The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Reflection on the Eucharist

The following is a brief reflection on the Eucharist I gave to a group on May 2, the feast of St. Athanasius.

In case you missed it, today is the feast of St. Athanasius, Father of the Church, and a true soldier of Christ. Athanasius is among my favorite saints, and I wanted to give his name to my first son, but for some reason my wife, Diane, vetoed the idea.

Anyway, Athanasius was quite a scrapper, and back in the 4th Century he fought many a spiritual battle against the heresy of Arianism, a very popular heresy that denied the divinity of Christ. Of course, if we deny Christ’s divinity, most of our core beliefs as Christians become meaningless – and this is particularly true of the Eucharist.

In a sermon to newly baptized Christians, St. Athanasius said,
“You shall see the Levites bringing loaves and a cup of wine, and placing them on the table. So long as the prayers of supplication and entreaties have not been made, there is only bread and wine. But after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ…the Word comes down into the bread and wine – and thus His Body is confected.”
Like those newly baptized Christians in the early Church, I think we sometimes need to be reminded what it is we receive when we receive the Eucharist. Yes, of course, we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we – and I use the word “we” and not “I” intentionally – receive even more than this. It is through the Eucharist that we receive the Church from our Lord; and, indeed, without the Eucharist, we would have no Church.

Another saint of the early Church, Augustine, also in an Easter Vigil sermon to the newly baptized, summed it up well when he said:
“It needs to be made clear to you what it is that you have received. Hear briefly, then, what the Apostle Paul – or rather Christ through Paul – says about the sacrament of the Body of the Lord.
“‘We who are many are one Body…one Bread.’ (1 Cor 10:17) Behold,” Augustine continues, “that is all; I have told it to you quickly; but weigh these words, do not count them.”
In Augustine’s view, this one sentence of Paul’s sums up the whole mystery of what these new Christians received in the Eucharist: "We who are many are one Body…one Bread."

Just a few words, he reminds us, but weighty words, words that open to us what the Eucharist is all about. It’s through the Eucharist that Christ builds Himself a Body and makes us into one single Bread, one single Body.

The content of the Eucharist, then, what happens in it, is the uniting of Christians. Yes, it’s through the Eucharist that Christ brings us from our state of separation into the unity of one Bread, one Body. That’s why the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council called the Eucharist “the source and summit of the Christian life.”

And so the Eucharist is at the very heart of a dynamic, living process, a process central to the very formation and growth of the Church. Addressing this, Pope Benedict wrote, "It is the living process through which, time and again, the Church’s activity of becoming the Church takes place."
And so don’t think that the Church is just a people. No, the Church is nothing less than Eucharistic fellowship. It’s through the Eucharist that the Church brings many peoples together to form one people, one Body, through the one table that the Lord has spread for us all.

Do you see what Paul and Augustine and Benedict are telling us? The Church is a united network of Eucharistic fellowships, in our parishes, our dioceses, and throughout the world in the universal Church.  She is united, ever and again, through the one Body we all receive.

This, of course, provides us with another reason to kneel in adoration before the Lord.

He has given us, through the Eucharist, the Church, the very means to come together to worship, the Body of Christ that we are all called to build up through our love for God and for each other.

What a marvelous gift!

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