Boldly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the Eucharist is "the sum and summary of our faith" (no. 1327). And it quotes the Second Vatican Council's statement that the Eucharist is "the source and summit of Christian life" (no. 1324).
As far as living out the Christian life goes, nothing is more important than participating in the Eucharist. Nothing! Not our works of charity or efforts to build justice. Not our belief in Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. Not the magisterium of the church. Not any particular doctrine or teaching. All those things are contained in and flow from our participation in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the blood that flows through our veins. The Eucharist is what gives us life. It is the life which we the branches receive from Christ the vine. The Eucharist is the power which takes our thoughts and words and actions and transforms them into something more than human deeds. It transforms them into works of God.
All of this can only be true if Jesus is really physically present in the Eucharist. If the Eucharist is only a symbol of Jesus; well, there are lots of things that point us toward Jesus. But the Eucharist is Jesus. The Eucharist is the Lord of the whole universe going onto my tongue and into my tummy. And if that doesn't make a difference to how I live then I am a stone impervious to any force which would change my life for the better. I'd better forget about my self-help groups and my resolutions to be a better person because if God coming into my body cannot transform me then I am lost.
At the Last Supper, Jesus told the disciples that he was going to go away. "What a drag!" they must have thought. "We're not going to have Jesus with us anymore." But Jesus told them, "It is to your advantage that I go away" (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit will come, "He will take what is mine and declare it to you" (16:14). Then, when the disciples celebrate this meal in memory of Jesus, the bread and wine will be transformed into his body and blood. When Jesus walked on the earth, he was outside the disciples. But after Jesus ascends to the Father and the Holy Spirit comes, then we will receive him right into our bodies. Jesus will become a physical part of who we are.
If we have but a tiny spark of faith, the Eucharist will stoke that flame and turn it into a blazing fire. If my hardened heart has but the tiniest opening for God to squeeze through, then God will get into me and soften my heart.
How can this happen? How can a little piece of unleavened bread turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh? Look at it this way: When I eat material food -- peas, carrots, roast beef or granola -- it becomes part of my body. But Holy Communion is only the appearance of material food. In reality, it is Jesus, the Son of God. When I eat this divine food, I become incorporated into it. Because God is greater than humanity, the food consumes me.
Moreover, it changes me in a particular way. For the Eucharist is a re-presentation of Christ's one sacrifice on Calvary. Christ made a total gift of himself to the Father. In doing so, he overcame all self-seeking, the hardness of heart in our nature which leads us to think only of our own comfort and power. When we are consumed by Christ's sacrificial offering, our own hard hearts begin to soften. This divine food slowly fills us with the graces of charity and unity. Because we share in Christ's acrifice, we can begin to love God and other people.
The Code of Canon Law begins its lengthy section on the Eucharist by stating, "The most venerable sacrament is the blessed Eucharist, in which Christ the Lord is contained, offered and received, and by which the church continually lives and grows" (Canon 897). In the next six articles, I will draw out some of the meaning contained in the statement. I will look at the Eucharist as a sign, how the Eucharist is celebrated, the meaning of these words "contained, offered and received," and how the Eucharist is a "pledge of the glory to come."
Through this study, we will go right to the heart of the Christian mystery. We will find the very "sum and summary of our faith."
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