OP-ED

The Essence of Eucharist in the Catholic Church

Sunday mass in Mulago catholic church. Uganda. -Getty Images

Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul then divinity of Jesus Christ; and the mystery of bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Christ is acknowledged as transubstantiation.

The Eucharist was instituted by the Lord on Holy Thursday evening at the last supper with the instruction – ‘Do this as a memorial of me’ (Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). St John’s Gospel doesn’t record the Institution Narrative but instead he offers the Bread of Life discourse in the 6th Chapter where Jesus speaks about himself as the bread of life.

What was Jesus’s aim in asking us to commemorate him? In order that we might not be ungrateful and forgetful, St John Mary Vianney, the Curé d’Ars puts it in a superior way saying: “God would have given us something greater if he had had something greater than himself. Briefly, “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving”, and in the celebration of each Eucharist, we express to God our duty of thanks for all that he has given us especially the new life we have received through Him.

Every time we encounter Christ in the eucharist, it is not at all times a moment of prayer requests but also a moment to be indebted for the sacrifice he offered for our sake. We normally question ourselves as to why the Lord instituted the Eucharist: there is one response; everything in the Eucharist derives from love carried to extremes and all emerges from a limitless will to give.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “the greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white host.” If the eucharist is teaching us something, it is the unbounded love a human being should have for a neighbour.  

Vibrantly, the Eucharist outlines the Christian life, because when we receive the Eucharist, we receive Jesus himself; we don’t just get to simply know him but we attain deep intimacy with him. Christian faith can only be a Eucharistic faith and that is why Pope St. Pius X said, “the Eucharist is the shortest and safest way to heaven.” Exclusively, we should believe and declare openly that the same body that was born of the virgin Mary, hang on the cross, lay in the tomb, rose on the third day and ascended to the right hand of the father, was given in food to the apostles and now the church truly consecrates and distributes it to the faithful.

Although Jesus has now returned to the Father, and no longer appears in risen glory amongst us, in the Eucharist he comes to us less dramatically as he did to the first disciples after the resurrection in so awesome experiences. At some time or other, we have probably all doubted how some unremarkable bread and wine can become the flesh and blood of our lord Jesus Christ? It is repetitively very easy to say that the power of God through the Holy Spirit makes it so.

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May you be informed that the eucharist is a divine mystery, a sublime cause of that unity in the divine life, the sum and summary of our faith.

In other words, the Eucharist is also a means that draws us closer to God, displaying the immense love of God for each and every one of us; it brings about our unison and it creates the Church. It also gives meaning to our lives chiefly during sorrowful instants as we remember our Lord’s Passion and death.

God’s whole plan for our salvation is directed to our participation in the life of the Trinity; the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our mortal and corruptible natures are transformed by being joined to the source of life. “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me,” John 6:57.

Through unification to Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit dwells in us and we are drawn up into the eternal relationship of love among the Trinity; the best example is of St Catherine of Siena. For the seven years prior to her death, she took no food in her body other than the Eucharist. Her fasting did not affect her energy; she maintained a very active life and as a matter of fact, most of her great accomplishments occurred during that period.

Realistically, the Eucharist is not the only channel of grace but Christ alone is the source of grace and we encounter him in the most intimate of ways in the Eucharist. After Baptism and Confirmation, the Eucharist is the third sacrament of initiation of the Catholic Church. It is the mysterious centre of all these sacraments because the historic sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is made present during the words of consecration in a hidden and unbloody manner. Therefore, the celebration of the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 11).

Honestly, there can never be a catholic church without the Eucharist and there is no Eucharist without  the priest. It is the mission of the priest to be a supple instrument of God’s grace, a transparent lens through which the light of Christ shines without obstruction, and so we pray that the delicate humans who are called to the priesthood will be truly holy.

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Arthur Middleton explained the pivotal part played by a priest during the celebration of the Eucharist when he said, “A priest is the God-bearer, a living Eucharist of the divine presence, bringing a sympathetic ear and a compassionate heart in which people find God’s consolation, understanding and love.” Our Lord Jesus is present to us visually through art, He is present to us through the proclamation of the Word of God and is present through the priest, who is ordained to act in the person of Christ. 

At the last supper, both the Eucharist and priesthood were instituted; Jesus said, ‘this is my body’ -with those words the Eucharist was instituted. ‘Do this in memory of me’ -with those words’ priesthood was instituted. The priests being ordained have the duty to do though priests come and go, but for Christ who celebrates all the sacraments stays absolute. 

Conclusively therefore, in attending Mass, we join with other Catholics who share the same faith, who struggle as we struggle, who ask the same questions as we ask and sin as we sin. The chants we intone, we may use a different language, but the Eucharistic celebration is the same and has the same impression.

Jesus declares in John 6:56 saying, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Thus, the purpose of the Eucharistic meal consists not in a temporary union, but in an ultimate one. St Padre Pio said, “If only people knew the value of mass, there would be policemen at the door, to regulate the access to the church, every time mass is celebrated.” In the Eucharist, Jesus’ presence is real, not symbolic and he desires to save us. As Mass is celebrated, we see a re-presentation of the Paschal mystery which illustrates to us our salvation in which God continuously calls us to conversion.

In conclusion, in Communion with Christ in the eucharist, aim at creating an intimacy destined to be prolonged; and let your life be woven around the Eucharist. Direct your eyes to Him, who is the light; bring your hearts close to his divine heart; ask him for the grace to know him, for the charity to love him as well as the courage to serve him.

Sem. Jjuuko Mathias.
Alokolum National Major Seminary


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