In our previous reflection, we highlighted some basic truths and affirmations concerning the Holy Eucharist. The first of these truths is that to talk about the Holy Eucharist is to talk about the Church. The Church comes from the Eucharist: Ecclesia de Eucharistia. She lives in and through the Eucharist, and she is daily nurtured with the precious Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All the activities of the Church are geared towards the Eucharist as their source and summit. The work of Evangelization (Kerygma-martyria) cannot be effective if separated from the Lord’s Supper (leiturgia). Our ministry to the poor and service to the community (diakonia) would be insipid if not motivated by the spirit of sacrifice seen in the life and ministry of Jesus. The Mass is the divine act towards which the life of the Church gravitates. From it she receives all impulses and to it she is continually directed. It is the living source from which she proceeds and the ocean to which she returns. The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrifice of the Redemption; it is at once eternal and perpetuated in time, in Heaven before God and on earth among us.
All the Saints in one way or the other were devoted to the Holy Eucharist. Saints are holy due to their conformity to Christ, and the surest way on earth to become like Christ is to partake of His Body and Blood often. In a musing on the Holy Eucharist, St. Damian of Molokai (1840-1889) said, “The Blessed Sacrament is indeed the stimulus for us all, for me as it should be for you, to forsake all worldly ambitions. Without the constant presence of our Divine Master upon the altar in my poor chapels, I never could have persevered casting my lot with the lepers of Molokai, the foreseen consequences of which begins now to appear on my skin and is felt throughout the body. The Holy Communion being the daily bread of a priest, I feel myself happy, well pleased, and resigned in the rather exceptional circumstance in which it has pleased Divine Providence to put me” (Damien of Molokai to Rev. H.B. Chapman, August 26, 1886, in “The Apostle of the Lepers,” Donahoe’s Magazine 17 (January –July 1887, p34).
To understand the Eucharist, there must first be a renewed interest in understanding the Church. To fall in love with the Eucharist, one must fall in love with the Church because the Church is the mystical Body of Christ. In the Eucharist, we celebrate the truth of what Jesus did for His Bride, the Church. He totally gave Himself for the life of the world (John 6:51). Therefore, in a response to the US Bishops’ call for a Eucharistic Revival, members of the Church should engage in profound study, renewed catechesis, and deeper appreciation of the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. It is on this note that I applaud the insights of Matthew Kelly in his recent book “Beautiful Eucharist” (2023). In this seminal Eucharistic manual, aimed at promoting dynamic Eucharistic revival, Kelly unveils how some churchmen and women have credibly testified that their membership in the Church has enriched their knowledge, love, and appreciation of the Holy Eucharist.
Indeed, in his introduction to “Beautiful Eucharist,” Kelly gives a resounding personal testimony of his love for the Holy Eucharist, recounting how his love for the Church helped to deepen his appreciation for the Blessed Sacrament. He writes, “There are a lot of things I love about being Catholic, but at the top of the list is the Eucharist. Most people have never really stopped to think about it, but the Eucharist is amazing. I was asked once: what would have to happen for you to leave the Catholic Church? I thought about the question for a long time. I combed through the lowest moments in the Catholic history, testing each to see if one of them would have been the breaking point that made me leave. But after thinking it through I decided I could never leave the Catholic Church. The reason is because I believe that Jesus is truly present; body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist.” Kelly further observes, “Sure, some other churches might have better music, but in the whole scheme of things music is trivial compared to the Eucharist. Other churches might have more engaging preachers, but these are trivial compared to the Eucharist. When we go to Mass on Sunday the danger is in thinking that the music and the homily are the most important things. Don’t take the trivial and make it important. That’s the way of the world. Get clear about what’s really important, what matters most, and life will be a lot simpler and more joyful.”
In the tenth chapter of “Beautiful Eucharist,” Kelly tells of the conversion of Allen Hunt, a former Episcopalian pastor of the United Methodist Church. In his own words, Hunt recounts how St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians revolutionized his life and brought him to the beauty of the Catholic faith. Specifically, he was touched by this passage: “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). This gracious Eucharistic text was read to Allen Hunt by Sister Rose, a cloistered Dominican nun, when one Father Steven invited Pastor Allen to accompany him on a six-week retreat with the nuns. In his testimony, Allen humbly articulates, “The Eucharist was the central and greatest treasure that captivated my mind and heart. I began to experience an aching longing to receive Jesus -body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. I yearned to know Him in the most intimate of ways.”
In “Beautiful Eucharist,” Kelly offers a balm to heal the wounds inflected on the minds of many Catholics today who doubt that Jesus is truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament. Matthew is asking us to remember that the Church was born of the Paschal Mystery. For this very reason, the Eucharist, the sacrament of the Paschal Mystery, stands at the center of the Church’s life. At every celebration of the Eucharist, we are spiritually brought back to the Paschal Triduum. We witness the events of the evening of Holy Thursday, the Last Supper, and what followed it. The institution of the Eucharist sacramentally anticipated the events that were about to take place; the agony in Gethsemane, the sorrowful but salvific death of Jesus on the Cross, and the Resurrection of Jesus after three days in the tomb. At every Mass the event of the Paschal Mystery is reenacted and made present. Matthew Kelly is telling us that the only way to come out of our crisis of faith is to worship the Catholic way. Catholic worship is based on the seven Sacraments, all of which were instituted by Christ. The source and the summit of life and worship is the Eucharist.
The Sacraments are guaranteed encounters with Christ, but only the Eucharist is Christ Himself: Ipsum Esse. We appreciate the sublime words of Jesus, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day…whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:54-56). The Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church (YOUCAT) puts it so well: “Anyone who is really seeking Jesus’ friendship responds as often as possible to Jesus’ invitation to the (Eucharistic) feast. Actually, for a genuine Christian, ‘Sunday duty’ is just as inappropriate an expression as ‘kiss duty’ would be for someone who was truly in love.”
In my own personal life and spiritual journey, it is the Church that opens the door for me to fall in love with Jesus and to consider the vocation to the priesthood. The door that was opened was that of the most Blessed Sacrament. In my early childhood, my mother would always take me with her to church. I was so inspired by the liturgy that I soon desired to become a priest. I admired when priests at the altar would raise the precious Body of Jesus and the chalice of salvation. The ringing of the bells at Mass, the use of the incense, the solemn gestures of genuflecting and kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, the tabernacle light, the decorations of the altar, and the reverence given to God interested me in becoming a minister. I was moved by the simplicity, humility, and sacrificial attitude of the priests who ministered at the altar. I loved the white soutanes worn by the priests and the liturgical vestments used for the celebration of the Holy Mass. They remind me of heaven and the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). This is what I refer to as the conversion of the senses (the beauty), which opens the door for the conversion of the will (the good), and the conversion of the intellect (the truth), which culminates in the conversion of the heart (spiritual life).
In praise of the Church in relationship to the Eucharist, we unequivocally agree with Pope Benedict XVI (1927-2022) when he said, “It is the Church that, despite all the human foibles of the people in her, gives us Jesus Christ, and only through her can we receive Him as a living, authoritative reality that summons and endows me here and now” (The Pope Benedict XVI Reader, Word on Fire Publication, 2021, p117).
O Sacrament Most Holy! O Sacrament Divine
All Praise and All Thanksgiving Be Every Moment Thine.
Father Benedict Nwachukwu-Udaku, VF, is Pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Rancho Cucamonga and the Vicar Forane of the Diocese’s West End Vicariate.