Aware that we Catholics in America have undertaken a Eucharistic Revival, last month I offered a column on the centrality of the Mass in our lives, sparked by my visit on vacation in Ireland to one of their famed and venerated Mass Rocks.

Perhaps I could now consider the three ways we as the Church have always approached the altar and the Holy Eucharist: as a meal; as a sacrifice; as the real presence of our Lord.

This week: the Mass is the Church’s family meal.

How interesting: the final time Jesus was with His apostles before He began His passion was at a meal, His Last Supper, on that first Holy Thursday, the night before He died, where He actually gave us the gift of the Mass.

And the first time He gathered with His friends on the very day of His Resurrection on Easter Sunday? At a meal, with two of His disciples, on the road to Emmaus they stopped at an inn to eat.

We Catholics gather daily to dine with Jesus at the most sacred banquet of them all, the Eucharist, especially on Sunday.

There He is the chef, the waiter, and host at the head of the family table. There He feeds us not with the roast beef and potatoes I enjoyed growing up; not with the pasta so many of us savor on Sunday; but with the bread of heaven, the bread of angels, manna from heaven, His own body and blood in Holy Communion.

The family expects us for Sunday dinner—although I hear many rightly lament the decline in Sunday family meals—and miss us when we’re not there. Jesus, His Church, our spiritual family, expect us at the saving meal of the Holy Eucharist each Sunday. Miss it, and the family misses us, and we miss them.

During Covid, we priests still celebrated our sacred meal of the Mass every day. But, we were mostly by ourselves. True, we realized we were never alone at our family dinner, since Jesus, all of heaven, and our people were there with us…but our people could not be with us in person. Did we ever miss you! You told us you missed us! Because coming together as God’s family for the saving banquet we call the Eucharist is essential for us. As Pope Francis reminds us, “No Eucharist…no Church.”

So, while watching Mass on TV or listening on the radio was sure better than nothing in that emergency, and doing so while sick, frail, or housebound is sure understandable…nothing beats coming to the family table, the altar, to eat as a family the feast prepared for us by the Son of God.

In Mom’s final years, when she was weak and wobbly, what she missed most was Sunday Mass…and secondly, shopping! She sure appreciated Mass during the week when the parish priest would come to the assisted living residence where she lived, and wouldn’t skip it…but she sure missed Sunday Mass at the parish. That’s how she and Dad raised us as kids…you don’t miss Sunday Mass; you don’t miss Sunday dinner.

Never are we closer to Jesus than when we worthily receive Him in Holy Communion at our family meal in the Church, the Mass. As Pope St. Pius X taught, “This side of heaven, we can’t be more united with our Lord than when we receive Him at Mass.”