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Devotion to the Real Presence and Growth in Sanctity

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

First, what do we mean by the Real Presence?

By the Real Presence we mean the Presence now on earth until the end of time of Jesus Christ. True God and True Man in the fu11ness of both natures contained by the Eucharistic species. He as it were dwells, that's where Christ in the fu11ness of His human and divine natures abides. The Latin phrase is Connitator. It is though we have Jesus Christ inside there in a way that He is not present anywhere else except in heaven. What do we mean by the Rea1 Presence? After the Consecration we distinguish philosophically between substance and accident. The substance is that which makes a thing what it is and underlies its properties, but the properties, but the properties can change. The substance remains. We are the same substance from the time we were conceived in the womb to the present moment. Our accidents or properties have certainly changed. Now some questions:

  1. After the consecration is the substance of bread and wine on the altar? No.

  2. After consecration are the accidents of bread and wine, are the physical properties of bread and wine, rea1 physica1 properties on the altar after consecration? Yes, that's the first miracle of the Real Presence. There are two miracles to the Real Presence. The first miracle is that you have real physical properties minus their substance. The first miracle of faith in the Eucharist is in the Real absence of the substance of bread and wine. You can taste, you can touch, you can feel but the substance is not there.

  3. Is the substance of Christ's Body and Blood on the a1tar after Consecration? Yes. In other words, does Christ have the organs of His Body, does He have His Hands and Feet, and Features, His Eyes, and Mouth, and Eyes and Heart? Do they have size and dimension and color? Is the human mind of Christ thinking in the Eucharist? Is the human will of Christ in the Eucharist loving? Yes. Is the whole Christ there? Yes. The fourth yes, is the second big mystery of the Real Presence. The first mystery is that we have accidents without their substance. The second mystery is we have physical properties without their visible sensibly perceptible manifestation.

Teaching, therefore, devotion to the Real Presence as a means of growth in sanctity should begin with the one who does the teaching, him or herself knowing exactly what the Real Presence means. What does it mean? It, first of all, means that in the Eucharist we have the whole Christ. The Council of Trent gave us the term which is part of our faith, in the Eucharist we have the Totus Christus. The whole Christ. Saying that we believe as Catholics that in the Eucharist Christ is present with the fullness of His divine nature and the fullness of His human nature. There is no problem whatever or no test of the faith to say that Christ is present with the fullness of His divine nature because Christ had been present as God on earth long before the Incarnation took place. Christ as God is everywhere! The real test of faith is whether we believe Christ is present not only as God but is present as Man...Nor is that enough. It is not merely that He is present as Man but that He is present as Man in the fullness of His bodily or corporeal nature and in the fullness of His spiritual human nature. Nor is that enough. We believe that in the Eucharist is present Christ with His Body and Blood which are living and possess all the physical properties that any living human being has. So too with the soul. That soul is united with Christ’s humanity. It is therefore a soul with a mind. Christ has two intellects; He has two wills. Consequently, Christ is present in His soul with the fullness of His human mind and His human will and both distinct from the Divine mind and will.

What is the simplest way of identifying the Real Presence? The Real Presence is Jesus Christ who is living in heaven at the right hand of His heavenly Father and on earth only and exclusively in the Eucharist. To summarize, therefore, the Real Presence refers to that reality which constitutes the Living Christ. And just as truly us Christ was really present in the fullness of this human and divine natures only within the limits of that Child whom Mary loved at Bethlehem and outside of Him though God was surely present but Christ was not present as the God-Man in the straw in which He lay at Bethlehem. He was not present in the air that He breathed, He was not present as the God-Man in Mary or Joseph. He was present only and uniquely in that human being Who was born on Christmas day. The Eucharist began in the womb of Mary. Augustine’s phrase “the flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary", is beautiful. It means that when we believe in the Real Presence we believe that having risen from the dead and ascended at the right hand of His heavenly Father, Christ did not leave the earth. The real difference between anyone else and a Catholic is that a Catholic believes that Christ is present in heaven and on earth. The expression and on earth is our faith in the Real Presence. The discovery of the full reality of the Real Presence I consider one of the greatest graces in the spiritual life. A lot of believers don't really see it. That’s the foundation!

Now the history of spirituality as related to the Real Presence. Here you could choose the life of any saint ancient, medieval or modern; if you want to know that relationship there is between devotion to the Real Presence and growth in sanctity read the lives of the saints and look for this. They all had it. Not all the biographers don't have that strong of faith themselves. One of the simplest ways of promoting devotion to the Real Presence among those in formation is to get them to read from and about these saints about whose devotion to the Rea1 Presence we know the most. Once it dawns on you then you deal with Him as you deal with the living Christ. You talk to Him; you know He is there listening. He sees you; and with the eyes of faith you see Him. Being in the company of Christ is not the same as knowing in whose company you are. This is one grace that I urge you to get for yourselves and then to urge those who are in the religious community to pray for, for themselves. Some young people may have it. Converts have it. Most of the time that’s how their conversion starts. (Story of "Springum", the convert who painted in Catholic Churches) (end 6 Chapter John - Doctrine of Eucharist) (Promised never to point in any place except where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.)

