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THE REAL PRESENCE The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST

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The Holy Eucharist: The Mystery of Faith

by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke


My second reflection upon the Church’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist centers on the first chapter of Pope John Paul II encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in Its Relationship with the Church)," which is titled "The Mystery of Faith." It is a particularly fitting reflection during the holiest days of the Church year, in which the Holy Eucharist was instituted and Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary, which it makes present, was accomplished. Before I enter into a reflection on the Holy Eucharist as the Mystery of Faith, however, I draw your attention to a most important event in the archdiocese, which is directed toward the richer participation in the Sacred Liturgy, especially the Holy Mass, by all the faithful.

Gateway Liturgical Conference

The Gateway Liturgical Conference will be held at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Downtown St. Louis from the afternoon of Thursday, April 7, to the afternoon of Friday, April 8. The conference is geared toward priests, deacons, consecrated persons and lay faithful who have responsibility for the Sacred Liturgy in their parishes or who simply desire to deepen their knowledge and love of the Church’s public worship. A number of excellent presenters from the archdiocese and from other parts of our nation will offer sessions, treating a great variety of liturgical matters.

The opening address on Thursday afternoon will be given by Msgr. James P. Moroney, a priest of the Diocese of Worcester and currently executive director of the Secretariat for the Liturgy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He will speak on the development and completion of the vernacular edition of the Roman Missal for the United States. Msgr. Moroney serves not only the Conference of Bishops in our nation but also the Holy Father’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, to which the Holy Father has named him a consultor.

The archdiocese is most deeply honored by the participation of Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in the Gateway Liturgical Conference. Cardinal Arinze will give the keynote address on Friday morning, speaking on the topic, "Liturgical Norms and Liturgical Piety." He will follow his address to all of the participants with a workshop on liturgical reform for priests, seminarians, deacons and liturgists. Cardinal Arinze will help participants in the conference to gain a firmer grasp of the liturgical norms in the "General Instruction of the Roman Missal" and in the "Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (On Certain Matters To Be Observed or To Be Avoided Regarding the Most Holy Eucharist)." The cardinal is a most engaging presenter who will draw upon his rich knowledge and love of the Sacred Liturgy.

Please consider taking part in all, or at least some, of the Gateway Liturgical Conference. Because of the fundamental importance of the subject matter, I am asking all of the priests of the archdiocese to participate in, at least, the Friday morning sessions with Cardinal Arinze. The seminarians at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary will take part in these sessions. If you wish more information about the conference or need assistance in registering for it, please contact the Office of Worship of the Archdiocese at (314) 792-7230 or I hope that you will be able to join me, together with other faithful of the archdiocese, at the Gateway Liturgical Conference.

Eucharistic Sacrifice

After the consecration of the bread and wine at Holy Mass, that is after the bread and wine have become truly and completely the Body and Blood of Christ, and after the priest has shown the sacred species, the Body and Blood of Christ, to the congregation and has adored Christ by genuflecting before the Sacred Host and the Precious Blood, he immediately invites the congregation to proclaim the mystery of faith. The congregation then sings or says: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" or one of the other memorial acclamations which all have the same content: Christ’s Passion and Death, His Resurrection and His return in glory at the end of time. The memorial acclamation reflects the deepest truth about the Holy Eucharist, the inseparability of the Holy Eucharist from the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.

Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist on the night He was betrayed, the night before His cruel Passion and Death. He instituted the Holy Eucharist so that the fruits of His Suffering and Dying on the Cross on the next day would be constantly offered in the Church, to all peoples of every time and place. The Mass, as the Holy Father declares, "is indelibly marked by the event of the Lord’s Passion and Death, of which it is not only a reminder but the sacramental re-presentation" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 11a).

Christ desired that the sacrifice which He was going to offer on Calvary on Good Friday continue always in the Church, and He fulfills His desire by the most wondrous sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, in which He, acting through His minister, the ordained priest, offers ever anew, now in an unbloody manner, the one sacrifice of His life on the Cross. In a concise and striking manner, our Holy Father describes the inseparability of the Sacrifice of Calvary and the Sacrifice of the Mass:

"This sacrifice (of Calvary) is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after He had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits" (no. 11c).

The Holy Eucharist is indeed the "inestimable gift" of Christ to us, before which the only fitting response is adoration. The Sacrifice of the Holy Mass truly makes us present at the Sacrifice on Calvary.

The Holy Eucharist is not just one of the many gifts which Christ has left to us in the Church. It is the gift of Christ’s true Body and Blood, the gift of the whole fruit of His saving Passion and Death (no. 11b). All the other gifts of Christ to us are only fully understood in relationship to the gift of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Banquet. That is why the Holy Father rightly first turns to the teaching on the Holy Eucharist in assisting us to carry out the new evangelization.

Christ’s Universal Charity

Contemplating the face of Christ at the Lord’s Supper and at every celebration of the Holy Mass, we contemplate His love, the incarnation of Divine Mercy which "knows no measure" (no. 11c). When Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist, He declared the bread to be His Body given for us and the wine to be His Blood poured out for us. The Holy Eucharist is not simply a partaking in the Body and Blood of Christ, not simply a banquet, but is always, at the same time, a sharing in Christ’s sacrifice. The heavenly Bread, which is the Holy Eucharist, is essentially sacrificial, it is the Body and Blood of Christ, offered and poured out for us as He gave up His life for us on the Cross. The sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated at every celebration of the Mass. Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ is always participation in Christ’s Suffering and Dying.

