The Eucharist is a great mystery. Jesus Christ is really present, body and blood, soul and divinity in the consecrated host, but it is also God’s greatest gift to humankind, since in it, Christ becomes intimately united to us by becoming the bread of life.
The Eucharist is a mystery of faith. It implies faith and nourishes the life of faith. Eucharist is a great and transcendent mystery indeed — one that taxes our mind’s ability to pass beyond appearances.
“The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed” (1 Cor 11:23), instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of His body and His blood. The words of the apostle Paul bring us back to the dramatic setting in which the Eucharist was born. In the Eucharist we have Jesus. We have His redemptive sacrifice. We have resurrection. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have adoration, obedience and love of the Father.
The Eucharist is indelibly marked by the event of the Lord’s passion and death, of which it is not only a reminder but also the sacramental re-presentation. It is the sacrifice of the Cross perpetuated down the ages. This truth is well expressed by the words with which the assembly in the Latin rite respond to the priest’s proclamation of the mystery of faith: “We proclaim your resurrection” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, No. 14).
The Gift Par Excellence
The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift — however precious — among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of His person in His sacred humanity, as well as the gift of His saving work. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial and perpetuation of her Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present, and “the work of our redemption is carried out.”
This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after He had left us this means of sharing in it as if we had been present there.
Each of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits. This is the faith from which generations of Christians through the ages have lived. The Church’s magisterium has constantly reaffirmed this faith with joyful gratitude for its inestimable gift. What more could Jesus have done for us? Truly, in the Eucharist, He shows us a love which goes “to the end” (Jn 13:1), a love that knows no measure.
Its Sacrificial Meaning
Jesus did not simply state that what he was giving them to eat and drink was His body and His blood; He also expressed its sacrificial meaning and made sacramentally present His sacrifice which soon would be offered on the Cross for the salvation of all. “The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1382).
The Church constantly draws her life from the redeeming sacrifice; she approaches it not only through faith-filled remembrance, but also through a real contract, since this sacrifice is made present ever anew, sacramentally perpetuated, in every community that offers it at the hands of the consecrated minister. By virtue of its close relationship to the sacrifice on Golgotha, the Eucharist is a sacrifice in the strict sense, and not only in a general way, as if it were simply a matter of Christ’s offering himself to the faithful as their spiritual food.
A Gift to His Father
The gift of His love and obedience to the point of giving His life (Jn 10:17-18) is, in the first place, a gift to His Father. In giving His sacrifice to the Church, Christ has also made His own the spiritual sacrifice of the Church, which is called to offer herself in union with the sacrifice of Christ. This is the teaching of the Second Vatican Council concerning all the faithful: “Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the source and summit of the whole Christian life, they offer the divine victim to God, and offer themselves along with it” (Lumen Gentium, No. 11).
Truly the Eucharist is a Mysterium Fidei which surpasses our understanding and can only be received in faith, as is often brought out in the catechesis of the Church Fathers regarding this divine sacrament. St. Cyril of Jerusalem exhorts, “Do not see in the bread and wine merely natural elements, because the Lord has expressly said that they are His body and blood; faith assures you of this, though your senses suggest otherwise” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, No. 15).
The saving efficacy of the sacrifice is fully realized when the Lord’s body and blood are received in communion. The Eucharistic sacrifice is intrinsically directed to the inward union of the faithful with Christ through communion; we receive the very one who offered himself for us, we receive His body which He “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). We are reminded of Jesus’ words: “As the living Father sent me, so he who eats Me will live because of Me” (Jn 6:57).
No Metaphorical Food
The Eucharist is a true banquet, in which Christ offers himself as our nourishment. When for the first time Jesus spoke of this food, His listeners were astonished and bewildered. This forced the Master to emphasize the objective truth of His words: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life within you” (Jn 6:53).
This is no metaphorical food: “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (Jn 6:55). “He, who eats it with faith, eats Fire and Spirit. . . . Take and eat this, all of you, and eat with it the Holy Spirit. For it is truly My body and whoever eats it will have eternal life” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, No. 17).
The Eucharist is truly a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth. It is a glorious ray of the heavenly Jerusalem that pierces the clouds of our history and lights up our journey. Proclaiming the death of the Lord “until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26) entails that all who take part in the Eucharist be committed to changing their lives and making them in a certain way completely Eucharistic.
FATHER SINGARAYAR, S.V.D., has written articles for international and national journals. He is also the author of the book Wellspring of Love. Presently, he is working on a master’s degree in anthropology.