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Tuesday, July 2, 2024

The Holy Eucharist, the Ultimate Mystery

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The Holy Eucharist, the Ultimate Mystery

Representing the concrete presence of God Himself in the midst of His Church, the Holy Eucharist is the culmination of Christian initiation, which begins with preparation for receiving Holy Baptism. Thus, both naturally and necessarily, after the bath of rebirth follows, at the appropriate time, the believer’s communion with the Body and Blood of the Savior Jesus Christ. Without exaggeration, we can say that the purpose of the entire life of the believer is this: the encounter with the Eucharistic Jesus.

eblast promptEssentially, the discipline known as “spiritual theology” tells us that the peak of Christian life is the mystical union with God. Theoretically or practically, nothing surpasses this summit of Christian love. It is the perpetual goal of our religious life. This life, from a liturgical perspective, is always mystical – as it involves our physical and spiritual, direct union with God Himself. Without necessarily experiencing ecstasies and private revelations, any believer – relying on the Church’s faith in the real presence of the Savior Jesus Christ in the transubstantiated Bread and Wine – can live the union with God, which has as its direct consequence the deification of man. Therefore, all sacraments and the entire Christian life are indissolubly linked to the Eucharist and oriented towards receiving it. For by receiving the Holy Eucharist, which encompasses all our good, every Christian has access to the highest peaks of mystical life. And this is without necessarily being a great ecstatic, like those who had personal revelations – such as Saint Paul, Saint Teresa of Avila, or Saint Padre Pio.

Understanding the extraordinary value of the Holy Eucharist, we can easily realize how grave it is to reject or even deny this sacrament of the Church. Beyond the multiple errors of the Protestant Reformation and the communities that emerged from it, the most serious deviation lies in the elimination of the Holy Sacraments, but especially of the Holy Eucharist – which is directly and inextricable related to the presence of priests who have received the special mission of being instruments of the Holy Spirit in the celebration of the Holy Liturgy and the supernatural act of transubstantiation. To eliminate any confusion or misunderstandings regarding the Holy Eucharist, we must always insist on the fact that this sacrament was instituted by our King and Lord, Jesus Christ Himself.

The New Testament contains several testimonies about the first celebrations of the Eucharistic Liturgy. One of the most important is that found in the Gospel of Luke:

“And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said to them: With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you, before I suffer. For I say to you, that from this time I will not eat it, till it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And having taken the chalice, he gave thanks, and said: Take, and divide it among you: For I say to you, that I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, till the kingdom of God come. And taking bread, he gave thanks, and brake; and gave to them, saying: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this for a commemoration of me. In like manner the chalice also, after he had supped, saying: This is the chalice, the new testament in my blood, which shall be shed for you” (Luke 22, 16-20).

With minor differences, the moment of the institution of the Eucharist is recounted by Matthew (26:17-29) and Mark (14:12-25), as well as by the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Upon careful reading, we discern a few particularly important main ideas. The key point is the manner in which the substantial identity between the bread and the Body of the Savior, and between the wine and His divine Blood, is affirmed within the liturgical context.

Thus, Jesus clearly says, “This is my body” (Matthew 26:26). Similarly, when He speaks about the wine, He says, “This is my blood” (Matthew 26:28) – as we see not only in Matthew’s gospel but also in Mark’s. Therefore, it is not a matter of figurative, obscure, and ambiguous speech, but rather an emphasis on the real, substantial, and essential identity between the bread and the Body of the Savior, and between the wine and His Blood. On these grounds, we must always oppose those who claim that the Eucharist described in the mentioned gospels has a figurative, non-real character. On the contrary, the bread and wine on the altar table before which the priest serves, from the moment of the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the words spoken by the Savior Himself on the night of the Last Supper, are truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The memory of the Eucharistic events described in the New Testament is not an external, historical memory, referring to something that happened once but never repeats. Rather, it is a mystical, supernatural memory that actualizes what happened on the night of the Last Supper during each Holy Liturgy. Such an understanding is based on the belief that God works perpetually in history for the sanctification of people until His second coming.