It is important to understand that the sacrifice of Christ is one. "The Eucharist thus applies to men and women today the reconciliation won once for all by Christ for mankind in every age" (no. 12b). This is the great wonder and treasure of the Holy Mass. The Mass is not an additional sacrifice to Calvary. It is not a constant multiplication of the one sacrifice of Calvary. It is the sacrifice of Calvary, it is Calvary’s "commemorative representation," which, by the universal charity of Christ, makes his "one, definitive redemptive sacrifice always present in time" (no. 12c).

In the Sacrifice of the Mass, Christ offers Himself completely to God the Father. God the Father, in response to the total obedience of His Son, gives Christ eternal life by raising Him from the dead. We, the Church, sharing in Christ’s sacrifice — in the love which God the Father and God the Son have shared, in the Holy Spirit, from all eternity — are called to offer ourselves in union with Christ. We are called to share in His universal charity, which "knows no measure." Through the Holy Eucharist, God the Father responds to our sacrifice with the gift of eternal life.

The Real Presence

Pope John Paul II reminds us: "The Eucharistic Sacrifice makes present not only the mystery of the Savior’s Passion and Death, but also the mystery of the Resurrection which crowned his sacrifice" (no. 14). Christ can only become the Bread of Life for us because He is risen from the dead and is alive for us in the Church. We refer to the living presence of Christ with us in the Holy Eucharist as the Real Presence. In order to help us understand more fully the meaning of the Real Presence, our Holy Father recalls for us a text of Pope Paul VI, who explained that the term does not imply that the other presences of Christ in the Church are "not real" but underlines that the eucharistic presence "is a presence in the fullest sense: a substantial presence whereby Christ, the God-Man, is wholly and entirely present" (no. 15a).

The proper term for the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, which takes place during the Holy Mass, at the consecration, is transubstantiation. No other term has been found to be as adequate in pointing to the Eucharistic mystery. Theologians and saints, down the Christian centuries, have desired to plumb more and more the depth of the mystery of the Eucharist, of the profound reality which transubstantiation expresses. Often, too, their love of the Holy Eucharist and desire to express their love has taken poetic form, for example, the hymn of St. Thomas Aquinas, "Adoro Te devote (Devoutly I adore You)," to which our Holy Father refers. Once again, Pope Paul VI underlined the truth which must be reflected in our thinking, speaking and writing about the Holy Eucharist:

"Every theological explanation which seeks some understanding of this mystery, in order to be in accord with Catholic faith, must firmly maintain that in objective reality, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the consecration, so that the adorable Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus from that moment on are really before us under the sacramental species of bread and wine" (no. 15c).

Eucharistic banquet

Christ makes Himself substantially present to us through the Holy Eucharist with one only end in view, namely that we may receive Him in Holy Communion. "The Eucharistic Sacrifice is intrinsically directed to the inward union of the faithful with Christ through communion ..." (no. 16). The Holy Eucharist is true spiritual food, Christ nourishing the life of the Holy Spirit within us through the reception of His glorious Body and Blood. The sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John helps us very much to understand the Eucharistic Banquet. Christ made it clear that only by eating His Body and drinking His Blood can we have life within us. The disciples understood the true import of His teaching, for, from that day, some refused to believe in Him and left His company.

Holy Communion, participation in the Eucharistic Banquet, is Christ’s way of sustaining His life within us, poured out in us at the moment of our baptism, and strengthened and increased within us from the moment of our confirmation. The Sacraments of Initiation —Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist — are essentially related to one another. "Thus by the gift of His Body and Blood Christ increases within us the gift of His Spirit, already poured out in Baptism and bestowed as a ‘seal’ in the sacrament of Confirmation" (no. 17).


Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ is already now a participation in the fullness of communion with God, which will be ours, God willing, in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Holy Eucharist is likewise the spiritual Food to sustain us along life’s pilgrimage home to God the Father. In the wonderful words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Holy Communion is "a medicine of immortality, an antidote to death" (quoted in no. 18). That is why the Church so much desires that the dying receive Holy Communion and calls the Holy Communion of the dying by a special name, Viaticum, "food for the journey" from this life to the life which is to come.

The fact that Holy Communion is an anticipation of the life to come also means that it commits us to preparing the day of Christ’s final coming during each moment of our lives. The account of the institution of the Holy Eucharist in the Gospel according to St. John underlines the mandate which the Holy Eucharist is for us. It is a sharing in the outpouring of Christ’s life for the love of all; it contains the command to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters, without distinction or exception. I conclude my reflection with the inspiring words of our Holy Father:

"Proclaiming the death of the Lord ‘until He comes’ (1 Cor 11:26) entails that all who take part in the Eucharist be committed to changing their lives and making them in a certain way completely ‘Eucharistic’" (no. 20c).

May you have a blessed celebration of the Sacred Triduum and of the Easter Octave. During these holiest of days, may you receive strong grace to make your life "completely Eucharistic."

St. Louis Review Online
March 25, 2005

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