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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
Civic Rights …

THE POWER OF THE CHURCH: THE HOLY EUCHARIST

MANY PEOPLE TODAY do not believe that what makes the Catholic Church unique is the power of the Holy Eucharist that we receive whenever we come for Mass. The Lord Jesus, on the night before he suffered on the cross, shared one last meal with his disciples. During this meal our Saviour instituted the sacrament of his Body and Blood. As the Gospel of Matthew tells us: While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink  from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf  of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:26-28; cf. Mk 14:22-24,  Lk 22:17-20, 1 Cor 11:23-25)

Recalling these words of Jesus, the Catholic Church professes that, in the celebration of the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and the instrumentality of the priest. Jesus said: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. . . . For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (Jn 6:51-55). The whole Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine—the glorified Christ who rose from the dead after dying for our sins. This is what the Church means when she speaks of the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist. This presence of Christ in the Eucharist is called “real” not to exclude other types of his presence as if they could not be understood as real (cf. Catechism, no. 1374). The risen Christ is present to his Church in many ways, but most especially through  the sacrament of his Body and Blood.

The presence of the risen Christ in the Eucharist is an inexhaustible mystery that the Church can never fully explain in words. We must remember that the triune God is the creator of all that exists and has the power to do more than we can possibly imagine. God created the world in order to share his life with persons who are not God. This great plan of salvation reveals a wisdom that surpasses our understanding. But we are not left in ignorance: for out of his love for us, God reveals his truth to us in ways that we can understand through the gift of faith and the grace of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. We are thus enabled to understand at least in some measure what would otherwise remain unknown to us, though we can never completely comprehend the mystery of God.

Through the celebration of the Eucharist, we are joined to Christ’s sacrifice and receive its inexhaustible benefits. As the Letter to the Hebrews explains, Jesus is the one eternal high priest who always lives to make intercession for the people before the Father. In this way, he surpasses the many high priests who over centuries used to offer sacrifices for sin in the Jerusalem temple. The eternal high priest Jesus offers the perfect sacrifice which is his very self, not something else. “He entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12). Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; he is the eternal Son, who is not confined within time or history. His actions transcend time, which is part of creation. “Passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation” (Heb 9:11), Jesus the eternal Son of God made his act of sacrifice in the presence of his Father, who lives in eternity. Through the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic celebration the Lord’s Paschal Mystery is made present and contemporaneous to his Spouse, the Church. Furthermore, in the Eucharistic re-presentation of Christ’s eternal sacrifice before the Father, we are not simply spectators. As Christ’s sacrifice is made sacramentally present, united with Christ, we offer ourselves as a sacrifice to the Father.

The word “mystery” is commonly used to refer to something that escapes the full comprehension of the human mind. In the Bible, however, the word has a deeper and more specific meaning, for it refers to aspects of God’s plan of salvation for humanity, which has already begun but will be completed only with the end of time. In ancient Israel, through the Holy Spirit, God revealed to the prophets some of the secrets of what he was going to accomplish for the salvation of his people. Likewise, through the preaching and teaching of Jesus, the mystery of “the Kingdom of God” was being revealed to his disciples (Mk 4:11-12). St. Paul explained that the mysteries of God may challenge our human understanding or may even seem to be foolishness, but their meaning is revealed to the People of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 1:18-25, 2:6-10; Rom 16:25-27; Rev 10:7). The Eucharist is a mystery because it participates in the mystery of Jesus Christ and God’s plan to save humanity through Christ. We should not be surprised if there are aspects of the Eucharist that are not easy to understand, for God’s plan for the world has repeatedly surpassed human expectations and human understanding (Jn 6:60-66). Furthermore, any time that we are speaking of God we need to keep in mind that our human concepts never entirely grasp God. We must not try to limit God to our understanding, but allow our understanding to be stretched beyond its normal limitations by God’s revelation.

Reception of Jesus in the Eucharist fuses our being with that of Christ. St. Cyril of Alexandria describes it as similar to “when melted wax is fused with other wax.” The Christian journey is a journey to become like Christ, to “abide in him” and he in us. The Eucharist is the means for this to happen. The Eucharist destroys venial sin. Through sin, the fervor of our charity can be dampened by venial sin. But when we receive the Eucharist we are united with Charity himself, which burns away the vestiges of our venial sins and leaves us cleansed and ready to begin again. While we should refrain from receiving the Eucharist when we are aware of being in a state of mortal sin, we should receive the Eucharist as much as possible when we are able because it preserves us from grave sin. It is as if the Eucharist’s power washes away the venial sin in our souls and then covers us with a protective coat which helps us to stay away from serious sin. It is primarily through the Eucharist that we can truly have an intimate encounter with the Person of Jesus. The reception of the Eucharist increases the life of grace already present within us.

Each time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist on the Altar, we do that which Christ did once and for all on the Cross, but with the very words of Jesus Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, we offer sacramentally the Body and Blood of our Lord under the elements of bread and wine.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, these natural elements, fruits of the earth and the work of human hands, are truly, really and substantially transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Thus, the Holy Eucharist is both a Sacrament and a Sacrifice. The Catholic Church does not discriminate, so all persons are advised to join the Universal Church to make  the  world  a  better  place  for living.

 

 


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