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The Holy Eucharist:
Christ's True Presence for Mobilizing
the Catholic Family in Today's Cultural War

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

It is perhaps remarkable that we should be addressing ourselves to what must seem like a strange subject: The Holy Eucharist: Christ’s True Presence for Mobilizing the Catholic Family in Today’s Cultural War.

My plan for this conference is to cover two major subjects: Christ’s true presence in the Blessed Sacrament, and the Eucharist as foundation of the Christian family. We must first make sure we understand that Jesus Christ is on earth today in the Blessed Sacrament. Only then can we intelligently speak on the Eucharist as the foundation for mobilizing the Catholic family in today’s cultural war.

Christ in the Eucharist, Presence and Reality

Our first purpose will be to defend the following thesis: that the Holy Eucharist is Jesus Christ, who is in the Blessed Sacrament both as Reality and as Presence. He is in the Eucharist as Reality because the Eucharist is Jesus Christ. He is in the Eucharist as Presence because through the Eucharist He affects us and we are in contact with Him- depending on our faith and devotion to the Savior living really in our midst.

Eucharist as Reality. There have been before modern times two major crises of faith in the Real Presence in Catholic history.

The first crisis occurred in the early Middle Ages when theological speculators, mainly in France, raised doubts about the reality of the Blessed Sacrament. This first crisis reached a peak in the person of one Berengarius of Tours who died in 1088 A.D.

Pope Gregory VII ordered Berengarius to subscribe to a profession of faith that has become the cornerstone of Catholic Eucharistic piety. It was the Church’s first definitive statement of what had always been believed but not always so clearly understood.

I believe in my heart and openly profess that the bread and wine placed upon the altar are, by the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of the Redeemer, substantially changed into the true and life-giving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that after the consecration there is present the true body of Christ which was born of the Virgin and offered up for the salvation of the world, hung on the cross and now sits at the right hand of the Father and that there is present the true blood of Christ which flowed from His side. They are present not only by means of a sign and of the efficacy of the sacrament, but also in the very reality and truth of their nature and substance.

Words could not be clearer. If reality means actuality, and if actuality means objectivity, then the Catholic faith believes that the Christ who is in the Eucharist is the Christ of history, the one who was conceived at Nazareth, born at Bethlehem, died and rose from the dead at Jerusalem, and is now seated at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.

Four centuries after Berengarius arose the second crisis of faith in the Eucharist at the time of the Protestant Revolution. And once again the Church countered at the Council of Trent to revindicate the Reality of the Christ who is in the Blessed Sacrament.

The Tridentine declaration of faith is not unlike that required of Berengarius a half millenium before. “The holy council teaches,” declared Trent, “and openly and straightforwardly professes that in the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is truly, really and substantially contained under the perceptible species of bread and wine.”

Four centuries after the Council of Trent the Church is now in another crisis of Eucharistic faith and specifically of faith in the Real Presence.

Unmistakable evidence of such a crisis is seen in the practical disappearance in many dioceses of the Forty Hours’ Devotion; the corresponding disappearance of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; the complete revision of constitutions of once flourishing contemplative institutes that concentrated on worship of the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar; the widespread neglect of showing any signs of reverence to Christ’s Real Presence in the tabernacle; the removal of the tabernacle in churches to some obscure and hidden place where the Real Presence is isolated from even possible devotion by the faithful; the mounting literature in nominally Catholic circles that seldom touches on the Real Presence or explains it in a way agreeable to Protestants who do not believe in Christ’s bodily presence in the Eucharist, but totally incompatible with the historic faith of Catholicism; the circulation of religious education textbooks, teachers’ manuals, and study guides that may make a pious mention of the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament but leave a distinct impression that this presence is secondary to the Catholic faith and is certainly not a cardinal mystery of the Church founded by Jesus Christ.

Although seldom adverted to, part of the same crisis about the Real Presence is the contemporary laicization of the Catholic priesthood. Priests are said to be mainly preachers of the word or ministers of the Gospel or organizers of Christian communities, or spokesmen of the poor or defenders of the oppressed or social leaders or political catalysts or academic scholars or theological appraisers of the faith of believers.

