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

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Priesthood and the Eucharist

John Cardinal Wright
(from a conference in Seoul)

The following may or may not be relevant, but to me it is, therefore I shall begin with this observation:

Recently I visited three booksellers in Rome, seeking books on the priesthood. I found several on the ministry of priests, some about the crisis of the priestly ministry, others providing sociological studies of contemporary priestly ministry. There were books on the problems of priests in the world of today. I did find one book "On the Joy of the Priest," only one; also, one on the future of the ministerial priesthood. Its title was "Will There Be Priests For Tomorrow?"

I did not find one book on The Priesthood and the Eucharist, except one written by Cardinal Lepicier over forty years ago: "The Eucharistic Priest."

I wonder if this absence of books relating the priesthood to the Eucharist may not explain the cries of alarm about the future of the priesthood which fill so many other books?

I begin our reflections on the priest and the Eucharist by asking this fundamental question: What does the man of today desire from the priest?

Here is the answer of a man of great intelligence and authority, Jean Guitton. I beg you to meditate on the warm, moving words of this layman, a French intellectual:

"I fear that the priests of the future, in their noble aspiration to mix with us laity, may be tempted to come too close to us, wasting both time and energy seeking to speak our jargon, to adopt our way of acting, our attitudes and habits, our agitated lives and occupations. When I listen to my young priest-friends, I feel uncomfortably conscious that they do not seem to appreciate sufficiently the dignity of their proper and special vocation. The priest is not a functionary of either a social, political or psychological organization.
And so I say to them: what we layfolk ask of you is to give us God, and this by means of your exclusive powers of sacramental absolution and the consecration of the Eucharist. We ask you to be constantly conscious of the fact that we look to you as the representatives among us of the Eternal.
Therefore we need you in our midst, men who will remind us of the fact that He is closer to us than we can possibly imagine."

Priest's Unique Task

Here, then, is the one important thing, or at least the principal thing that the man of today expects of the priest: to bring God into our lives and, in particular, to accomplish reconciliation between us and the all merciful God, to give us the Bread of Life and thus enable us to live in the Absolute.

These unique ministries of the priest make him the only person in society who can communicate to the man of today the life of God Himself, who can give to the starved man of today the very Body of Christ, Emmanuel, God-among-us.

But, there is no Eucharist without the priest. We can say more: the ministerial priesthood is substantially related precisely to the Eucharist, as Vatican Council II affirms:

"In the mystery of the Eucharistic sacrifice…the priests exercise their principal function…because the priests alone have received from Christ Himself the formidable power to render present, sacramentally, His Body and His Blood, to perpetuate through the centuries the sacrifice of the Cross." (Decr. Presbyt. Ordinis, n. 13).
The Council of Trent teaches that Jesus instituted the sacrifice (eucharistic) and the priesthood (ministerial) of the new and eternal Covenant at the Last Supper:
"Our Blessed Lord, was about to offer Himself, once and for all, to the Father on the altar of the Cross where His death would accomplish the eternal redemption of men. But His priesthood was not to end with His death. Therefore, at the Last Supper, during the night of His betrayal, He willed to leave to His beloved Spouse, the Church, a visible sacrifice, necessary as such to our human nature….Therefore, in His quality of Eternal Priest according to the order of Melchisedech, He made the oblation of His Body and of His Blood, to God the Father under the species of bread and wine. Then, He gave that Body and that Blood to the Apostles who were constituted at that moment priests of the New Testament, and lastly, with the words: 'Do this in memory of Me,' He commanded the Apostles themselves and their successors in the priesthood to repeat that same oblation." (Sess. 22, e.l.)
Jesus Himself wanted to prepare "His own" to understand this "tremendous Mystery of Faith" and He started immediately at the beginning of His preaching by making the Eucharist the center and the test of faith in all Christian life, but above all in the priestly life.

Jesus Himself, St. John tells us in his Gospel, preaching on the shores of the lake of Galilee, after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves of bread, placed at the center of His life and of His mission of salvation the Eucharist and made belief in His Real Presence in the Eucharist the test of faith in all His teachings not only for the crowd but also for His disciples and for His twelve Apostles.

"Believe Me, I tell you: you seek Me now…because you have eaten of these loaves, and you were satisfied. But seek not the food that perishes, but the food that the Son of Man will give you, which will last unto eternal life; because it is He whom God the Father has countersigned with His own seal… 'I am the Bread of Life…I am the Living Bread…I am the Bread of Life come down from Heaven.'…"
And what was the reaction of the crowd? They "murmured" against Him. So Jesus said again explicitly: "…the Bread that I will give you is my flesh sacrificed for the life of the world." After these words of the Lord they all started "discussing" or, as we might say nowadays: they started a "theological dialogue," saying: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" But Jesus said to them: "Believe Me when I say to you: if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you will not have life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is truly food and my blood is truly drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him."

