Uncovering the Eucharist
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

Dear Friends,
In our previous catechesis, we argued that seeing the Eucharist as the sacrament of the “Body” and the “Blood” of our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ would strengthen our teaching that Catholicism is an embodied religion. In our Catholic faith, the body is revered, in contrast to the gnostic heresies of the postmodern world. Gnosticism, one of the prevalent heresies in the second century, regarded the body (matter) as evil, viewing it as an inferior form of being produced by a low-level deity. According to the belief, the soul is trapped in matter, and the spiritual life’s goal is to acquire the gnosis (knowledge) to facilitate the soul’s escape from the body. This pseudo-doctrine is repugnant to the Christian belief, which insists on the goodness of the body (matter).
Christian faith upholds the dignity of the body as evident in the story of creation, celebrated in the mystery of Incarnation, revered in the narrative of Christ’s Resurrection, and proclaimed through the theology of the Church and sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist. St. Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 130-202) in his book Adversus haereses (Against the Heresies) inspiringly said, “Redemption is decidedly not tantamount to the escape of the soul from the body; rather, it is the salvation and perfection of the body.”
In Irenaeus’s Adversus heareses, we find a beautiful ground to reject any temptation to affirm the great divide between the spirit and matter, body and soul, and the “here” and the “hereafter.” Gnosticism posits a wide separation between the material and the spiritual, the realm of appearance and the realm of true reality, the fleeting earth, and the permanent heaven, and the individual and the community. In Jesus, especially in the sacrament of His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, everything is reconciled. God and man are united-the mystery of Incarnation. The entire prologue (John 1:1-18) comes to climax with the magnificent phrase, “the Word was made flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). This phrase, “lived among us,” is literally translated as, “tabernacle among us,” or, “pitched his tent among us.” To “pitch his tent among us” means that there is a relationship between Jesus and the temple. The “Word” and the “Flesh” are one thing. St. John is telling us that in the flesh of Jesus, God has established his definitive tabernacle among us. This is the profound meaning of the Holy Eucharist-Our God is with us- Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). He is the “I am who I am” of Exodus 3:14. The Bread of Life of John 6:35. He is the one who promised that the “Bread” he will give is for the life of the world (John 6:51), and he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).
The Eucharist is the embodiment of this reconciliation. In the Eucharist, God doesn’t give us only the teachings; He gives us the teacher. According to Prof. Peter Kreeft, in the Bible and Church teaching, we get the very mind of God but in the Eucharist, we receive the very body of God. While great philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Cicero, Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant sought to save the world from foolishness through their minds, Jesus saved us from sin, death, and hell by giving us His Body on the Cross and in the Eucharist. When we receive the Eucharist, we eat the truth and life (John 14:6) into our bodies and not just our minds. The Eucharist is not only the food for the soul; it is food for our bodies and minds. In the Eucharist, we eat God because Jesus is truly God and truly man (The Council of Chalcedon 451).
God has a body because Christ is God. The body of Christ is one body in four places. In Heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father; on the Cross, pouring out his blood to save the world; in the Eucharist, the same sacrifice made on the Cross of Calvary; and in the Church, His mystical body where each of us is like a cell in a body. This is what St. Paul alluded to when he called us members of Christ’s body not as members in a club, but as organs in a body (1 Corinthians 12). According to the erudite Emeritus Professor of Philosopher at Boston College, Peter Kreeft, these four ways of considering Christ’s body do not imply that there are four bodies but one body because Christ is only one person. It is beneficial to consider all these four meanings of Christ body one-by-one to understand their unity. First, the individual human body that Christ assumed in Mary’s womb during Incarnation is still with Him now in Heaven. The Ascension does not undo the Incarnation. Second, it is the very same body He gave up for us as a sacrifice for our salvation on the Cross. Third, that same body is now given to us in the Eucharist, freed from the limitations of time and place. Fourth, we enter that body, Christ’s body, through baptism when we join the Church, which is His mystical body. The Church is the bride of Christ, in marriage the two become one. What sustains us in the Church is the Eucharist. That’s why the angelic doctor St. Thomas Aquinas calls the Eucharist Alimentum Espiritualis (spiritual food) which in my native language Igbo is referred to as Oriri di Nso (sacred food).
