A Brief Reflection on the Eucharist
The Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The Church rightly gives the Eucharist the title, “the source and summit of the Christian life.” (CCC 1324) A common misconception of the Eucharist is that many Catholics, and non-Catholics alike, believe the Eucharist to be merely a symbol of Jesus. The Eucharist is Jesus Christ, not a symbol of Jesus Christ. Jesus, Himself states this at the Last Supper: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'” Clearly it can be seen that Jesus did not mean this in a symbolic sense. Jesus Christ is “sacramentally and truly present.” (Zia 53)
The elements of bread and wine are transformed by the words of consecration spoken by the priest, who is acting in the person of Christ at Mass. At the words of consecration, the substances of bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus, while retaining their accidental properties, such as looking like bread and tasting like bread.
The Eucharist is not only a meal but also a sacrifice. Both of these qualities take place within the Mass. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “...the Eucharist is also a sacrifice. The sacrificial character of the Eucharist is manifested in the very words of institution: 'This is my body which is given for you' and 'This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood.' In the Eucharist Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he 'poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'” (CCC 1365) “The Mass is understood as the unbloody re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice.” (Zia 54) By re-presenting the Eucharistic sacrifice, all Christians throughout time can be united to this offering.
The elements of bread and wine were chosen by our Lord for a few reasons. Fulton Sheen gives us the first: “Man has traditionally been nourished by bread and wine. When he brings that which has given him physical sustenance, he is equivalently bringing himself. He makes himself present on the altar before God.” (Zia 55) A second reason is that these elements bring to mind creation. And since creation is good, we are giving back to God out of the goodness he has given us. Sheen gives us another reason, explaining that wheat is made up of many grains, and wine of many grapes, and so we who are many, are one in Christ. Another reason, given by Sheen, refers to the sacrificial character of the Eucharist recalling Christ's own brokenness: “Was not the wheat already broken to become bread? Were not the grapes already crushed to become wine?” (Zia 55)
In the reception of the Eucharist, we grow in our union with Jesus. The Catechism says that the Eucharist separates us from sin, and wipes away all venial sins. Who would not wish to receive so great a gift! “The Eucharist both signifies and brings about the unity of the entire Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.” (Zia 56) Through the reception of the Eucharist, “Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body - the Church.” (CCC 1396) There is an old saying “We become what we eat.” The more we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, the more we become like Him. We must become more Christ-like in our lives. We must become an alter Christus, we must become another Christ.
One of the greatest, and most beautiful ways in which to adore and worship Christ present in the Eucharist, is through Eucharistic adoration, also known as the Holy Hour. This beautiful tradition has its foundations in the Bible: “And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, 'So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.'” (RSV Matthew 26:40-41) Pope Benedict XVI, when commenting on Eucharistic adoration, said “In the Eucharist, the Son of God comes to meet us and desires to become one with us; eucharistic adoration is simply the natural consequence of the eucharistic celebration, which is the Church's supreme act of adoration.” (Zia 58) Fulton Sheen was a big promoter of Eucharistic adoration. Sheen's ordination to the priesthood, he made a promise to make a Holy Hour every day!
Kneeling before our Lord in Eucharistic adoration is extremely important. Nowadays, we tend to forget that God Himself, the Creator of the universe, is present in that tiny white host, and therefore think nothing of showing any outward sign of worship due to Him. In fact, St. John Henry Newman, says in his sermon on Christian Reverence, that kneeling is essential in order to give due reverence to God. Fulton Sheen calls to mind certain instances of kneeling in the Bible to show us its importance: “Stephen at his martyrdom (Acts 7:59-60) Peter on his knees before Jesus and before he raised Tabitha from the dead (Luke 5:8; Acts 9:40); St. Paul in prayer (Acts 20:35-36) etc.” (Zia 60)
The Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, which is re-presented at Mass, so that we might be joined with that offering. Through the reception of the Eucharist, we become more like Christ, by letting him enter into our bodies and souls, and transform us.
Zia, Mark J., The Enduring Faith and Timeless Truths of Fulton Sheen. Cincinnati, Ohio: Servant Books, 2015.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000.