Uncovering the Eucharist
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Dear Friends,

Our catechesis on the Eucharist is aimed to strengthen our spiritual life, renew our appreciation for the Holy Mass, rekindle our thirst for a greater communion with God, and empower us to share our experience of this Sacrament with others. Endeavoring to know more about the Eucharist is a worthwhile undertaking. The Eucharist is at the center of who we are, what we believe, what we celebrate, and how we live our lives as members of the mystical Body of Christ. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Holy Eucharist is the most important Sacrament because in the other six sacraments, we see the Virtus Christi (power of Christ), but in the Blessed Sacrament, we revere Ipse Christus (Christ Himself). Since the Eucharist is Christ Himself, we can claim that the Holy Eucharist is our greatest treasure here on earth and our greatest hope for heaven. St. John Mary Vianney (1786-1859) used to admonish his parishioners while pointing towards the tabernacle, saying, “Jesus is there in the tabernacle: let us open our hearts to him, let us rejoice in his sacred presence. That is the best prayer.” St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) would admonish his spiritual children in these words: “Know also that you will probably gain more by praying 15 minutes before the Blessed Sacrament than all the other spiritual exercises of the day. True, our Lord hears our prayers anywhere, but he has revealed to his servants that those who visit him in the Blessed Sacrament will obtain a more abundant measure of grace.

To appreciate Jesus’ gift of Himself in the Blessed Sacrament, it is important to recognize the three ways that the Eucharist was presented in the sermons of John Chrysostom, the pastoral letters of St. Gregory the Great, the catechesis of St. Augustine, the Anima Christi prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and the theological scholarship of St. Thomas Aquinas. These ways are, sacrificium (sacrifice), communio (communion), and viaticum (food for travelers). These three interrelated ways are rooted in the Bible, presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, supported by other magisterial documents, and revered in the pious lives of the people of God. To talk about the Eucharist as sacrifice, communion, and viaticum, is to acknowledge how this sacrament of the altar is foreshadowed in the Old Testament, made present in the life of God’s people, and commemorated in most of the rites and rituals of the people of Israel. In this three- dimensional outlook, the importance of the Passover is highlighted, the birth of the new people of God is celebrated, and the story of salvation is reenacted. At every Mass, we share the blessings of Calvary. The merits of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus become ours. We can think of ourselves as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). At every Mass, we encounter Jesus, who is real in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. At Mass, we see Jesus inviting us to, “come and see” (John 1:39). We touch Him as we devoutly hear the words of consecration: “This is my Body; this is my Blood” (Luke 22:19-20). We solemnly feel His presence as the priest elevates the Sacred Species, saying; “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).”

The Eucharistic Jesus is the love that we celebrate in the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus is a love that unites, making Himself one with the person who receives Him. Holy Communion is a communion with Jesus, a coming together of a sinner and the Holy One of Israel (Mark 1:24). It is a union between God and man. At Mass, we are touched by the One who touches the leper (Mark 1:40-45). We are fed by the One who feeds the hungry (Matthew 14:13-21), and we are visited by the One who visited Mary and Martha (Luke 10: 38-42). He is the one who wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:35), and, lamentably, He continues to weep over the many tragedies happening in our world today, from Morocco to Hawaii, from Ukraine to Sudan, from the streets of Los Angeles to las calles de San Bernardino, and from las fincas of Nicaragua to the farmlands in Zimbabwe.

The presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament unleashes in us the spirit of thanksgiving. To give thanks is to make Jesus more real in our lives. When we receive a favor, we are grateful to the person who makes the gift available to us. By acknowledging the gift, we affirm the giver, we make the giver present in our lives. The gift received can renew our commitment, restore our friendship, and lead to better relationship and genuine appreciation of the benefactor. In the same way, by saying thanks to Jesus when we receive His Body and Blood, Jesus is made more real in our lives, in our stories, in our prayers, and in the experiences that accompany and solidify our faith journeys. The beautiful and profound religious attitude of giving thanks is relived in the readings at Mass, celebrated in liturgical songs, converted into prayers in the Universal Prayers, offered at the moment of the Consecration, and shared at Communion.
To see the Eucharist as sacrifice is to make present the humble but salvific title of Jesus as “The Lamb of God” (John 1:29). In the Bible, sacrifice is one of the most primary forms of worship, and lambs are identified with sacrifice. Genesis tells us about the offerings of Cain and Abel, at which time “Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions” (Genesis 4:3-4). Also, there are stories of burnt offerings from Noah (Genesis 8:20-21), Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-24), Abraham (Genesis 15:8-10; 22:1-13), Jacob (Genesis 46:1), and others.

