Offers food for thought
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Readings: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16; Psalms 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20; First Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58
The Eucharist is essential to Catholic belief and fundamental to Catholic life, the source and summit. Let’s take a story that some people are familiar with, and change the standard characters Priest and Student, to Father and child! It goes like this… A father, while getting his children ready for Mass one morning, was asked by one of his older children “daddy, why are we Catholic”. The father easily answered: "Because of the Resurrection." The child, familiar with the fact that there are children of many faith traditions at school, said: "That explains why we’re Christian, but why are we Catholic?" Again, without hesitation, the father replied: "Because of the Eucharist"!
The father in the story knows his faith and true to his promises at the baptism of his children, engages and forms them to understand and to live their faith. This is, ideally, how it’s been since the conversion, in Christ, of the first families. It was then and now remains a fundamental responsibility of parents toward their children. It was so, until the rise of Martin Luther in 1517, when among other doctrines, Transubstantiation was challenged. Although it had been firmly believed and authoritatively taught since the time of the Apostles. I’m sure you’re very familiar with the history of the ‘Protestant Reformation’.
In response to specific denials of the validity of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, during the 13th session of the Council of Trent in 1545, reaffirmed the doctrine and definitively taught that transubstantiation is, “that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood - the species only of the bread and wine remaining - which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation.”
The Catholic Church, in its ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ manifestations, has unceasingly continued to believe and teach this truth. (CCC #1374). The Eucharist is not a mere symbol of Christ's spiritual presence. It is not an sentimental remembrance. It is Jesus Christ, truly present [body, blood, soul and divinity] in, what is aptly referred to as, “this living and holy sacrament”. A symbol points to a reality, like an exit sign on the freeway points towards a road or a town. But, to believe with the Church, is to believe that the Eucharist is the sacrament of sacraments, to which all sacraments are ordered as to their end. (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III,65,3).
The sacraments are chosen instruments of divine power. They are “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” As outward signs they are God’s means of conveying unseen grace into our souls through things, words and gestures which give significance to what is being done. By divine institution and through divine power, God raises these mere symbolic things, words and gestures to necessary elements through which sacramental graces can be effectively imparted. With this in mind, we can better understand that every time an ordained priest validly pronounces the words of consecration at Mass – it is both Christ himself who acts and Christ himself who becomes present in a mysterious / sacramental way. Therefore, St Paul can say, in today's second reading, Holy Communion is a "participation" in the body and blood of Christ. And as Jesus says in today's Gospel Reading, - 6 times - that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink.
As important as it is to understand what we believe about the Eucharist, it’s also important to recognize that it’s very human to ask why Jesus would create such a mysterious and so difficult to believe way of being present to us. The answer is in the question, it seems. To fulfill his promise to be with us to the end of the age, he provided a way for his own life to flow through the entirety of our being; to accompany us always and everywhere, into everlasting divine union. He provided it through the most basic and tangible means for a human being to experience, as actual food and drink. Just as God desired to be fully revealed to us in the most comprehensible manner for us, as one of us. We might say that revealing himself to us in the elements of bread and wine are a constant tangible reminder of how much we are loved by God. He humbled himself and became one of us. He humbles himself every day in every Catholic Church by manifesting his presence to us in the Eucharist. Two persons become one in Communion, truly, a divine union foreshadowing the everlasting divine union. No one and no thing should be an obstacle to our coming to be one with the Lord and, through that oneness, to find the strength we need to live life, with faith, hope and love.
How can it be true?
Why is it so difficult for people to believe that Jesus would and could, make himself truly present in the way in which Transubstantiation describes? We ‘believe’ in ghosts, aliens, the Loch Ness Monster, demons, angels, astral projection, bi-location, levitation, telepathy and any number of other things for which there is either no evidence or limited anecdotal evidence, apart from those things which may be reference in the divine Word of God. If, as we believe, there is a God who created all there is; and if that God is, as we believe, one God in the three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and if the Son could become one of us by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin… Is it so impossible to believe that that same God, by the work of the Holy Spirit, could make simple substances such as bread and wine, substantially become the body and blood of the Son?
We might also consider, not that God is required to offer ‘proof’ of the truth regarding the Eucharist, that many times throughout the history of the Church God has allowed Eucharistic Miracles to take place which do remind us of the reality of the central miracle of the Eucharist. There are documented cases of consecrated hosts that have begun to bleed, that have turned into flesh, that have been miraculously preserved in the midst of devastating fires.
The Eucharistic Celebration
If a person is never taught or like the Jews in response to the teaching of Christ, reject the truth, then it becomes increasingly easy to become convinced that attending and participating in the Eucharistic Celebration is not necessary or is of cursory value. It becomes easy to justify staying at home to pray, or attending only on ‘special occasions’, or going to services offered by ecclesial communities of other Christian traditions. But Mass is not just a time for praying; it is a time for celebrating community. That cannot be done at home; we can only do that together. The Church is constituted by Christ as his mystical body and so by definition is a community. It is made manifestly present as the members of the body are gathered for worship. Mass does not make a community. The community, as the mystical body of Christ, necessitates the Mass. The ‘Body of Christ’ is gathered by its head and is nourished physically and spiritually by the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ. We are not drawn simply in observance of the law to “Keep holy the Sabbath day.” We are not drawn as spectators or indifferent observers as we would go to watch a movie or a sporting event. We are not drawn in order to be entertained by the music, lights, church lobby amenities or dramatic sermons. We are not consumers of a product… but rather, we are drawn to give and receive, to offer worship and praise, to nourished and called to account, to be humbled and raised up.
Pope Benedict said, “The best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself well celebrated.” If I believe, with the Church, then I will be impelled, drawn by the Spirit of God I have received to gather and to worship. I will be impelled to prepare myself in mind, body and spirit so that my dress, my manner and my participation truly reflect my desire and to worship solemnly and appropriately, as is due my God.
This is also why, impelled to generously and appropriately adore God in and through our Eucharistic Celebration, we use precious metals, beautiful adorn the house of God with beautiful and valuable art, we celebrate with splendor and joy, we genuflect when we cross in front of the tabernacle, we dress respectfully and elegantly when we come to Mass, we never receive Holy Communion without having been to confession, if we have committed a mortal sin. Whenever we are inside the Church, we speak with a reverent and respectful tone of voice, in humble recognition of Christ's presence and out of courtesy towards those who are prayerfully preparing. When we celebrate, we do so with beautiful music, vestments, incense, candles, and many other details that aide us in the fullest expression of our faith and openness to receive God’s grace.
But that cannot be the extent of our response. Our experience of worship and reception of the Eucharist must also continue our transformation. If we truly believe that the Eucharist is the sacrament of God’s love for us, then we who partake of it must also be motivated and filled with love. For Christ's grace to make us more like him, we need to intentionally, sacrificially and uncompromisingly live just as Christ lived. Our daily lives must reflect the Eucharist we celebrate. Each day, we must give of ourselves, pour out our lives in service and in love of others. We can find no greater joy in life than to spread to others the love we have received from Christ.
That which we celebrate at Mass, we must live in daily life.
Peace doesn't just happen; it's made.
CampusPadre is a college ministry Priest Chaplain with 30 years experience in youth and young adult ministry, who strives to let the Holy Spirit lead and challenges students to seek holiness above all.