At these words of Christ, many disciples exclaimed: "This language is difficult, who can admit it?" But Jesus did not revoke a single word. Once again He repeated the same precise words: "It is the Spirit that gives life…." "The words that I say to you are spirit and life…." And from that moment many of His disciples withdrew and no longer walked with Him. Even the Twelve were troubled, so Jesus said to them: "Do you also want to go away?" Simon Peter answered Him: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life and we have believed and known that you are the Christ the Holy One of God" (John 6).

Mystery of Real Presence in the Center of It All

Thus, Jesus Himself placed the Eucharist, that is, the mystery of the Real Presence of His Body and His Blood, in the center, in the heart of life and faith of His disciples, of His young Church. Thus, the Divine Master tested the faith of the crowd, of the disciples and of His very own Twelve Apostles, His hierarchy.

And so He does even today. It is not only by putting the Eucharist in the very center of our Christian life, in the life of each one of us, as Vatican Council II teaches us to do, but by making of it the proof of our truly Christian faith that Christ constructs His community, the Church.

Today also there are some who cannot endure this mysterious doctrine of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ among us and of the "Living Bread!" Today also there are those who complain, who "discuss" and debate about the mystery of the Eucharist. They do not wish to follow the Lord and so they go away even today.

Saint Thomas Aquinas accepted with joy the fact of the Real Presence of Christ in the "Living Bread" and he preferred to write hymns and praises about the Eucharist rather than to discuss with excessive theological explanation this great Mystery of Faith! If Saint Thomas acted so, woe to the theologians who approach too close to the "Mystery of Faith," explaining it with erudition, sometimes even with too much speculation and science, instead of accepting it with faith and adoring it with joy, as did Saint Thomas.

Once again, during the Last Supper, Jesus placed the Eucharist in the center of His life and His mission of salvation: "I have greatly desired to eat this Pasch with you before suffering. This is My Body…This is My Blood…Do this in memory of Me."

The words of the Lord to the Twelve at the Last Supper were no longer a test! Now we are already in the reality of the Eucharist, of the "Memorial" of His Paschal Mystery, that is, of His blessed death, of His glorious resurrection and of His glorification!

The Twelve no longer "discussed;" they no longer "murmured"… They rejoiced as priests to be in the Reality, the Reality of the Body and of the Blood of Christ (cf. Col. 2:17). They had received, as we [priests] have received, from the Lord the mandate to repeat the very same mystery, to reproduce this Reality "until He shall come": "Do this in memory of Me!"

With these words the Lord established and manifested an essential connection between the Eucharist and the priesthood. Without the priesthood the Eucharist cannot be, and there is no priesthood without the Eucharist. It is for this reason that the Church of ancient times up to this day, has always united the priest's ordination with the Eucharistic celebration; the presbyterial consecration, that is, the sacramental-ministerial consecration, is accomplished only during the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

By this sacerdotal ordination, the priest has been constituted a minister of Christ, the living instrument of the Divine Word, True and Eternal Priest. These are the words of the Council:

"With the Sacrament of Orders, the priests are configurated to Christ Priest, as ministers of the Head….In the mystery of the Eucharistic sacrifice, priests exercise their principal function and the work of our redemption is achieved uninterruptedly, therefore we warmly recommend the daily celebration of the Mass which is an act of Christ and of His Church." (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 13).
So, here it is! Through the hands of the priest, the work of our redemption is operated uninterruptedly each day.

Because Jesus came on earth purposely that men might have life and an abundance of life (John 10:10), so for priests Christ, present and operating in the Eucharist, is the living model of sacerdotal life and of pastoral action.

Let us conclude our conference on the ministerial priesthood and the Eucharist with the following thought of Thomas a Kempis: "What a wonderful mystery is this great dignity of priests, to whom is given that which is not given even to the angels! Priests alone, being rightfully ordained in the Church, receive the power to celebrate and to consecrate the Body of Christ."

This is why Pope Paul VI, on 28 June 1964, shortly after his elevation to the Chair of Peter, spoke these words: "The Catholic priesthood is not a substitute for Christ, but it personifies Him."

There is no priesthood without the Eucharist; there cannot be any Eucharist without the priesthood; there is no priesthood, nor Eucharist, without Christ.

This is the profound theological meaning of the words of Jesus: "Do this in memory of Me." The key words which solemnize the institution by Christ of the ministerial priesthood in its eternal relation to the Eucharist.

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