The Eucharist

Posted September 24, 2010

St. Ambrose wrote: “How is the change of bread into the Body of Christ brought about? It is by means of the Consecration. With what words is the Consecration accomplished? With the words of Jesus. When the moment arrives for working this sacred wonder, the priest ceases himself to speak; he speaks in the person of Jesus.”

The beautiful design of our church building, the very way in which the prayers of the Holy Mass are structured, the ringing of the bells, our humble posture of kneeling, all testify to the supreme importance and “weight” of the Consecration of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. When the words of institution – first uttered by our Lord in the presence of his twelve apostles at the Last Supper – are repeated by the priest who stands at the altar, an amazing miracle occurs: the Word again becomes flesh, food and drink that we receive into our very bodies that we might be strengthened in spirit. The word that theologians have put to this remarkable change is transubstantiation. It is a word that we rarely use, and yet one we do not tend to forget. It means that the very substance of something (what it is) changes – really and truly – even though the form (how it appears) remains the same. So it is that we say “Amen” (I believe) when we receive the very Body of Christ (versus something only symbolizing the Body of Christ). Our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – is at the heart of what makes us Catholic. It epitomizes the extravagance of God’s love for us and reveals our high calling: to be united with the living God!

In his wonderful book entitled Jesus Our Eucharistic Love, Fr. Stefano Manelli includes the following exchange, which probes the great mystery of the Eucharist:

“How is it possible,” an educated Muslim asked a missionary bishop, ‘that bread and wine should become the Flesh and Blood of Christ?”

The bishop-answered, “you were tiny when you were born. You grew big because your body transformed the food you ate into your flesh and blood. If a man’s body is able to change bread and wine into flesh and blood, then God can do this far more easily.”

The Muslim then asked, “How is it possible for Jesus to be wholly and entirely present in the little Host?”

The bishop answered, “Look at the landscape before you and consider how much smaller your eye is in comparison to it. Yet, within your little eye there is an image of this vast countryside. Can God not do in reality, in His Person, what is done in us by way of a likeness or image?”

Then the Muslim asked, “How is it possible for the same Body to be present at the same time in all your churches and in all the consecrated Hosts?”

The bishop said, “Nothing is impossible with God – and this answer ought to be enough. But nature also indicates how to answer this question. Let us take a mirror, throw it down crashing on the floor breaking into pieces. Each piece will multiply the image which the whole mirror previously had reflected but once. So, too, the selfsame Jesus reproduces Himself, not as a mere likeness, but in truth, in every consecrated Host. He is truly present in each One of Them.”

Indeed, such is the great gift and mystery of the Blessed Sacrament. The Real Presence of Jesus is what explains our genuflection when we enter and leave the Church, it is what makes sense of our need to fast an hour before receiving Holy Communion, and it is what demands our deepest reverence and homage. I really cannot encourage each of you enough to make an appointment to spend time with Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration. Coming into His very Presence is like the “still point of the Changing world.” An encounter is awaiting us which will always have the effect of changing us for the good.

Peace in Christ,

Fr. Peter J. Williams

Church of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin St. Paul, MN