done, the Eucharistic celebration does not stop at the Church door like the first witnesses of the Resurrection, Christians who gather each Sunday to experience and reclaim the presence of the Risen Lord are called to evangelise and to bear witness in their daily lives.
What a wonderful quote to guide us to our discussion today with such an amazing, important message for us all.
That’s a brilliant quote, Natalie. We’re delighted to be joined by Michele Thompson. Michele, would you like to just introduce yourself and tell us where about you from?
Hello. I’m from the Diocese of Plymouth, and I have been working in evangelisation for around six or seven years for the Diocese. Before that, I was doing youth work in my parish, and I also worked in the Catholic school as a counsellor. I’m also the co-founder of the Genesis Mission, which has developed out of our Diocese down here in Plymouth and concentrates on making disciples and enabling people to be able to share the faith sensitively and appropriately in today’s culture – which doesn’t really support Christianity.
Well, thank you very much for joining us. I think it’s really important to get people with such a vast background in so many different areas of Catholic life. It’s really important you’ve done so many different things, especially within schools, and I think that really will feed into our discussion.
Today we’re going to talk about how receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, especially within the Mass, which we’re filtering back into and hoping to go back to despite the pandemic, we’re filtering back into our churches, slowly but surely, and hopefully that will pick up a little bit now as people get more vaccines and boosters. Michele, I was just wondering if you could explain to us a little bit about how you felt that receiving Jesus in the Eucharist during Mass has helped you to go out on your mission and why you feel it’s important.
Sure. The Eucharist has always been, for me, foundational in our lives as Catholic Christians. From the very beginning, the early apostles and disciples were out witnessing to the death and the resurrection of Jesus – which is how our faith really began. Their intention was to witness to the resurrection because obviously Jesus busted through death into eternal life, and they wanted people to know that Jesus has shown us that death is not the end and there is life beyond the resurrection.
Now to be an evangeliser, the driving force has to be an intense love for souls – for every single person that Jesus wants to bring, to know Him, to have eternal life with God in heaven. So the Salvation of souls has got to be uppermost in our minds if we want to go out and encourage others into a relationship with Jesus. That’s the core message of what He has done for us.
There’s a piece of scripture in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and sin separated them from God. And then God closed the Garden of Eden and sent them out and blocked the way back into the tree of life – because you don’t want them to eat from the tree of life and have eternal life because Jesus would be the new covenant. The fruit that they eat would be Jesus’s body and blood Himself. Through the Eucharist, which Jesus left us, we are now ready to go on mission. So through His body and blood that we take that sends us out on mission.
I loved when you said that Christianity, from the earliest times, the Apostles were witnessing to the death and resurrection of our Lord. In the document Dies Domini, John Paul II really emphasises that every Sunday is a new Easter. Every Sunday we celebrate the resurrection. It is the day of the resurrection, and not only is it the day of the resurrection, it’s another outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Pentecost, because it is the Holy Spirit which transforms the Eucharist into Jesus, which is really just mind blowing to think about that, to think that every Sunday that we relive those events and our Lord comes to us to allow us to go out to witness in our local communities, which can be quite difficult at times.
I think you can have the Sunday to sit and reflect – that’s the important thing. With the lockdown and the churches being closed, we haven’t really been able to differentiate much between being at home and being outside. It’s now a really important thing with the churches reopening that, when we return, that we do need to recognise the fact that our prayer time at home and our prayer time in the church can be centred on different things, but in essence, they are all still prayer – they’re all still our personal conversations with God. A Sunday is there for us to sit back and watch in the same way. Michelle, as you were talking about in Genesis, that on the seventh day God sat back and watched His creation. It’s the same way that us on the seventh day, we can sit back and watch our week. We can reflect on the bad things that we’ve done, reflect on the good things that happened and then build on that in the next week, while all of us, especially in our employment, is focused on mission and evangelisation, we then go out in the next week fueled by the Holy Spirit, touched by the flames of Pentecost of the Sunday, and we go out into our day to day lives and we preach our mission. That’s a very important thing that we have to remember, especially as we are coming back to Mass. Praying at home has been great and it’s allowed people to pray in different ways that they’ve never prayed before. It has allowed people to engage in God, Christ, the Eucharist, even in Mass in different ways than they have before. People have dug up old candles that their gran has given them gave them and lit them, put them on their bedside tables while they’ve watched Mass. We should still cherish those moments, but take some of it back and really harness it and use it in our day to day Mass lives – especially on a Sunday.
That links very well to your Genesis Mission, Michele, and I think the whole point of Genesis is we have to sit and really appreciate. I feel like sometimes it gets a little glossed over, but it is really important in everyone’s day to day lives. I thoroughly enjoyed what you said about Adam and Eve eating from the fruit and the fruit being the Eucharist. I think that’s a very important thing to remember, and it’s our role as Catholics to bear those fruits and take them out into our day to day lives.
I made a pledge some years ago that I would attend Mass daily. My working life changed, so I had the mornings free and someone said to me, “Why don’t you go to Mass every day?” And I was like, “Oh yeah, why don’t I?” So when I started to go to Mass each day, I understood already the reverence to the Eucharist. I really understood and believed that this is the body and blood of Christ. Over time taking the Eucharist every day into myself, which is the most intimate way that we can be in Union with Christ, it has transformed the way I think and the way I behave and the way I respond to others.
I’ve seen the message of Christ transform lives, transform people. The Eucharist is the food of eternal life, but not only that, it’s the food of our life here on Earth to give us the fullness of life that Jesus promised. So there’s this bit on this Earth where we need the Eucharist to keep us from sin and give us eternal life and help us to go forth because we can’t do it in our own strength. It has to come through Jesus and Eucharist. I think it was St. Irenaeus said, “nothing will happen without the Eucharist,” and he was referring to evangelisation.
It’s a very interesting, Michele – great insight into the Eucharist. I was thinking about the Eucharist myself, and I made a point earlier on that throughout the pandemic, even though we’ve been very lucky to have the use of Spiritual Communion, I think that has been an asset, and it has been lovely to pray that. It’s also been nice solidarity to know that you’re praying it while other people are praying. I like that thought as well – when you’re praying it, everyone else is praying it. I have felt physically full, but I have felt spiritually malnourished not being able to take the Eucharist. It’s an important part of my life. Even now, we can’t take the precious chalice, we’re only taking the precious body at the moment because of Covid, I think it’s certainly something that feels like it’s missing. When you don’t have something, you learn to appreciate it. I’m a firm believer in that and I think when you don’t have something, you appreciate it more. That’s the way I feel about the Eucharist. But then the feeling I’ve had about the Eucharist I have had in tandem about missing the Church. I didn’t know how good I had it until I couldn’t go. Now I’m the same as you, Michelle, I’m trying to go every day. Luckily here we have Mass in the Chapel every day, so whenever I’m in the office, I can go. I’m really relishing that opportunity again because I didn’t realise what I had until I couldn’t do it anymore.
Thank you very much for joining us. It’s really important to get these views from lay Catholics up and down the country because it’s a different view on something that we’re all feeling at the moment – we’re apprehensive about returning. I think some of us are even scared – everyone has different circumstances – and it’s fantastic to hear a different perspective. You really have offered a different perspective. So thank you very much for that. I do really appreciate it.