The Eucharist is the next Sacrament we will explore as we continue our journey through the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. It is the third and final sacrament of initiation and the completion of our unification to the family of God and the Mystical Body of Christ.
The Catechism quotes Lumen Gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church from the Second Vatican Council) saying, the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC #1324). This simple statement is packed with physical and spiritual realities. The Eucharist, or Communion, binds Catholics on earth with one another as we partake in the same Body and Blood of Christ all over the Earth. It unites us to Jesus Christ in His one sacrifice on Calvary. It joins us to the ongoing liturgy that takes place in heaven as all who have gone before us worship at the same heavenly altar. Furthermore, it is the continual font by which God bestows sanctifying grace upon us each time we partake – the nourishment we need to sustain our spiritual life. Imagine the Eucharist at the center of a cross and see it as the central point at which all of the horizontal and vertical relationships in the mystical Body of Christ come together (CCC #1324-1327).
Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist at the celebration of the Passover because He was to be the new paschal lamb — His sacrifice is the fulfillment of the Jewish Passover (CCC #1339-1340). As He goes through the actions of the Passover meal, He tells the Apostles to “do this in memory of me,” which is a direct command to participate in the sacrament. The Eucharist is the “memorial of Christ, of his life, of his death, of his Resurrection, and of his intercession in the presence of the Father” (CCC #1341). Of course, the earthly physical materials God uses for this sacrament are bread and wine. What differentiates the way Catholics view the Eucharist versus how other non-Catholic Christians view communion is very much worth noting. Other Christian denominations accept that Jesus asked us to perform the ritual in remembrance of Him, but they see it as a mere symbol of his body and blood in the form of bread and wine. However, the Catholic Church definitively proclaims that the bread and wine are miraculously transubstantiated into Jesus’ actual body and blood and only the appearance of bread and wine remain. To believe this requires faith, but it is not difficult, considering some of the other miracles and teachings from Jesus that are very easily accepted. One precursor to the Eucharist occurs at the Wedding at Cana where Jesus shows us that He can, in fact, turn one substance into a completely different substance as He turns water into wine. When we read John 6:53-66, we can see that Jesus does not intend for the Eucharist to be a symbol, but rather a reality. He explains that we must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood to have eternal life. While many non-Catholic Christians see this as symbolic speech – Jesus refers to Himself in other passages as a vine, a door, a landowner, or a light – we know that He is not speaking symbolically or metaphorically when He says we must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood. In verses 60-66, we read the disciples are struggling with the teaching saying, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” They do not struggle in the same way when Jesus speaks symbolically at other times. As a result, many of His disciples left Him. Again, what reason would there be to leave this time unless He was teaching something that was very difficult for them to accept, that was clearly different from other metaphorical teachings?
The celebration of the Eucharist is the celebration of the memorial of his sacrifice (CCC #1357). Every time a priest consecrates the Eucharist on the altar, he is making present the actual sacrifice of Jesus on the cross at Calvary. To be clear, there was only one sacrifice. However, since God is outside of time, each time we participate in the celebration of the Eucharist, we are participating in that one sacrifice that was completed over 2,000 years ago. Similarly, because all souls in heaven and purgatory are present at the foot of the cross, we join them in that one-in-the same sacrifice. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine are miraculously turned into the body and blood of the sacrificial lamb (CCC #1362-1372). This is precisely the reason why this sacrament is the source and summit of our faith, bringing us all together across boundaries of space and time to the foot of the cross on which our Lord and Savior sacrificed Himself for us all.
More than any of the other sacraments, great graces are communicated to us through these material things. The Catechism identifies the first and most important fruit of the Eucharist as augmenting our union with Christ (CCC #1391). Jesus says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56). To put it frankly, Jesus, in His flesh, enters into our flesh and we become one flesh with Him. We are spiritually and bodily conformed to Him. The second fruit of the Eucharist identified by the Catechism is that Holy Communion separates us from sin (CCC #1393). By conforming ourselves to Christ in the flesh, we are not only cleansed from our past sins, but also fortified against future sins. Frequent reception of the Eucharist reminds us of our love for Him and helps to condition our behavior to reflect that love. The Eucharist also preserves us from future mortal sins (grave sins) (CCC #1395). This is not to be confused with some magical force field and that just because we receive the Eucharist, we are safe from all mortal sin. We can, in fact, still sin and sin gravely. However, when we receive frequently and are consciously aware of what exactly it is we are receiving, we are strengthened by our love for Him and less likely to choose grave sin. If we do fall astray, the grace we have received in the Eucharist makes it easier to get back on track and stay on track. The Eucharist preserves the unity of the Mystical Body: the Eucharist makes the Church (CCC #1396). Through our baptism we become members of the body, but by the Eucharist we are united to the body even more closely. As all of the members partake in the Eucharist, the members of the body are fortified and strengthened as one unit. The Eucharist commits us to the poor (CCC #1397). Essentially, what this fruit says is that, if we are partaking in the flesh and blood of the One who sacrificed His life and was humiliated on the cross for us and our sins, we would be remiss in not recognizing Christ in the least among us. You cannot simultaneously accept the truth of the Eucharist and ignore the suffering around you. Finally, the Eucharist unites Christians (CCC #1398-1401). It unites all Christians insofar as we all participate in some form of communion. More particularly, it unites us to the Eastern churches who also believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, although they are still separated from us. We should always focus more on what unites us to other Christians rather than what separates us.
Since the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, how does its frequent reception effect our personal lives? Do you feel the difference in your spiritual life when you have not received the Eucharist in a while? How do you feel when you receive more than once per week in daily Mass? How does sitting before the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration change your perspective on particular issues? How can you be more open to receiving the graces available to you in the Sacrament through your prayers and your recognition of the reality of what the Eucharist is?
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