So they are. But is that all? No. The primary meaning of the priesthood is its relationship to the Eucharist as Reality, as Sacrament and Sacrifice. And among these three primarily as Reality, made possible by priestly consecration.

Once again as in previous ages the Church’s Magisterium has reaffirmed the Real Presence but with nuances that were not called for in previous times.

Pope Paul VI in Mysterium Fidei was concerned about those who “spread abroad opinions which disturb the faithful and fill their minds with no little confusion about matters of faith.”

Among these opinions was and is the theory that so redefines the meaning of the Eucharistic Presence as to deny the fact of the Eucharistic Reality. It is as though someone said, “I believe in the Eucharistic Presence but not as Reality."

Eucharist as Presence. This brings us to the second dimension of our subject: the Eucharist as Presence. The moment we hear the word “Presence” we think of a personal relationship between two or more people. We are present to someone or someone is present to us when we are aware of them and they of us; when we have them on our minds and hearts, as they think of us and sense a kinship and affection for us.

We are not exactly present to stones and trees, nor they to us. So that presence implies rational beings.

Presence therefore does not deny physical reality, because two people can be both near to each other in body and intimately united in spirit. But neither does presence require nearness in body. It rather stresses intimacy of mind and heart.

Herein lie at once the dignity and danger of some current theories about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. There are those who laudably emphasize the subjective aspect of Christ’s presence but at the expense of the objective reality.

Let me not be misunderstood. There is great need, even crucial need, to talk about and act upon the awareness of Christ in the Eucharist and to raise our sentiments of love toward Him. But this cannot be at the expense of ignoring or transmitting the prior fact that Christ is actually in the Eucharist, that in the words of the Church’s solemn teaching He is “contained under the perceptible species of bread and wine.” What was bread and wine after the words of consecration is no longer bread and wine but the living, physical, bodily, in a word, the real Jesus Christ.

The Eucharist: Foundation of the Christian Family

We do not normally associate the Holy Eucharist with marriage and the family. But we should. Without the Eucharist, there would not be a livable sacrament of matrimony or a stable Christian family.

What are we saying? We are saying that Christ intended these two sacraments to be related as condition and consequence. The Eucharist is the condition, and matrimony as the core of the family is the supernatural consequence.

Surely this calls for an explanation, and a clear explanation. Needless to say, this is a most important subject. It is so important that the survival of Christian marriage and the Catholic family depend on it. Are we serious? Yes. The Holy Eucharist is indispensable for living out the supernatural, and therefore humanly impossible, demands that Christ places on those who enter marriage in His name.

My plan is to cover the following areas of this fundamental issue.

  • Christian marriage in the family is a life-long commitment to selfless love.

  • This selfless love is impossible without superhuman strength from God.

  • The principal source of this superhuman strength is the Holy Eucharist.

  • Christian spouses and their families are a living witness to Christ’s power to work moral miracles today.

  • The single most important need for Christian families is a renewed faith in the Holy Eucharist.

  • A strong Eucharistic faith is what young Christians especially need to evangelize the world in the twenty-first century.

Christian Marriage and Selfless Love

Christ instituted the sacrament of marriage in order to restore marriage to its monogamous position before the fall of our first parents.

When some Pharisees came to test Jesus by asking Him: “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for any reason,” Jesus answered and said to them, “Have you not read that the Creator from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? Therefore now they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19:3-6).

But Christ did not stop there. He not only told His followers that marriage is a lifelong commitment that no human authority can dissolve. He further commanded those who call themselves Christians to love one another with such selfless charity as to be willing to die for one another after the example of His own selfless love of dying for us on the Cross.

This is Christian marriage as elevated by Him to the sacrament of Matrimony. It is a lifetime covenant between husband and wife, to remain faithful to each other until death. It is also a lifelong promise, made to God under oath, to love one another with selfless charity, enduring patience, and whole-hearted generosity. Even more, it is a solemn vow to accept the children that God wants to send them and educate their children for eternal life in heaven with God.

