Today we celebrate the great sacrament of our faith. The Eucharist is unique as far as sacraments go, because it is the only one whereby God, our Lord Jesus Christ, becomes present in an abiding way. All the other sacraments happen in a moment, when the power of the Holy Spirit transforms our minds and hearts in a definitive way. When we are washed by the waters of Baptism, the Holy Spirit is present in the waters during the precise moment we are being washed – but we do not say that the water in the baptismal font has become the Holy Spirit. When we go to confession, the Holy Spirit transforms the sin we confess and expose to his mercy into grace for our conversion and healing – but our ability to sin remains. When we are anointed with oil, sealed with the Holy Spirit, at a confirmation, ordination, or anointing of the sick, the power of the Holy Spirit is present and active through the oil at the moment the words of the minister are spoken. After the sacrament has been given, however, the oil is not the Holy Spirit. The sacrament of Marriage enables spouses to give themselves fully to one another in a way that mirrors the exchange of the Divine Persons in the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is the Son’s total gift of self to the Father, and the Father’s complete outpouring of Himself into the Son. The Holy Spirit empowers and seals the total gift of self between spouses at their wedding, but He does not replace their human bond.
Only the Eucharist remains the true and real presence of our Lord and God Jesus Christ beyond the moment of the consecration in the liturgy. The tabernacles in all the Catholic Churches in the world remind us that God has made his dwelling among men. The world’s supply of sanctuary candles burn through tons of wax every week to remind us that God Himself – Jesus Christ – lives in our neighborhoods and is waiting for a visit. The Mass concludes, but the fact that Jesus Christ remains with us in the Eucharist means that our prayer and our attention to His presence continue beyond the liturgy.
He has left us a powerful message of how we are to remember Him. He wants to be remembered as the humblest of servants: the bread of life. Food is a humble servant – when its service is completed it is completely gone. Food’s only purpose is to be completely consumed to nourish another. Bread is a simple and essential kind of food. Jesus, like bread, remains silently in the tabernacle waiting to be consumed by sinners like you and me. He feeds us with the life that ordinary bread cannot provide. Ordinary food cannot take away a deeper sense of emptiness, it cannot satisfy our craving to be whole. Ordinary food cannot really do what we want it to do when we’re depressed, or bored, or lonely. Ordinary food cannot be our life-companion. The bread of life – Jesus – is precisely that. Ordinary food goes straight to your thighs or to your hips – the Eucharist goes straight to your heart. Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is within you,” the Eucharist shows us the way.
During the past year and a half, our Lord has continued to feed us with His Body and Blood. Some people have expressed concern that by not receiving the Chalice at Mass, they are not receiving the Blood of Christ. The Eucharist – the full mystery of Jesus Christ – His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – is sacramentally present under the species or appearance of both the communion host and wine. When you receive the consecrated Host, and the minister says, “The Body of Christ,” you receive His Blood, His Soul, and His Divinity as well. Christ is Risen from the dead – you cannot separate His Body and Blood from His living human soul and His Divine nature. The separate species of bread and wine are the memorial of His sacrifice, a sign of His body broken by our sins and His blood poured out for our redemption. We are drawn to feed on the sacrifice He made for us – His death on the Cross – because by it we are made whole, by His merciful love and forgiveness. Let us not believe that because we call the host “the Body of Christ,” and because we call the Chalice, “the Blood of Christ,” that Christ is somehow divided and therefore still dead. You receive the full mystery of the Living Word of God, the Incarnation, whenever you receive the Eucharist under either appearance.
SEVERIAN OF GABALA:
The tent built under Moses was to signify servitude [to the law]. Therefore, the more perfect tent is the dwelling of grace, the body of Christ whose head is Christ himself.1
Nor will it be incongruous to interpret figuratively the fact that, when the Lord was about to celebrate the last Passover, he told the disciples who were sent to make preparation that they would meet a man bearing water. He thus points out the place for celebrating the Passover by the sign of water.2
But Marcion would claim that Jesus only pretended that the bread was his body because he presumably had no bodily substance, so in the absence of his body he gives us bread. It wouldn’t change his theory of a phantom body much if we stretched the point to say that the bread was crucified! But in that case why would we need to call his body bread? Why not rather come up with some more interesting edible thing, like a melon, which maybe Marcion had in place of a heart!3
Jesus himself speaks of his blood. Before the consecration it is mentioned as something else; after the consecration it is called blood. And you say “Amen,” that is, “It is true.” Let the mind within confess what the mouth speaks. Let the heart feel what the words utter.4
- FRAGMENTS ON THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS 9.11. Heen, E. M., & Krey, P. D. W. (Eds.). (2005). Hebrews (p. 139). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON BAPTISM 19. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 192). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- AGAINST MARCION 4.40. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 196). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON THE MYSTERIES 1. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 197). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.