The sacrifice offered by Melchizedek is of particular interest, since he is the first priest mentioned in the Bible. In Hebrews 7:1-17, he foreshadowed the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Melchizedek was both priest and king, described specifically as a king of Salem, a land that would later become “Jerusalem,” meaning “City of Peace” (Psalm 76:2). Jesus would be called the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6-7; Luke 2:1-20). Melchizedek’s sacrifice was extraordinary in that it involved no animals. He offered bread and wine just as Jesus later would at the Last Supper when He instituted the Eucharist (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20). The author of the Letter to the Hebrews presents Jesus Christ as the “great high priest” (Heb. 3:1, 4:14) who was sent into the world by the Father to teach, heal, and sanctify all people. Christ alone reconciled God and man through the sacrifice of the Cross. He founded His Church so that all people in every time and place might have access to His saving grace. He instituted the priesthood so that His love could touch every person through the Word and the Sacraments. Even in the Kingdom, Jesus will be the “great high priest.” The redeemed will eternally enjoy the vision of the Trinity in, through, and with Him. In this way, Jesus is acknowledged as the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) and celebrated as the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5).

In the story of Abraham and Isaac, we encounter a convincing allegory for the sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross. Just as Isaac was an obedient son to his father Abraham, Jesus remained obedient to his Heavenly Father even unto death (Philippians 2:8). During his public ministry, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Again, like Isaac, Jesus carried the wood for his own sacrifice (John 19: 17). The lamb that was later sacrificed by Abraham (Genesis 22: 13) was a prefiguration of the slain lamb of Israel’s Passover festivities. At the first Passover, God instructed each Israelite family to take an unblemished lamb without broken bones, kill it, and sprinkle its blood on the doorpost. That night, the Israelites were to eat the lamb. If they did, their firstborn would be spared. If they didn’t, their firstborn would die in the night along with all the firstborn in their flocks (Exodus 12:1-23). The sacrificial lamb died as a ransom in place of the firstborn of the household. The Passover was an act of redemption, a celebration of liberation, and a feast of love. These allusions point to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Thus, “By the oblation of his Body, Jesus brought the sacrifices of old to fulfilment in the reality of the Cross and, by commending himself to you for our salvation, showed himself the Priest, the Altar, and the Lamb of sacrifice” (Preface V of Easter). Also, in the beautiful Preface of the Most Holy Eucharist no I, the Church acknowledges that Jesus is both the priest (One who offers sacrifice) and the Lamb of sacrifice (One that is offered in sacrifice). It is written, “For Jesus is the true and eternal Priest, who instituted the pattern of an everlasting sacrifice and was the first to offer himself as the saving Victim, commending us to make this offering as his memorial. As we eat his flesh that was sacrificed for us, we are made strong, and, as we drink his Blood that was poured out for us, we are washed clean.”

It is important to emphasize that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, especially during this time of Eucharistic Revival. Youth are always moved when stories of sacrifice are narrated to them. The movie “Titanic” remains a legend to many young people because of the great sacrifices that most of the characters had to make in the midst of difficult circumstances. Also, the film “The Passion of the Christ” is revered by many people, especially youth and young adults as they contemplate all that Jesus had to undergo in accomplishing the will of His Heavenly Father in His mission of saving the world. Thus, when the Eucharist is seen as a sacrifice, the sufferings of Jesus are most appreciated. Let us Pray!!!
My Jesus, you have given your whole self to me; I give my whole self 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.