In this monthly catechesis on the Holy Eucharist, we will be blessed to learn a little more about Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. We appreciate the sublime teaching of the Church that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). It is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of our life and mission as Catholics. The Holy Eucharist is the Lord Jesus present in the tabernacle of our churches with His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. It is Jesus veiled under the appearance of bread. However, He is really, physically, and substantially present in the consecrated Host. In the Blessed Sacrament, we adore Jesus, who dwells in our midst, works within us and for us, and pitches his tent in our world and in our homes. The Holy Eucharist is Jesus, who forgives all our sins, heals our infirmities, redeems our lives from the pit of death, and crowns us with steadfast love and mercy (Psalm 103: 3-4). Furthermore, it is the paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, His Passion is recalled, the soul is filled with graces, and the promise of future glory is given (CCC 1402).
In this sixth segment of our spiritual journey, we will continue our exploration of the Holy Eucharist as a great sacrifice that Jesus made of Himself for the life of the world (John 6:51). Therefore, it is imperative to make it clear that at every Eucharistic celebration, we re-live the mystery of the Cross. We commemorate the redeeming sacrifice in which the Son of God completely gave Himself for the salvation of mankind. At the Holy Mass, the love of the crucified and Risen Christ is conveyed to us as food and drink so that we may follow Him and serve our brothers and sisters daily. Thus, the Holy Eucharist is both a sacrifice and a communion just as St. Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) said, “You come to me and unite yourself intimately to me under the form of nourishment. Your blood now runs in mine, your soul, Incarnate God, compenetrates mine, giving courage and support. What miracles! Who would have ever imagined such!”
The Holy Eucharist is the “Yes” of Jesus to the will of His Father. It is the “hour” when Jesus showed his ultimate love for humanity by offering himself as an oblation to His Heavenly Father. At every Eucharistic celebration, everyone is invited to be active participants in the sublime Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-9). To see the Eucharist as a sacrifice offers us the opportunity to meditate on the place of sacrifice in the life and ministry of Jesus. This invitation opens our minds and hearts to appreciate what Jesus did for us from the manger to the cross, from the Sea of Galilee to the village of Caesarea Philippi, from Jericho to Jerusalem, from the House of Simon Peter to the Citadel of Jarius, from the Palace of Herod to the Courtyard of Pontius Pilate, and from Mount Tabor to Mount Calvary. At every Eucharistic celebration, Calvary is made present, the agony of Jesus is re-lived, the passion of Jesus is revered, and the sacrifice of Jesus is reenacted.
In the words of Consecration, “This is my Body, this is my Blood, the Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant, which is poured for you and for many. Do this in memory of Me.” In these holy words of Consecration, we wholly and truly appreciate that Jesus fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament, especially the promise made by God through Prophet Jeremiah concerning the New Covenant: “The days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt because they broke my covenant… I will be their God, and they will be my people…” (Jeremiah 34:31-34).
The Holy Eucharist reveals that the priest who offers the Mass is a victim. By the virtue of his vocation, the priest is called to lay down his life through the giving of himself as he serves the people of God. A priest is a sacerdos victima (priest-victim). It is important to recall the words of the holy priest of France, Jean–Baptiste Henri Lacordaire (1802-1861) regarding the true identity of a priest. According to him, being a priest is: “To live in the midst of the world with no desire for its pleasures; to be a member of every family, yet belonging to none; to share all sufferings; to penetrate all secrets, to heal all wounds; to daily go from men to God to offer Him their homage and petitions; to return from God to men to bring them His pardon and hope; to have a heart of fire for charity and a heart of bronze for chastity; to bless and to be blest forever.”
At every priestly Ordination, I am always moved when the ordaining prelate presents the bread and wine to the newly ordained priest and gives this instruction: “Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.” This beautiful acknowledgement of the Cross’s importance in priests’ lives is also seen in the writings of St. Augustine (354-430). On the first anniversary of his Ordination, he acknowledged that his journey towards baptism was far more significant than his call to become a bishop. He said, “For you, I am a bishop, with you, after all, I am a Christian. The first is the name of an office undertaken, the second a name of grace; the one means danger, this one salvation.”
St. Ignatius of Antioch (AD 35-107) considered himself as a “wheat for Christ.” He wanted to be one with Christ as priest and victim. He wanted to express this by giving up his own body and pouring out his blood as Christ did. He recognized that there is a profound relationship between the way the Lord Jesus lived his priesthood and the way that all priests are to live out their priesthood. Jesus as High Priest had superseded all previous expressions of sacrifice by offering himself as victim. In the same way, every priest is called to be both priest and victim in his own life.
At the Eucharistic table, the people of God are also invited to offer themselves to God by imitating the Blessed Lord Jesus Christ (Imitacio Christi). St. Paul trustingly invites us in these words, “Brothers, I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2). At offertory, the faithful offer to God not only what they have but who they are; we offer to God our sufferings, pains, disappointments, frustrations, even the discomforts arising from the parking problems in most of our parishes. We are called to unite our sufferings with the sufferings of the Blessed Lord.
We can learn from the life of St. Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879) who during her long and painful illness, expressed the happiness that she felt in times of sleeplessness, because then she was able to unite herself to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Referring to a little golden monstrance that was depicted on the curtain around her bed, she said, “His visit gives me the desire and strength to offer myself as a sacrifice, when I feel all alone and in pain.” When St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897) had become quite ill, she dragged herself with great effort to Church to receive Jesus. One morning, after Holy Communion, she was in her cell, exhausted. One of the sisters remarked that she should not exert herself so much. She replied, “Oh, what are these sufferings to me in comparison with one daily Holy Communion.” She then reverently pleaded with Jesus: “Remain within me, as you do in the tabernacle. Do not ever withdraw your presence from Your little host.”
To show his love for the Eucharist as a sacrifice, Blessed Carlo Acutis (1991-2006) wrote, “The sacrifice on the Cross which occurred two thousand years ago is just as present to us in all the Masses celebrated today. Just like John (the Apostle), we can unite ourselves to the sacrifice on the Cross and show our love for God by participating in Mass every day. We cannot ignore Jesus’ invitation to unite ourselves to Him.”
We ought to appreciate that the Eucharist empowers us to share in Jesus’ work of redemption and to grow into his likeness, as seen in the life of St. Paul when he publicly declared, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).”
At every Eucharistic celebration, we make ours the story of Jacob’s ladder in the book of Genesis (28:12-13). With this narrative, we are rooted here on earth in our different places of birth and countries of origin, yet at the same time we are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). Our ladder was set upon the earth by Christ. It was established as the link between earth and heaven when Christ became incarnate, walked upon earth, and ultimately was lifted up on Calvary. The Cross, the ladder of mediation, was of earthly origin in the sense that the soldiers fashioned it. However, as a means of atonement, it was by no means of earthly origin. Its top reached to heaven, for the divine Mediator sits at the right hand of the Father. As our Blessed Lord said, “No one has ever gone up into heaven; but there is One who has come down from heaven (John 3:13).” Jesus as a man of sorrows accustomed to suffering, is the ladder on which we ascend to God. He is the answer to our questions, the solution to our problems, and the source of our joy.
Ad maiorem Dei gloriam to you!
Father Benedict Nwachukwu-Udaku, VF, is Pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Rancho Cucamonga and the Vicar Forane of the Diocese’s West End Vicariate.