Consequently, one of the most effective ways of inspiring religious to be more devoted to the Real Presence is to expose them to the life history of the great men and women who have reached sanctity because of their own great devotion to the Real Presence. A few names are: the outstanding theological writer on the Real Presence is St. Alphonsus Ligori; St. Peter Julian Eymard the founder of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers and Brothers. His writings about the Real Presence are especially important because they bring out how Christ in the Real Presence is to be imitated. This Christ who is imitable is imitably from His visible stay on earth and from His Eucharistic stay on earth. Among the virtues that Peter Julian brings out that Christ wants us to especially imitate in the Eucharistic Presence are His patience, His love, His obedience and with strong emphasis His humility. A .third saint is St. Margaret Mary. The two books that are easily available in English translated are her letters and her autobiography. (Mr. Harry John financed the translation and circulation of these two books.) Margaret Mary’s devotion to the Eucharist was so deep that devotion to the Sacred Heart she says, “is devotion to the Real Presence to the Holy Eucharist.” There is no devotion that modern Popes have more emphasized than devotion to the Sacred Heart. For the best reasons; because the Eucharist is the Sacred Heart...making sure that we know His physical Heart is there. Now an analysis of both the why and the how of cultivating devotion to the Real Presence and this fostering sanctity.

Why? There are three principal reasons why devotion to the Real Presence is such an effective means of fostering holiness:

  1. There is no single mystery of our faith that more surely strengthens the faith than this mystery. It is no wonder that it has been called the mystery of faith. To believe in the Real Presence is to believe in everything else, the Trinity, the Redemption, the Incarnation. We know how demanding this faith can be from that 6th chapter of John, the only occasion when we know His own disciples walked from Jesus was when He announced the Real Presence. The complaint has been repeated over the centuries. This is intolerable language. Who can believe it? Those who want to believe it. But let's make sure we know what the object of this faith is. It is not that Christ is present there as God. He was, on earth before the Incarnation. It is not even that the substance of Christ’s Body and Blood is there. It is that Christ is present with His physical properties. It is that we believe that Christ is there with that which we cannot see, which we cannot touch, which we cannot experience with our bodily senses. The "Tantum Ergo" Faith supplies the defect of the senses. Christ has His sensibly perceptable properties in the Eucharist and I believe they are there though my senses cannot perceive them. As we hold our faith in twice tested in the Eucharist. Christ's comtempories during His visible stay on earth saw only a man and believed that behind that man is God. We see only the Eucharistic species and behind them we believe there is a man and behind Him there is God. So first faith. Anyone who is weak in their Eucharistic faith, will be weak right down the line across the whole spectrum of the mysteries of Christianity. The main reason for the defection of 10, 000 priests in the United States since the Second Vatican Council was a weaking of faith in the Real Presence. That is absolutely and incontestibly true. A priest whose faith in the Real Presence is strong, is a priest who is faithful to His priestly duties, devoted and with God’s grace is effective in winning souls.

  2. The Real Presence, because it is a sacrament, confers the grace that is proper to this sacrament. What is the grace? The grace to love. So why is devotion to the Real Presence so important? Because it is especially through faith in the Eucharist that we obtain an increase of the virtue of charity, both towards God and towards our fellow man.

  3. Why devotion to Eucharist is so valuable for promoting sanctity? Because it fosters community worship. Something mysterious happens when a group of people worship together before the Real Presence. In other words, they receive grace from that Real Presence that is absolutely unique and that is why communities as communities who want to become strong and stable must have communal devotion to the Eucharist. This is so true, that under no matter what guise of excuse a community weakens in its corporate devotion to the Real Presence, that community is in trouble, and if it is not careful, is in danger of disintegration.

How to foster progress in holiness through greater devotion to the Real Presence:

  1. Be sure you yourself know the meaning of the mystery of the Real Presence and explain it accordingly to others.

  2. To make sure there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the Eucharist is sacrament three times over. It is sacrament as sacrifice in the Mass; it is sacrament as communion when received; it is sacrament as just being present, which means, Christ just because He is present on the altar gives grace. How does He give grace? Infallibly as the “ex opere operato” just because the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, therefore everyone who comes before that presence no less than everyone who came before the presence of Christ during His visible stay on earth. You couldn’t be in Christ’s Presence without being affected by Him. Everything else about the religious life is secondary. Either Christ is the Center the Community or we don’t have a community.

