Body and Blood of Christ, Year B
- Do you make those who have nothing feel ashamed? (1 Cor. 11:22)
The encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia warns us, in number 10, that the Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguities and any reductionism. The greatness of this gift derives, I believe, from the greatness and inventiveness of Jesus Christ’s love. It was this love’s inventiveness, according to St. Vincent de Paul, that led to the institution of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in which Jesus Christ’s “is really and truly present as he is in heaven.”
The Eucharist, remarkably rich in symbolic significance, presents almost all the major themes of the primitive Christian preaching and teaching (cf. “Eucharist” in John. L. McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible). The Eucharist is the Christian Passover, out of which the Church was born, from which she draws her life, and by which the work of our redemption is carried out. The Eucharist recalls the sacrifice by which Christ our pasch is sacrificed and through which the new covenant was sealed in the blood that was shed. Taking part in the eucharistic sacrifice, the fount and apex of the whole Christian life, we offer the Divine Victim to God, and we offer themselves along with It. But besides being the center of religion or worship and the foundation of devotion, the Eucharist is also the liturgical service wherein we are strengthened in Holy Communion by the Body of Christ and we manifest in a concrete way that unity of the people of God which is suitably signified and wondrously brought about by this most august sacrament (LG 11; cf. also Father Robert P. Maloney’s “Love is Creative even to Infinity”). So, then, the Eucharist is also the supper of the Lord, the breaking of bread, the messianic banquet at which the bread we break expresses and brings about our communion with the body of Christ.
Having said all this, and even more perhaps, about the Holy Eucharist, and given all the explanations—philosophical, theological or otherwise—we are capable of giving, neither human erudition nor human eloquence, poor and limited as they really are, will ever do justice to the greatness and richness of the Eucharist. It behooves me, then, to heed the above-mentioned warning from John Paul II and allow myself to reflect about the saying that the bread from heaven contains in itself all delights and conforms to every taste (Wis. 16:20).
The delight that should particularly interests and attracts the Vincentian palate is that aspect of sacramental “mysticism” that is discussed in number 14 of the encylical Deus Caritas Est, that is to say, its social character. Says Benedict XVI about this:
- Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom
- he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself;
- I can belong to him only in union with all those who have
- become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me
- out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with
- all Christians.
The second sentence of the cited passage particularly reminds me of the well-known Vincentian maxim, “It is not enough for me to love God if my neighbor does not love him as well.” The rest of the text makes me pay a closer attention to both the Vincentian teaching that the Eucharist is the source of peace and tranquility of heart for those who live in community and seek assurance also that they are truly united with God and the warning as well against receiving Communion on the part of those living in discord (cf. section 5 of part I of the above-cited study by Father Maloney).
And even more palatable to the Vincentian taste should be the Church teaching that the Eucharist urges us to contribute to the building of a more human world, a world fully in harmony with God’s plan (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia 20). Adds immediately this encyclical:
- Many problems darken the horizon of our time. We need
- but think of the urgent need to work for peace, to base
- relationships between peoples on solid premises of
- justice and solidarity, and to defend human life from
- conception to its natural end. And what should we say
- of the thousand inconsistencies of a “globalized” world
- where the weakest, the most powerless and the poorest
- appear to have so little hope! It is in this world that
- Christian hope must shine forth! For this reason too,
- the Lord wished to remain with us in the Eucharist,
- making his presence in meal and sacrifice the promise of
- a humanity renewed by his love. Significantly, in
- their account of the Last Supper, the Synoptics recount
- the institution of the Eucharist, while the Gospel of
- John relates, as a way of bringing out its profound
- meaning, the account of the “washing of the feet”, in
- which Jesus appears as the teacher of communion and
- of service (cf. Jn. 13:1-20). The Apostle Paul, for
- his part, says that it is “unworthy” of a Christian
- community to partake of the Lord's Supper amid division
- and indifference towards the poor (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-22, 27-34).
It is to this teaching as well that Father Maloney refers to when he says (cf. section 6, part II of the above-cited study ):
- In this era when the Church focuses in a renews way
- on its preferential option for the poor, the
- Eucharist should renew our bonds with the poor ....
- Paul, having been sent out on mission by the Council
- of Jerusalem, to preach to the Gentiles, states:
- “The only stipulation was that we should be mindful
- of the poor—the one thing that I was making
- every effort to do.”
- ... Vincent saw the Eucharist as the source of
- effective evangelization. In other words, the
- Eucharist, in his mind, is connected with life and
- mission. It is the fountain of the missionary
- energy and of the missionary virtues that his
- followers are to bring to the service of the poor.
In the final analysis, the greatness of the gift of the Eucharist is founded on the greatness and inventiveness of the one who became poor although he was rich, became small although he was great, giving his body up for all and shedding his blood. Greatness and richness lie in smallness and poverty, in self-emptying.