I’ve written several times about the centrality of the Eucharist in the decision made by my wife and me when we decided to become Catholic. Our recognition, by God’s grace, of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament was not sudden; I would be hard pressed to think of an exact moment when I realized, “The Eucharist really is Jesus!” Rather, it was a long process.
Reflecting on it these many years later (we entered the Church in 1997), I liken it to the gradual and mysterious recognition of my love for the woman who has now been my wife for 18 years this week. There was, of course, the initial spark of attraction, followed by the sort of awkward relational dance that many couples go through as they embark on a courtship. There were conversations, questions and time spent thinking about each other. When it finally dawned on us that we loved each other, it was as though the wonderful fact had been staring us in the face for many weeks and months before we “got it”!
My recognition of the Eucharist was set in motion when I was a young boy, a fundamentalist who knew nothing about the Eucharist or the Catholic Church. But I was taught to love Jesus and the Bible. And who better to bring me to the Catholic Church than the Incarnate Word who founded the Church and the written Word of God gifted to the Church by the Holy Spirit? While growing up I read and heard the story Moses leading the people out of Egypt and being given the Law at Mount Sinai. I was familiar with the “blood of the covenant,” and the establishment of animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins.
Later, while in Bible college as a young evangelical, I came to see more clearly how Jesus is the new Moses, sent by God to save his people from slavery to sin, and that as author of the Law, Jesus was able to perfectly fulfill the Law (see Mt 5:17-18). One of my final classes, “Bible Synthesis,” explored both the continuity and differences between the Old and New Covenants. We learned that while Moses was the direct mediator between God and the people, Jesus is the perfect, final and everlasting mediator between God and all men. Moses was able, as God’s mediator and prophet, to play a vital role in God’s plan of salvation, overseeing the establishment of the covenant at Sinai. But it was only Christ, fully divine and fully human, who could establish a new and eternal covenant.
As the Letter to the Hebrews relates, Christ’s priesthood does not involve the sacrifice of animals in the Temple, but offering himself as the perfect, unblemished sacrifice. He is the Lamb of God whose body was broken and whose blood was shed on the Cross. Risen from the grave and seated in glory, he now offers his flesh and blood, soul and divinity, in the Eucharist.
Scripture, then, was essential in my education in the Eucharist. I also had to sit at the feet of the Church, listening to her supernatural wisdom. If the Church is the mystical body of Christ then the Church is able to instruct about the Body and Blood of her head, Jesus Christ. The saints, doctors and teaching office of the Church gave witness. “For in the figure of bread his Body is given to you,” stated St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “and in the figure of wine his Blood, that by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ you may become the same body and blood with him.”
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.