Since the time of Christ, there have been many breaks in Christian unity. There have been many departures from the Catholic Church. There have arisen numerous churches, calling themselves Christian. Why the departures? Why? The main single reason has been the unwillingness to accept Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility and fruitfulness of Christian marriage, founded on selfless charity.

Need for Superhuman Strength

It takes no great intelligence to see that a faithful and fruitful marriage requires superhuman strength. Change the word “superhuman” to “supernatural” and we begin to see what we are talking about.

Catholic Christianity is unique among the religions of the world, whether ancient as among the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans before Christ, or among the living religions of the human race.

Catholic Christianity is unique in making demands on the morality of its believers that are beyond human nature by itself to live up to. The two hardest demands are the practice of Christian chastity and Christian charity. Combine these two virtues, and we begin to see why Christian marriage and the family require, indeed demand superhuman power from God to remain faithful for a lifetime.

This is what Christianity is all about: living a superhuman life by means of superhuman grace provided by Christ to those who believe that He is God who became man to enable us to witness to His Name.

That is why Christ elevated marriage to the dignity of a sacrament. He had to, otherwise what He commanded His married followers and their families would be an idle dream. There are certain things that human nature, by itself cannot, and the word is “cannot” do. Like what? Like living for a lifetime in loving family partnership, without being seduced by the selfishness and sex perversion that surround us like the atmosphere we breathe.

The Eucharist Provides Superhuman Strength

Entering marriage for believing Catholics is one thing. Living in Christian marriage and raising a Christian family are something else. That is why Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The moment we say, “Sacrament of the Eucharist,” we mean a triple sacrament:

  • The Sacrifice-Sacrament of the Mass

  • The Communion-Sacrament of Holy Communion, and

  • The Presence-Sacrament of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist to give those who believe in Him the power they need to remain alive in His grace. For married Catholics and their families this means the light and strength they must constantly receive if they are to live out the sublime directives of the Holy Spirit for Christian believers.

They have no choice. The world in which they live is:

  • an adulterous world

  • a contraceptive world

  • a masturbating world

  • a homosexual world

  • a fornicating world

  • an abortive world that murders unborn children in their mothers’ wombs.

Not to be deceived by this world, whose prince, Christ tells us, is the devil, Catholic husbands and wives and their families need the light that only Christ can give. He is available with this grace through the Holy Eucharist.

Not to be seduced by this world, master-minded by Satan, Catholics need the courage that only Christ can give. He tells us not to be afraid. Why not? Because, as He says, “Have confidence, I have overcome the world.”

What is He telling Christian spouses and their children? He is assuring them that He is still on earth in the Blessed Sacrament; that He is still offering Himself daily on our altars in the Sacrifice of the Mass; that He is literally, physically giving Himself to them in Holy Communion. Why? In order to enable them to do what is humanly beyond their natural intelligence to comprehend and beyond their natural will power to perform.

Catholic families have no choice. The psychological pressure from the world, the flesh and the devil is too strong to cope with by themselves.

The Holy Eucharist must remain, if it already is, or become, if it is not, the mainstay of their family lives. This is no option. It is a law of spiritual survival for Catholic marriages and families in every age, and with thunderous emphasis, in our day.

At the turn of the century, Pope St. Pius X identifies the first meaning of the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The primary meaning of this petition refers to the Eucharist. We are asking God in the Our Father to open the minds and hearts of believers to their need for daily Mass, daily Holy Communion, and some daily praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Why? To provide us with the daily sustenance that our life of grace requires.

I am speaking to professed Catholics. I am speaking about Catholic marriage and the family. I am speaking to those whose union in Christ must be preserved by Christ, nourished by Christ; grow in loving chastity and charity as prescribed by Christ.

Twenty centuries of Catholic-Christianity prove that the Holy Eucharist is absolutely necessary for married Christians to remain faithful to each other, and selfless in their mutual love. The Holy Eucharist is absolutely necessary for Catholic families to remain united in a world of selfish instability.

