The Eucharist, as Christ’s saving presence in the community of the faithful and its spiritual food, is the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history. (St. John Paul II)
Among the many beautiful feasts which the Church celebrates at this time of the year is the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. The Solemnity is often marked by special Masses, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, public processions, and opportunities for Eucharistic adoration.
It’s also an opportunity for Catholics to think about the wonderful gift we have in the Eucharist, to thank God for the love that prompted so great a gift, and to reflect upon the many dimensions of this holy sacrament.
The Eucharist, is, first of all, a true sacrifice, a re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross that brings about the forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with the Father.
The Eucharist is a sacrament, in which the simple gifts of bread and wine, through the words of the priest and the power of the Holy Spirit, are substantially transformed, making Christ truly present among us.
The Eucharist is a meal, given to the Church at the Last Supper, a meal in which we eat the Body of Christ and drink his Blood, providing us with the spiritual energy we need to live-out our faith every day.
The Eucharist is a prayerful celebration of faith and love, in which the People of God come together to profess and proclaim their faith and have it renewed by Word and Sacrament.
And the Eucharist is an eschatological sign that directs our attention to the future when Christ will come again; it prefigures the divine banquet we shall share someday in God’s Kingdom.
To truly appreciate the richness of the Eucharist, then, all of these dimensions have to be considered together. None of these realities captures the meaning of the Eucharist by itself, and if any one of them is left out, the understanding of the Eucharist is impoverished.
But, along with these doctrinal considerations, the Eucharist also has profoundly pastoral consequences; it has an impact on our daily lives. And that real-life impact is captured in the words of St. John Paul, quoted above, in which he says that the Eucharist “is the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history.”
You see, from the moment Jesus gave the Eucharist to the Apostles at the Last Supper, the Eucharist has accompanied the pilgrim Church throughout its history. In moments of joy and sorrow, of fidelity and apostasy, of life and death – the Eucharist has been there, assuring us of God’s constant presence and love. Saints and sinners, martyrs and missionaries, religious and royalty, peasants and popes – have all been fed by the same Eucharist that graces our altars today. And it all started with a few simple words: “This is my Body. . . This is my Blood . . . Do this in memory of me.”
The great Benedictine monk and liturgist, Dom Gregory Dix reflected on that command of Christ and said, “Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need . . . men have found no better thing than this to do.” (The Shape of the Liturgy)
But what has been true for the Church as a vast community has also been true for you and me as individuals. The Eucharist has accompanied us on our personal pilgrimages through life.
I think about my own journey – all the places I’ve lived and visited, the schools I’ve attended, the thousands of people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had as a child, a young man, a priest and a bishop – one thing that has been constant for me is the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I’ve met Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread, and I’ve been comforted by his presence and love. That I haven’t always appreciated that gift as well as I should is a sin on my part.
But what about your journey in life – and all the experiences you’ve had – isn’t it true that the Eucharist has always been available to you, that Christ has always been by your side? Do you recognize how wonderful that is, the difference it makes for you?
And what has been true for us in the past will also be true for us in the future. What will the Church and the world be like in 5, 10 or 25 years? What will you be like . . . where will you be . . . what will you be doing? Of course, we don’t have the answer to those questions, for the future is always hidden from our eyes. But what we do know is that Jesus will be very close to us in the Holy Eucharist, and that’s the reason for our hope.
Given the limitations of our vision here and now, I’m not sure we can truly appreciate how important, how precious the Eucharist is. But I am convinced that someday, as we enter the Gates of Heaven and greet our Lord Jesus, we will recognize him and be immediately comfortable in his presence, like we would with a longtime friend. For after all, in the Eucharist, that’s exactly what he has been for us.