I attended an excellent talk last night by Fr. Gabriel Pivarnik, OP, on the participation of the laity in the Eucharist.
He recalled the fact that Sacrosanctum Concilium famously (in some circles, notoriously) stated, "Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy." To "full, conscious, and active," Pope John Paul II has added "fruitful" as a condition for a "successful" liturgy. Put another way, he is reuniting the opere operato and the opere operantis, the "work of the work" with the "work of the worker."
Put yet another way, the measure by which the Liturgy should be measured is not "doing the rites right," but "living less wrong." It's all well and good that the sacrifice of bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, however miserable the priest, the congregation, and the liturgy. But the purpose for which Jesus gave us the Eucharist is nothing less than our sanctification in Christ. If we fail to be sanctified -- if we fail to go forth and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and preach the Gospel to every creature -- nothing is taken away from Christ. He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself, but we prove our faithlessness.
To my mind, this idea goes a long way toward resolving one of the great puzzles of the Catholic experience: how the grace we receive before the altar can so thoroughly and promptly evaporate. I'd been thinking that something must happen in the walk from the church through the parking lot to my car, that somehow I left my vices in the narthex on my way in and picked them back up on my way out.
According to Fr. Pivarnik, though, this is not the case. The problem is not with what happens after I join in the Eucharistic liturgy, or before; it's what happens while I join in. I don't do it right. And he is surely correct in this. I come to Mass with certain expectations; I participate in Mass according to my own rules and understanding, which do not, considered honestly, include the sort of radical transformation Christian discipleship demands. Be more patient, be a better husband and father? Yes, these things I ask for from the Eucharist. Become another Christ? No!
But becoming another Christ -- if you prefer, becoming joined to Christ in His prayer to the Father -- is precisely what the Divine Liturgy is! That's what our actions, our gestures, our words signify. If that's not what our interior posture is as well, then we absolutely are doing it wrong.
Not utterly wrong, perhaps. We might still receive grace. I may be a better husband and father for receiving Communiuon. But how can I receive the fullness of grace if I not only don't ask for it, but in a way don't even really want it?
What is this fullness of grace that I don't even really want from the Eucharist? It is participation in the divine life of the Trinity. And who wouldn't really want that?