Witness of Christ’s Power to Work Miracles

If there is one thing that stands out in Christ’s visible life in Palestine it is His power to work miracles.

In one chapter after another of the Gospels, Christ performed signs and wonders that testified to His claims to being one with the Father and that, without Him, we can do nothing to reach our eternal destiny.

  • Christ changed water into wine at Cana in Galilee.

  • Christ restored sight to the blind, and speech to the mute.

  • Christ cured paralytics so they could use their limbs.

  • Christ calmed the storm at sea by a single word.

  • Christ even raised Lazarus from the grave. When He told the dead man to “Come forth,” what had been a decaying corpse came out of the tomb as a living human being.

But, Christ’s greatest miracles were not His power over the physical laws of nature. They were His power to change unbelieving minds to become believers in His word, and unbelieving hearts to become men and women of heroic virtue.

The pagans of the first three centuries A.D. were converted to Christ when they saw Christians practicing chastity and charity. It was especially the faithful and fruitful love of married Christians and the stability of Christian families that changed the history of the human race.

Where did the early Christians receive the incredible strength they needed to live in holy matrimony and propagate the faith through their saintly families? Remember, to become a Christian in those times meant to expect martyrdom. Where did Christians receive the superhuman power to live such superhuman lives? Where? From the Holy Eucharist.

It is not commonly known but should become known that in the early Church Christians heard Mass and received Holy Communion every day. The Holy Eucharist was brought to them in person as they were awaiting martyrdom by fire or the sword, or by being devoured by wild beasts.

We turn to our own day. What Christ did during His visible stay on earth in first century Asia Minor, He has continued doing down the ages by the exercise of His almighty power available in His invisible presence in the Holy Eucharist.

  • It is the same
  • Physically same,
  • Historically same,
  • Geographically same,
  • Really same Jesus Christ who worked miracles at the dawn of Christianity, who is now present in the Blessed Sacrament, offering Himself in the Mass, and received by us in the Holy Eucharist.

What do we conclude from this? Obviously, that Catholic families be witnesses in our day to Christ’s power in their lives, as were the Christians who were mangled by lions in the Roman Coliseum, or, like St. Thomas More, was beheaded by order of a lecherous king who discarded his wife in sixteenth century England.

The Greatest Need Today

This brings us to our next reflection. I make bold to say that the single most important need for Christian marriage and the family is a renewed faith in the Holy Eucharist.

There is an outstanding statement in the Gospels about Christ performing miracles. The evangelists tell us that Jesus could not work miracles among some people because of their lack of faith.

Notice what we are saying. We are saying that the Almighty Master of heaven and earth, the Creator of the sun, moon and stars, when He became Man was unable to exercise His omnipotence because of some people’s lack of faith. Of course, this means that He could not, because He would not, work miracles where the people refused to submit their minds in humble belief to His Divinity.

Now we turn to our own time and place. Would anyone doubt that in our nation in the last decade of the twentieth century, we need an avalanche of moral miracles to preserve marriage and the family from disintegration by the demonic forces let loose in our country today?

Only God can work a miracle and we need to change the figure, an ocean of miracles in America, as in Canada as in England, and France and Germany and Scandinavia, to mention just a few materially wealthy countries that are in desperate need of divine grace where so many are walking in darkness and the shadow of eternal death.

Jesus Christ is the infinite God who became man. He became man not only to die for us on Calvary. He became man to live with us in the Holy Eucharist.

Catholics have a grave responsibility. They are to stir up their faith in this continued presence of Jesus, now on earth, in our cities, in our day. They are to obtain for themselves and for their contemporaries the power to live their married lives according to the teaching of Jesus Christ. He instituted the sacrament of matrimony and the Christian family to be a constant witness in an unbelieving world to what only God-become-man can achieve.

This divine power is accessible in the Holy Eucharist to those who are willing to believe. In the measure of our faith, we shall mobilize the Catholic family in today’s cultural war. Even more, with Jesus Christ, living among us in the Blessed Sacrament, we shall overcome the world.

Copyright © 1997 Inter Mirifica

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