The Holy Eucharist is the profound sacrament of the Church, the profound expression of God's love for His people. In this sacrament, we have the ultimate expression of the mutual expression of love between God and man. God, by giving us Himself in the Eucharist, gives Himself to us in a way which is total, and which places Himself completely at our disposal. It is a form of limited consecration to us, and through this He asks us to give ourselves to Him completely, to fully consecrate ourselves to Him. By being consumed by us, He gives us Life. This desire on His part for mutual love and self-giving is the essence of the Eucharist, for in giving Himself to us, He gives us not just eternal life but a share in His Divine Life. It is the Eucharist which is the heart of the Mystical Body.
If the Eucharist is a sacrament of Love, it is necessarily a sacrament of union. As Boylan says1, "All love demands union; the more ardent the love, the more complete the union it seeks. The love of our Lord for us is no exception." It is through the operation of the Eucharist that He brings us to union with Himself, and it is through the Eucharist that He communicates to us His Divine Life, His Divine nature. We see this desire for union in the married state. The greater the love, the greater the desire for union, and in the union there springs forth life. So, too, with God. The married state is a prefigure of the union we anticipate with God. St. Paul, in 1 Cor 6:16, calls marriage the symbol and shadow of the still more intimate union of Christ with His Church. Since we are His Church, the Mystical Body, it is a union of God with us that St. Paul refers, or rather a union of us with God. If we look at the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper, as told by St. John, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, it is a prayer of union. It is no coincidence that Our Lord gave us this prayer at the very ceremony at which He gave us the means to effect this union.
We also see that Our Lord has continued His love of contradiction with the Eucharist. When He chose His disciples, He told them they would be fishers of men. These fishermen knew well that when they fish, the fish are alive and, when caught, they die. When they fish for men, the men are spiritually dead, and in being caught they receive eternal Life. In the Eucharist we have a similar contradiction. Ordinary food is consumed and becomes that which consumes it. In the Eucharist, we consume God and become that which we consume.
Jesus did not merely become one of us, suffer human hardship, and die for us. He loves us with such a complete and infinite love that He wants us completely united with Him. He wants to give of Himself to us over and over through the Eucharist so that more and more we may share in Him; that more and more, as Jesus said2, "... they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, ... . The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are One." To do this, He provided us with this most perfect means of unity; the Eucharist.
This infinite Gift, this Most Perfect of all possible gifts, comes to us in the most humble way possible. Through the action of the priest, simple unleavened bread, and simple wine, each become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of the living and triumphant Jesus Christ, the same Jesus Christ Who defeated satan and conquered death. Through the action of the priest, Jesus has given us this most profound sacrament, this most unimposing means to share in His Divine Life, this most astonishing gift of Himself as our most precious of all possible foods. He has given us the ultimate gift of His Love. There is nothing else in all of creation that can compare with this gift. It is Divinely unique.
Not only has Our Lord given us this gift of the Eucharist, He has told us, in this prayer at the Last Supper, the effects of the Eucharist. It is stated in such simple terms, and yet has such profound meaning. We shall abide in Him, and He shall abide in us. We shall be united with Jesus in the most intimate of all possible ways. He shall give us His Life, just as His Life was given to Him by the Father.
Boylan tells us that the results of reception of the Eucharist can be considered in three ways: union with Christ, spiritual nutrition, and its special signification with the Passion of Christ3. With regard to the first effect, union with Christ, St. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 10:16-17, that we do in fact receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. He refers to it specifically as communion, not as participation. For St. Paul, it is a common union of God and man. St. John Chrysostom says, referring to St. Paul, that we do not just participate with Christ in receiving communion, we unite with Him. This union is not mere metaphor; it is reality. A reality that calls forth from us the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love.