The Eucharist, referred to as Oriri di Nso (sacred food), a holy communion, the food of the angels and the saints, invokes in us a spirit of reverence and adoration as we approach the Altar to receive the Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16), the King of Kings (Rev. 19:16), the Alfa and the Omega (Rev. 22:13), the Wounded Messiah (Isaiah 53:4), the El Shaddai (Genesis 17:1), the Lamb that was slain (Isaiah 53:7; Rev 13:8; John 1:29), and my Lord and my God (John 20:28). The entire book four of Thomas a Kempis most important spiritual legendry The Imitation of Christ is dedicated to revealing the dispositions that ought to accompany us as we receive the Holy Eucharist. Thomas a Kempis inspiringly observed: “Many people travel far to honor the relics of the saints, marveling at their wonderful deeds and at the buildings of magnificent shrines. They gaze upon and kiss the sacred relics encased in silk and gold. Behold, You are here present before me on the altar, my God, Saint of saints, Creator of men, and Lord of angels! Often in looking at such things, men are moved by curiosity, by the novelty of the unseen, and they bear away little fruit for the amendment of their lives, especially when they go from place to place lightly and without true contrition. But here in the Sacrament of the altar You are wholly present, my God, the man Christ Jesus, whence is obtained the full realization of eternal salvation, as often as You are worthily and devoutly received. To this, indeed, we are not drawn by levity, or curiosity, or sensuality, but by firm faith, devout hope, and sincere love” (The Imitation of Christ, Book Four, Chapter I).
To refer Jesus as “the man Christ Jesus” by Thomas a Kempis in the quotation above is important in our ongoing appreciation of the profound dimension of not extricating the humanity of Christ in the Eucharistic theology. Yes, in Christ, the body is revered and elevated as against the present transgender ideology of de-sacralization of the human body as a thing to be manipulated and subjugated to the whims and caprices of the culture of self-invention, whose creed is to do with one’s body what one wishes. To receive the Holy Eucharist is to reverentially uphold the dignity of the Body of Christ and to honor the four ways this body of Christ is revealed and adored among God’s children. The one body of Jesus seated at the right hand of God the Father is an invitation for us to know that our bodies are vehicles through which we can make heavenly realities present in our lives here on earth. With our bodies, we kneel, we pray, we prostrate, and we sing. These are what those in Heaven do day and night. In the book of Revelation, it is aptly revealed that those in Heaven are men and women who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They worship God day and night, singing: “Amen! Blessing and glory, and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever, Amen.” (Revelation 7:11-12). Therefore, our bodies are not only meant for this earth and its passing glories as seen in Gnosticism of the past and the neo-Gnosticism of the present.
The body of Christ on the Cross and in the Eucharist invites us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God as chronicled and admonished by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans (12:1-3). Jesus died for us that we may live for him. Our bodies are meant to glorify God, not be objects to be traded with or be mutilated in the various sites of the entertainment industries and body shops. The mystical body of Christ, celebrated as the people of God in the Church, invites us to realize who we are and whose we are. As members of the mystical body of Christ, we belong to someone, and our lives and bodies are not about us. There is a universal invitation for us to be holy because in our bodies, we receive the Holy one of God in holy communion. We are called to become who we eat, a secret in the lives of the saints who made an effort to imitate who they received in the sacrament of the altar. It is intriguing to contemplate what Jesus revealed to a Benedictine Monk in Prayer. Jesus said, “The soul who adores Me present in the Sacrament of My love will be united to Me in My everlasting intercession before the Face of My Father. My intercession is eternal even in the glory of eternity because I chose to keep the wounds in My hands, feet, and side. They constitute an uninterrupted plea for the sake of all: for those in glory, that they may progress from light to light and from sweetness to sweetness; for those on earth, that they may find in My wounds healing, purity, and holiness; and for the souls in purgatory, that by the merits of My holy wounds they may be refreshed and delivered.” (In Senu Jesus, p52).
Ad majorem Dei Gloriam

The Very Rev. Fr. Benedict Nwachukwu-Udaku, VF is the Pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Rancho Cucamonga & Vicar Forane, West End Vicariate.