Uncovering the Eucharist
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Dear Friends,

In our last catechesis, we emphasized the importance of understanding the Holy Eucharist as intrinsically tied to sacrifice. This sacrificial aspect lies at the heart of the Eucharist, as articulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which describes it as “the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body (CCC, 1362).” In our catechesis, we pointed out that the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice because “the victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different…the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner at the altar. This sacrifice is truly propitiatory (Council of Trent 1562 DS 1743).”

Acknowledging this sacrificial dimension of the Holy Eucharist entails recognizing Jesus as both priest and victim. In participating in the priesthood of Christ, priests assume a victim-like role not only through the words uttered during the consecration of the sacred species; “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood” (Mark 14:22), but also by pledging to embody the mind of Christ in his self-empting love (Philippians 2:11), sacrificial giving (John 6:51), and boundless charity (Matthew 25:40). This priest-victimhood finds resonance in the life of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who, in the face of martyrdom said, “I am the wheat of Christ.” St. John Nepomucene (1340-1393), St. Mateo Correa Magallanes (1866-1927), Father Felipe Ciscar Puig (1885-1936), and Father Fernando Olmedo Reguera (1873-1936) were tortured and later killed because they refused to violate the seal of confession. The same call to victimhood marked the life of St. Camillus of Lellis (1550-1614), who served the sick with his whole heart. According to a testimony of one of his companions, “Father Camillus was so fired by the virtue of holy charity both towards God and towards his neighbors especially the sick, that just to see them was enough to melt his tender heart and to make him forget every pleasure, every earthly delight and attachment. Indeed, even when ministering to just one sick man, he seemed to burn himself up and wear himself out with the utmost devotion and compassion. Gladly would he have taken upon himself all their sickness and sufferings to alleviate their pain or take away their weakness” (Office of the Reading-Memorial of St. Camillus of Lellis).

The story of Father Walter Ciszek (1904-1984) a Pennsylvania-born Jesuit priest and missionary who served clandestinely in the Soviet Union and was convicted of being a “Vatican Spy” in World War II and spent 23 years in Soviet prisons is very apt to demonstrate how death can be at work in the life and ministry of a priest. Fr. Ciszek recounted how he and Father Nestrov were tortured at times and sometimes they thought about abandoning the ministry but at every celebration of the Eucharist, they regain the strength to continue to bear witness to Christ. He said, “our one spiritual consolation was the Mass. Occasionally, we were able to get away, just the two of us, into the forest and there celebrate Mass in secret. We wore no vestments, the stump of a tree served as our altar, and we had to be constantly on guard against discovery. In some ways this need for secrecy in celebrating the sacrifice of the Mass only served to emphasize the difficulties we had encountered, the near impossibility of ever doing what we had come to for the people to whom we had hoped to minister. Yet the Mass gave us strength. We preached little homilies after the Gospel, first Father Nestrov and then I. It was amazing how impressive the Gospel message could be in such circumstances; our spirit would seem to drink in the words, savor them, and feel the divine power in them. And, at the moment of consecration, God became present in a new way in Teplaya-Gora. He was there, in answer to our petitions, where the sacrifice of Calvary had never been celebrated before…Those were my most consoling thoughts, my happiest moments, in what turned out to be almost a non-apostolate at Teplaya-Gora. The consolation of that sacrifice, that offering, would stay with me as we returned home through the darkness and silence of the forest” (Walter J. Ciszek, SJ Magnificat April 2022, Vol 24, no. 1).

The sacrificial character of priestly life marked the supreme offering of the first priests, the Holy Apostles. As narrated in the stories of their martyrdom, all endured intense persecution on behalf of Christ. Peter was crucified upside down at his request. Paul was beheaded. Andrew was crucified. Thomas was pierced. Philip was arrested and cruelly put to death. Matthew was stabbed to death. Bartholomew was flayed alive. James was stoned. Mathias was burnt to death. Simeon the Zealot was killed after refusing to sacrifice to the sun god. James the Less was crucified. Jude Thaddeus was killed with arrows. John, the beloved apostle, the one who stood at the foot of the Cross (John 19: 26), escaped unhurt after being cast into the boiling oil at Rome. The stories of their sacrifices underscore the unity of priest and victim, mirroring the words of Revelation: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).

This theme of priestly victimhood extends to the stories of the martyrs of Uganda (1885), the Los Cristeros of Mexico from (1926-1929), and the Martyrs of China (1648-1930). In accepting the call to victimhood, many priests have been exiled from their home countries, rejected in mission territories, kidnapped by enemies of the Church, and on some occasions, falsely accused of evils they never committed. St. Paul’s words resonate in these situations: “We are always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:10-12).
Venerable Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) further emphasizes the connection between priestly service and sacrifice, comparing priests to Gideon’s army, whose broken pitchers revealed the light within. Sheen underscored thus: “The light was there, but it did not shine forth to confound and defeat the enemy until the pitchers were broken. Only when we are “broken” do we shed the light of Christ to defeat the forces of Satan. It is not only the soul and mind of the priest that are involved in the exercise of his ministry; it is also his body, the body broken, mortified, and made a victim” (Fulton Sheen, The Priest is Not His Own, p23). A priest should not only offer sacrifice to God, he must also offer up himself as St. Paul critically mandated in his Letter to the Romans, “I appeal to you by God’s mercies to offer up your bodies as living sacrifice, consecrated to God and worthy of His acceptance; this is the worship due from us as rational creatures” (Romans 12:1). St. Augustine (354-430) noted that there is no need to look outside oneself for a sheep to offer to God. Each has within him that which can be crucified.

The Eucharist as a sacrifice challenges all those who believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to accept the call to be “offered,” just as Jesus made an offering of himself for the life of the world (John 3: 16; 6:51). People can make an offering of themselves by welcoming trials and difficulties, lamentations, and vicissitudes with an attitude of courage, fortitude, resilience, and patience. In a church setting, emptying one’s self for the parishioners produces greater spiritual prosperity within the parish. Humbling ourselves prepares us for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It creates a healthy relationship and communion among God’s people. It makes the parish not only a “faith clinic” but also a “field hospital” where the least, the last, and the little can find refuge and solace.

In presenting the Eucharist as a sacrifice, we put into perspective Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me,”-Hoc facite in meam commemorationem (Luke 22:19). The sacrifice offered by Christ on the Cross made present at every Mass, is an invitation to remember the goodness of the Lord. The words of Psalm 116:12, was timely for the Israelites, who needed to be reminded not to forget the goodness of the Lord. It asks, “How shall I make return to the Lord for all the good He has done for me?” and the Psalmist responds, “The cup of salvation I will take up, and I will call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:13). To remember Jesus’ sacrifice is a key in celebrating the Holy Eucharist. When we remember something, we call it to mind and bring it forth into the present. What was past (sacrifice) is now here with us in our minds (communion). We collect things from the past and bring them into the present through the process called, “anamnesis” (recollection or remembrance). We enter into the spiritual space of God, to whom, the past is present because He is the eternal “now.” God’s name is “I Am.” He is “the God who is always there, present to His people in order to save them” (CCC, 207). This is the true story of the Eucharist. Our God is with us. He is our Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).

In our next catechesis, we will delve into the Eucharist as Holy Communion, exploring the Church’s teaching on how the Christian life is nourished by the Eucharist. We will also reconnect with the saints of the Holy Eucharist to highlight the profound fruits of Holy Communion and strengthen our union with the Blessed Lord.

Ad majorem Dei Gloriam

Father Benedict Nwachukwu-Udaku, VF, is Pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Rancho Cucamonga and the Vicar Forane of the Diocese’s West End Vicariate.