Boylan also tells us4 that when we receive the Eucharist, mindful of what is taking place, we should take this opportunity to give Him our heartfelt thanks for the privilege of receiving him, recognize our need for His love and express our love for Him, to request the grace to love him more, request the grace to conform our lives to His will for us, and offer ourselves to Him for Him to make of us that which He wants us to be.
As our spiritual food, when we receive the Eucharist we participate in the enigma whereby we become that which we consume, instead of that which we consume becoming us. It is by means of the Eucharist that the Mystical Body is put into effect, for it is through the Eucharist and the effect of its transforming union of us with Christ that we become full members of this Mystical Body. In Baptism we receive that which is essential and sufficient for our salvation. In the Eucharist, we receive that which is essential for the perfection of the Mystical Body and our individual perfection as Christians5.
If we consider again the words of Christ in John 6:57, "He that eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood, abides in Me and I in him", we see a profound expression of His love for us. If we love another, we desire to be identified with that other. We speak of a married couple as if it is a single thing. We do not refer to married people so much as individuals as two people who have become as one. We use common expressions like, "we think this or that", or "we don't feel this or that". It is a unity of being without a loss of individual identity. This expression of Jesus' love for us reported in John tells of His desire to be united with us in a most intimate, and eternal, way. He could only express this desire if He also had the love which calls it forth. He gave us all of Himself on the Cross for the sake of this unity, and continues to give of Himself every day in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass.
The power of the Eucharist is also expressed by Boylan6 when he tells us, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, that "There is nothing in our selves or in our past that one Communion cannot more than repair - if we have but enough faith! Listen to St. Thomas: 'This sacrament contains in itself Christ crucified (Christum passum). Whence, whatever is the effect of the Passion of Our Lord, all that is likewise the effect of this sacrament.'". As Boylan so aptly puts it7, "whatever our sins have done to us, the Holy Communion can repair; and whatever our sins have done to God, the Mass - which is part of the Eucharist - can restore." This means we must have unlimited confidence in God's love for us and His willingness to do whatever He can to bring us to Himself. The only thing He needs from us is our willingness, our submission of our free will to His will for us. There is nothing He will not do for us, for He is our Saviour in every sense of the word. He places Himself at our disposal, and in return asks only our cooperation. And he even gives us what we need to do this, for it is such a contradiction with reason that it takes His grace to help us realize this extent of His love, this self-gift of His in the Eucharist. If you believe, you have received His grace as His free gift.
The effects of the Eucharist are like the effects of food for our body. Food sustains life, and the Eucharist sustains the life of the soul. It gives us the grace we need to deny ourselves and to life for Christ, to live for our Life. The more love we have for Christ, the less self-love we have. The more we love God, the more we can resist temptation, and so the Eucharist strengthens us spiritually. Thus, the Eucharist has the effect of bringing to life the virtues in us so that we can live the life of Christ in us. But just a ordinary food can be effected only when properly digested, so to the Eucharist can only produce its good effects when we are properly disposed to receive it. The Eucharist is a sacrament of Life, and so we must be spiritually living to have its effects. If we are spiritually dead, we must first receive the sacrament of spiritual resurrection, the sacrament of Reconciliation, so that which is dead is brought back to life. Then, having received life, we can receive Divine union.
Boylan tells us8, again quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, that all the sacraments receive their power from the Passion of Christ, but "the Eucharist is 'the perfect sacrament of the Passion' for it contains Christ and the whole power of His Passion." It is thus through the Eucharist that we can receive the effect of the transforming union with Christ.
We can have all this if we but surrender our will to that of Christ. To do so is our greatest accomplishment. To do otherwise is our greatest tragedy.
1 Boylan, Dom Eugene, This Tremendous Lover, Christian Classics, Westminster, Maryland, 1989, pg 159.
2 Gospel of John, John 17:21-22.
3 Boylan, p 162.
4 Boylan, p 162.
5 Boylan, p 163.
6 Boylan, p 165.
7 Boylan, p 166.
8 Boylan, p 170
THE REAL PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST
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