It is fairly common when speaking about mental prayer on social media that a fellow traditionalist will pop into the thread and proclaim that the Eucharist is the only means of intimacy with God that we need. This reflects a deep misunderstanding of both the sublime encounter with God in the Eucharist and the relationship between the graces received in the Eucharist and mental prayer.
The Eucharist is the Source and Summit of our faith. When we encounter Christ there, we encounter Him in the deepest intimacy possible in this life. However, the Eucharist isn’t magic. If we come with hearts laden with sin and attachments, we create barriers for the grace that the Lord desires to give us. As we see in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians we can approach the Eucharist in a way that is profoundly destructive to our souls and even our temporal welfare.
So it is clear that how we approach the Lord in this great encounter determines the grace we receive. A good disposition brings more grace and poor disposition hinders grace. He is always willing to give us all we need to become saints at every encounter. However, the problem is within us – the barriers are within us. This is where mental prayer comes in.
Living the contemplative, a life of prayer and ascesis mitigates these barriers and enables us to approach the Lord in the Eucharist with open and pure hearts and to thus receive all the graces that He desires to give. Mental prayer is as essential to this great encounter as is being healthy before surgery. The great Physician is ready to heal and restore us to health and beyond, but if we are sinful and neglectful of our physical health, the benefits are outweighed or mitigated by our neglect. We nullify the work of the great Physician.
If we allow ourselves to be purified and transformed by the power of the Eucharist, we will naturally be drawn to extend that encounter in mental prayer. It will animate and elevate our ongoing conversation with the Lord and make us desire more time with Him in prayer. An encounter with God in the Eucharist that does not bear fruit – in this case, a deeper life of prayer – is sterile.
There is nothing more powerful to prepare for the Source and Summit than the contemplative life. There is nothing more fruitful and important for the contemplative life than the Eucharist. To pit them against one another, or to ignore one as if it were unnecessary is to squander the fruits of both.
PS: Thanks to Claire Dwyer for edits