Someone might contradict us, as has repeatedly happened since Luther and Calvin, by saying that even if we accept the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Savior, it only happened back then, a long time ago, and that’s it. Similar ideas are propagated by members of neo-Protestant communities as well as by certain pseudo-Catholic theologians infected with the neo-modernist virus. In their view, everything we see today in the Church’s liturgies are merely commemorative acts, meant to remind us of deeds and events that took place in the past, rather than similar manifestations of God’s power that truly transform the bread and wine into His Body and Blood.

To such claims, we can respond with a very simple argument, taken from the Gospel of John. Here, in chapter 6, verses 54 and 55, the Savior delivers a true axiom of religious life:

“Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.”

Thus, our salvation and resurrection to eternal life depend decisively on partaking of the Holy Body and Blood of God made man, Jesus Christ. However, this extremely strong condition for eternal life is not related to an act by which we remember something that happened in the past, but to the actual act of eating the flesh of the Son of Man and His blood. It is clear that here God Himself reveals that saving content which we receive in the Holy Eucharist, not something unreal, fictitious, or figurative. I emphasize: it is about His flesh and His blood, in their full reality.

We can also observe the continuation of the biblical passages that describe how the first Eucharistic Sacrifices were conducted. For example, Jesus tells the disciples: “Do this for a commemoration of me” (Luke 22:19). The account by the apostle Paul provides new details that deepen the Savior’s teaching:

“For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come” (1 Corinthians 11: 26).

Taking into account all the mentioned biblical passages, Jesus’ command to repeat His gestures and words “until he come” does not simply ask us to remember Jesus and what He did. The memory of the Eucharistic events described in the New Testament is not an external, historical memory, referring to something that happened once but never repeats. Rather, it is a mystical, supernatural memory that actualizes what happened on the night of the Last Supper during each Holy Liturgy. Such an understanding is based on the belief that God works perpetually in history for the sanctification of people until His second coming. Proposing an interpretation that goes exactly in this direction, Bishop Richard Challoner states the following:

“This sacrifice and sacrament is to be continued in the church, to the end of the world, to shew forth the death of Christ, until he cometh. But this commemoration, or remembrance, is by no means inconsistent with the real presence of his body and blood, under these sacramental veils, which represent his death; on the contrary, it is the manner that he himself hath commanded, of commemorating and celebrating his death, by offering in sacrifice, and receiving in the sacrament, that body and blood by which we were redeemed.”

We all have beautiful memories. Related to family life, certain meetings, people, and places, as we grow older, we think of them more often. After turning fifty, I discovered how much pleasure these memories give me, and also the meetings with the people connected to them. I also find a certain joy in talking about them. However, there is always something we cannot do: we cannot turn back time. We can no longer make present those past situations that bring us joy. We are only human. Therefore, we are not masters of time. God, being omnipotent, can do anything. Moreover, He is indeed the master of time, history, and the world. So He would be capable of making another time, another era, accessible to us. In fact, this actually happens when we see in the Holy Bible prophets “leaping” over time to describe things that will happen thousands of years after they left this world. Think of Daniel's prophecies. But if such a thing is possible, why wouldn’t a “re-creation” of the Last Supper be possible, capturing the essence of that unforgettable night when the Savior Christ sat for the last time – before His death and resurrection – with the apostles? What would prevent God from doing what is impossible for us but perfectly possible for Him? Evidently, the answer to this question is the Holy Liturgy and the mystery of mysteries: the Holy Eucharist.

Deo gratias!

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Last modified on Tuesday, July 2, 2024
Robert Lazu Kmita | Remnant Columnist, Romania

A Catholic father of seven and a grandfather of two, Robert Lazu Kmita is a writer with a PhD in Philosophy. His first novel, The Island without Seasons, was published by Os Justi Press in 2023.