  3. The holy hour. This is something that goes back to Christ's agony in the garden, when He asked Peter, James, and John to watch with Him. Then Margaret Mary quoted Christ several times. Christ's greatest sorrow as He expressed was that consecrated souls are so careless about this. Archbishop Sheen preached the holy hour in season and out of season. He didn't miss a holy hour once from his ordination until he was laid up in the hospital. So the holy hour. If it has to be broken up, get an hour in, OK? You spend one hour before the Blessed Sacrament each day besides the Mass and you've saved your soul and you become a true religious.

  4. Encourage people when they have the option to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. That does not mean that prayer that is not before the Blessed Sacrament is not very efficacious. But other things being equal, when I have the option, to spend the time there.

  5. Asking for a deeper faith in the Real Presence. If Christ tells us, "ask and you shall receive." Our asking Him for a deeper faith He will give it to us.

  6. Just want to be with the Eucharistic Christ, for no other reason. You don't know why. You just want to be around and as far as possible do what you have to do there. Do your work before the Blessed Sacrament. Get the idea He is there. Anything you can do before the Blessed Sacrament I do it. So just be with Him; and find any excuse to be with Him.

  7. In terms of the how religious should be apostles of the Real Presence. In other words, they themselves are so imbued with faith in Christ’s Eucharistic Presence that they want to tell everybody else about It and they take every reasonable and if need be unreasonabe occasion to tell people. Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament meant everything to them. So, explaining the Real Presence, encouraging devotion to Real Presence.

Compare the Real Presence with the Mystical Body of Christ.

Both are realities. Christ now has two existences which until He died on the Cross He had only one. Perhaps we could put this in stages. Before the Incarnation, God was present on earth only as God. With the Incarnation God became present on earth as the God-Man. The distinctive difference between Christ's presence on earth since the Incarnation and before, the distinctive difference is His humanity. There is now a human being who is hypostatically, that is totally, and substantially united with the divinity present: in the world of space and time. The moment Christ died on the cross, the Mystical Body came into existence. The Physical Body of Christ came into existence at Nazareth when Mary said, “Be it done to me according to Your word”. The Mystical Body came into existence the moment Christ pronounced the words, “It is finished”. “Into your hand I commend my spirit”. The moment Christ died what had been only the physical Christ now took on in addition His members with whom He united Himself as their head. The Mystical Body of Christ, therefore, is the Church. The Mystical Body may also be called the communion of saints. The Mystical Body is that communion of the souls in heaven, the souls in purgatory, and the living who are in God's grace and members of the Church on earth, who are the members of what we call the Mystical Body, whose head is the Physical Body. So the Mystical Body is a society; the Mystical Body is a group of people united with Christ. The Mystical Body has a soul. The soul of that Mystical Body is the Holy Spirit. St. Paul distinguishes - he never mixes the two up; he never confuses the Physical Body of Christ with the Mystical Body. The physical Body in Greek is Sarx; the Mystical Body or the Church in Paul is Soma. What's the difference? The difference between the Physical Body of Christ and the Mystical Body of Christ is all the difference between Jesus Christ who is the Son of God, that became the Son of Mary, and the society of all those who are united with Christ joined to their head. The Mystical Body as such is not sensibly perceptible. You cannot see the Mystical Body as Mystical Body with your senses. You do not directly touch this Mystical Body but the head, Christ, is sensibly perceptible, the members are as members sensibly perceptible. The Physical Christ is Jesus; the Mystical Body is the Church.

We receive the Physical Body of Christ substantially. We receive the rest of the Mystical Body in spirit or voluntionally because Christ has all of us on His mind; He has all of us in His heart, is so far as the whole Church is on Christ's mind and in Christ's heart to that extent we receive what is on His mind and in His heart.

The Physical Body of Christ by Christ's own command is necessary to keep the Mystical Body of Christ alive. In other words, the members of the Mystical Body who are still struggling on earth will not remain united with that Mystical Body unless they receive the Physical Body. They will not grow in union with Him; they will not grow in union with one another, unless they receive the head of the Mystical Body in the Eucharist. The one is a condition for the other. Remember until we reach the Beatific Vision we can be separated from Him. Consequently we must constantly strengthen our bonds with Him at the risk of losing that union when we mainly strengthen our bonds with Him through the Eucharist. That is why it is called the sacrament of unity. We are all naturally individual persons, separate, distinct from one another. Nature divides; grace unites. The principal source of that which unites is the Eucharist. That's why Christ couldn’t have as He did at the last supper the command to love one another as He has loved us unless He gave us the means. He made sure He gave us both the command and the means on the same occasion.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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