It came to me, after suffering a long bout of illness, that whenever I reached the point of emotional overload and I needed to let it all out, I always did so, without intending it, after receiving Holy Communion.
I realized that it was either after receiving or while praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament that I allowed myself to be vulnerable before that pure, love filled gaze which soothes the suffering of the wounds which ail us. For to weep requires that place of total comfort, where we are welcomed beyond our injustices and maladies.
While I am tempted to ask, “What is the Eucharist?” I cannot because that would be misleading. Instead I must ask, “Who is the Eucharist?”
Giving thanks is one of the most fundamental expressions of any relationship. Likewise, it is the most appropriate attitude of a humble creature towards their creator. If we then consider that the word Eucharist (from the Greek εὐχαριστία or eucharistia) means “to give thanks,” it should be of no surprise that the Eucharist is both source and summit of the Catholic/Orthodox faiths, to name only a couple.
No one really comes to understand the Eucharist, which we receive in the material form of bread and wine at the Holy Mass, not even the Catholics who profess it. It is called a mystery, it is called the Mystery. A mystery to be lived, to be believed, to be celebrated, to be proclaimed, and to be offered to the world. (1)
“In the Eucharist Jesus does not give us a “thing,” but Himself; He offers his own body and pours out His own blood.” (7)
It is the Catholic faith and truth that at each and every Mass, celebrated by an ordained priest, the real presence of Jesus is consumed under the appearance of bread and wine.
It is easy to gloss over this truth treasured over the last two millennia.
Jesus could not be more clear in John 6; He is astonishingly unambiguous:
“I am the bread of life, … I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. … Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. … For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” John 6 : 48-60 [my emphasis]
The whole dialogue, of which I have omitted parts, merits a re-reading.
Notice that Jesus does not say body, but flesh. The word body is often used metaphorically (a body of literature, for example) and is easy to misinterpret. Flesh, however, is more visceral, more real. It applies specifically to the skin, the blood, the nerves.
We believe that we eat His flesh.
It is an extraordinary claim and the only way we could even begin to approach some form of explanation is to rely on personal experience:
What does it mean to consume Jesus?
The mere thought of the Blessed Sacrament brings about emotions of joy, anticipation, comfort, and an earnest desire for unity.
I’m telling you that this which some mock without consideration is the absolute center of my life. It is the fire which heats the entire home and spreads comfort where before there was only darkness and cold.
When others speak ill of the Eucharist, I receive it as if someone had slandered my own brother or sister, my own father or mother.
Why then, is it so important?
Since humanity is in fact made in the image and likeness of God, then there is nothing in this universe that fulfills humanity more than Christ Himself. All share the same hunger: a craving to be loved without end, to have a peace that is everlasting.
What could be more satisfying than that God in whose image we are created by His very breath of life?
To receive Him is to be transformed into that very presence that holds us together in the fabric of existence, into that very presence which offers us infinite pardon and compassion.
Words could never express the beauty of being drawn into this mystery!
It is there. Every human being regardless of culture, race, or gender will profit from this most sacred communion, if it is accepted with an open heart.
However, this change is not limited to humanity:
The … conversion of bread and wine into his body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change … which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28). (11)
The Holy Eucharist, bread and wine consecrated into Body and Blood, enlivens and brings to fulfillment our very existence, both its purpose and its very being.
Nothing could be more desirable on earth, this fulfillment that Jesus started. In fact, the Eucharist mimics vividly the earthly life of Jesus and allows us to partake in it.
When the Word became flesh, Christ entered our world and glorified reality. During His earthly life He was both accepted and rejected, loved and hated. He continues to give Himself in the Holy Eucharist, and we are free either to accept or to reject this Gift.
That same humility which shook the foundations of our broken world is present in every mass offering the Real Presence and redemption from that brokenness.
I invite you personally to meditate upon this beautiful mystery and to join us in its expression.
** All citations, labeled by article number, come from Sacramentum Caritatis. **