What Catholics Believe - Chapter Seventeen
The Eucharist: Source & Summit of Christian Life
Back in 1992, I was a selfish young adult who had fallen away from my Catholic faith and my relationship with God. God in His infinite mercy called to me, and through faith-filled people and moments nudged me back onto the path of holiness. Upon my return from the edge of darkness, I was filled with a tremendous desire to truly learn and experience my Catholic faith.
The starting point of this journey was a sincere effort to learn about the Eucharist, which the Church reminds us, is the "source and summit of the Christian life." The result of this searching for truth was a deeper understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and an encounter with the One who emptied Himself completely on the Cross for the sake of all humanity. The Eucharist, in prayer and practice, taught me to keep Christ at the center of my life.
The Eucharist is the final of the three sacraments of initiation. Christ himself instituted this sacrament as He celebrated the Passover with His disciples. The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults tells us, "By the words 'Do this in memory of me,' Jesus commanded the Apostles and their successors to repeat his actions and words 'until he comes again" (p. 217). The Church has continued to fulfill this mandate by Christ from its very beginning to our present age today. In fact, since the second century, the Mass has maintained a common structure that is recognizable to all Catholics throughout the world.
This celebration or remembrance allows us to receive a "taste of Heaven." Christ spoke of this truth in the Gospel of John saying, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you" (Jn 6:53). In the Eucharist, Jesus offers us His Body and Blood under the form of bread and wine. It is precisely because of this reality, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, that the Church reminds us to prepare ourselves carefully to partake in this heavenly banquet. If we understand Whom we are receiving, then we can appreciate the necessity of being in a state of grace and the need to observe a fast for at least one hour prior to our reception of Holy Communion. Essentially, we should approach Christ in the Eucharist with humility knowing that we “are not worthy to receive” Him.
In this spirit of humility, we are reminded “when we receive Communion…we are not changing Christ into ourselves. Jesus is transforming us into himself” (USCCA, p. 227). The effects of Holy Communion confirm this transformation: “Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ increases the communicant’s union with the Lord, forgives his venial sins, and preserves him from grave sins. Since receiving the sacrament strengthens the bonds of charity between the communicant and Christ, it also reinforces the unity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ” (CCC, no. 1416). It is clear that this is not just a symbolic activity but is the participation in Christ’s salvific action.
In receiving Christ, we participate in our transformation into saints. Pope Benedict XVI captures this beautifully, “We all eat the one bread, and this means that we ourselves become one…. His dynamic enters into us and then seeks to spread outwards to others until it fills the world, so that his love can truly become the dominant measure of the world” (Twentieth World Youth Day, August 21, 2005). By faithfully receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, we allow ourselves to be loved by Him and therefore allow ourselves to be instruments of His love for those we encounter in our lives.
In wrestling with the truth of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we are wrestling with the very core of Catholicism. As we surrender in faith to this truth our hearts and minds will be transformed and we will be able to see all things through the eyes of Christ. His grace will allow us to come to know, understand, and accept all other Truths of our Catholic faith that flow from Truth Himself just as the Eucharist is Truth Himself.