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Sacrament of sacraments

As Christians, the main purpose in our lives on earth is to gain eternity in heaven. Then we will dwell intimately in the fullness of the Lord. However, as Catholics we also understand that God is present to us in this life as well, and we find him in the sacraments of the church.


We especially find union in the Eucharist, which St. Thomas Aquinas calls the “Sacrament of Sacraments.” In each sacrament we encounter the grace of Christ, but in the Eucharist, we encounter Christ himself, body, blood, soul and divinity. There can be no greater intimacy, which is why the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, 11).


This reality of the Eucharist — the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist — is a supernatural gift that we recognize each and every time we come to Mass. We reflect our belief in our gestures at Mass. We genuflect to the tabernacle before we enter our pew, knowing that Jesus is present there. The priest kisses the altar when he enters the sanctuary, a sign of reverence for the sacred place where Christ comes to earth in the Eucharist. We kneel while the bread and wine become the Real Presence when the priest echoes the words of Jesus Christ, “This is my body … This is my blood.” We make a sign of reverence before we receive the Eucharist at Communion.


The words of the priest come from the first Eucharist at the Last Supper. Interestingly, St. John Gospel is the only one that does not include these words. Instead, he offers us Christ’s teaching in the sixth chapter, which we often call the “Bread of Life Discourse.” These past few weeks the Gospel has been taken from this conversation between Jesus and his followers about the truth of the Eucharist. This Sunday, we hear Jesus say, “I am the living bread come down from heaven …. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you … for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”


Jesus leaves no room for confusion. He is offering us his Body and Blood. However, while we know this truth in our heads, we still have a hard time convincing our hearts. Sometimes we have difficulty making ourselves aware of his Real Presence.


Perhaps, the obstacle is the mystery of the Eucharist. Today we look to find solutions through science. This is how doctors find cures for diseases and physicists seek to explain the universe. We are uncomfortable with unanswered questions, so every mystery is turned over, probed, prodded and analyzed until it reveals its understandable conclusion.


Faced with this attitude, mysteries are frustrating, including the Eucharist. How does the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ? Why does it still smell and taste like bread and wine? Why did Jesus not tell us how this happens?


Let this frustration never lead us to doubt, however, for Jesus Christ, the source of all truth and all that is good, our Savior who came that we have eternal life, tells us that he is the bread come down from heaven, and he remains in those who receive the Eucharist. It is a mystery that remains hidden, yet contains the greatest beauty and glory that we will ever encounter. This is the mystery, and the truth, that we encounter at every Mass, because it is Jesus, in all of his power and his charity, who meets us in such intimacy at every Mass.


We are not called to solve the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. We are called to believe it, to live it, and to delight that we have such a loving God who deigns to dwell within us to strengthen and heal us.


May the father fill us with deep faith and perfect love for the his son in the Eucharist, that we may share in his joy in this life and the next.


Fr. Wagner is parochial vicar of St. Veronica Church in Chantilly.




© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018