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Through the window of the tabernacle

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Our faith teaches that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of life in Christ (“Lumen Gentium,” 11). The Eucharist is the life-giving wellspring from which flows our supernatural bond with God and the divine assistance we need to act as his children. The Eucharist is the climax of our lives on earth, and as such, is the end toward which all our activities should be directed. The liturgy, far from being limited to an hour in church on Sunday, is meant to serve as a structuring principle of the whole of life, not just to be ritually celebrated, but lived out — extended through the everyday affairs and activities of believers. In turn, the liturgy transforms these affairs and activities — along with believers themselves — renewing them in Christ.

While the Eucharist is both “source and summit,” the Eucharist in its dimension as “source” must be considered first, because we have nothing good of ourselves that we can offer back to God which is not first a gift that we receive from him. But in what ways, specifically, is the Eucharist a “source” of life? Focusing on two aspects of the Eucharist — real presence and food — can help us to answer this question.

The Eucharist is the source of our lives as Christians because it is nothing less than Jesus himself. Jesus not only causes our salvation, but is himself our salvation. For: We have life in him as branches live joined to the vine, or as body parts live joined to the body. Joined to Jesus, we are joined to God and partake, literally, in divine life. That is because Jesus, the familiar carpenter from Nazareth, is the ineffable, almighty God who condescends to be like us in every way except sin. Leveraging his divine transcendence, God the Son accommodates himself to our condition so that, despite our human limitations, we can enter into an intimate, familial relationship with him in a truly human — and therefore bodily — way. What is more, the incarnate Lord left us a means whereby he would be wholly, personally present to us after his ascension into heaven, so that we can commune with him even now. What a marvelous gift. Because of the Eucharist, we who live more than 2,000 years after Jesus walked the earth have not missed out.

So central to the faith of the early church was the doctrine of the Real Presence that in the second century, St. Irenaeus could take it for granted when arguing for bodily resurrection against Gnostic heretics. The Gnostics denied bodily salvation because they considered matter to be evil and therefore disdained the human body. Irenaeus refuted the Gnostic view by pointing to the fact that Jesus gave his body as food to nourish our bodies. As a result of such contact whereby we assimilate Our Lord as food, we are in turn integrated into him so that our bodies must partake in his resurrection (“Against Heresies”). St. Irenaeus didn’t have to make a case for the Real Presence because it was evident that this was what Christians universally believed. Instead, he made a case for what the Real Presence implied, which was less obvious.

What ordinary food does for our natural life, the Eucharist does for our spiritual life (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1392). Just as we draw physical strength from food, so too the Eucharist gives us spiritual strength to prevail in the combat of temptation and the hardships of life. The Eucharist brings good cheer, makes our charity more ardent, and helps preserve us from sin (1393-95). By uniting us with our sinless Lord, the Eucharist also takes away venial sin when it is worthily received.

Eucharistic nourishment not only brings about our communion with Jesus, it also brings about the communion that is the church, uniting us with other members of Jesus’ mystical body (1396-97). The Eucharist therefore establishes us in solidarity with people from every rank and walk of life, rich or poor, near or far, young or old, rejoicing or suffering. As a close friend of mine from another country (and language) once said, “We are close through the tabernacle window.” Although he and I are separated by thousands of miles of ocean, when gazing upon the same Eucharistic Lord, we can, as it were, see each other through the window of the monstrance.

Matava is associate professor and dean of Christendom Graduate School of Theology in Alexandria. Graduate.christendom.edu.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020