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

Dear Friends,

Our consideration of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament has provided us with a beautiful opportunity to appreciate the power of the spoken word. In the Bread of Life Discourse, in the powerful words of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist as seen in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26: 26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19), and in Jesus’ life-giving mandate to celebrate the mystery of the Eucharist, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24), we testify to the power of the spoken word. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, from the story of creation to the narrative of redemption, and from the Dei verbum (Word of God) to the Caro factum est et habitavit in nobis (the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us), we acknowledge and celebrate how words that come from the mouth of God will always effect a change in peoples’ lives. The Bible says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

The Word of God has the power to heal, console, restore, encourage, forgive, and ensure justice in human relationships. From the spoken word, people found courage, deeper hope, and strength to persevere, whether for good or for evil. For example, Mark Anthony’s famous speech at the funeral of Julius Cesar aroused the basic instinct of the common people; a mob formed and sought revenge against the conspirators whose betrayal led to the death of the great Roman Statesman. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech has remained a reference and motivating discourse for all who advocate for racial justice and equality. The Quit Indian Speech, presented by Mahatma Gandhi on August 8 1942, changed the political and religious climate of the Indian people. In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, we appreciate the power of the spoken word. When the Final Commandment for the animals is given and they agreed that “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others,” there is a sense of security and reassurance among the animals, who having rebelled against Farmer Jones, wish to believe that their new society is based on equality. Through the spoken words, people are called to trust their leaders, believe in their communities, hearken to the voice of their superiors, and contribute to the welfare of their society.

The value of the spoken word cannot be overemphasized. A word of praise uttered by a beloved professor can open students’ eyes to a wonderful career path that they will cherish for the rest of their lives. However, a word of destructive criticism from a parent can inflict a wound so deep that the child never recovers emotionally. One can give a dog a bad name that may lead to the death of the dog. But, on the other hand, a word of affirmation can restore life to someone on the verge of desperation. In the African worldview, the power of the spoken word and its effects usher in a long-term relationship between the living and the dead, the “here” and “now” and the “hereafter.” Thus, every prayer is believed to be powerful, and when people are cursed by their parents, there is a belief that their words will come true. In the same vein, any prayer offered by a parent for their children is believed to carry magnanimous spiritual weight. For example, when a young man or woman is leaving home for college or in search of greener pastures, the parents may pray thus: “May the falling Iroko tree never block your path, may the lightning bolt never strike near you, may the roaring thunder ward off evil from your path, may the vulture and birds of prey never trail you, may the tree stumps and bush creepers never cause you to stumble. May your presence bring blessings to all who show you hospitality, may the forest tress shade you from the sun’s blazing anger, may gentle streams of water refresh you when you are thirsty, may wild fruits nourish you when you feel the pangs of hunger and may you be prosperous living a long life in good health.” The recipient of this prayer will then shout Ihaa (which means Amen). Thus, the effect of human words is powerful. However, this power cannot compare to the divine word of God, a creative force capable of effecting eternal change. When G.K. Chesterton (1874-1938) said that “He became a Catholic so as to get rid of his sins,” he is simply alluding to the eternal effect of the words of absolution given in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

According to Genesis, God spoke, and things came into being: “Then God said, ‘let there be light’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3). In Exodus, the power of the spoken word was acknowledged as a liberating force. Moses said to the Israelites, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.” (Exodus 14:13). God’s word is not so much descriptive as creative. It does not express a state of affairs that already exists; it makes a state of affairs to be. God’s word speaks things into existence, determining them at the deepest roots of their being. St. John expressed this idea in the prologue of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:1,3). John also proclaims in his beautiful prologue that- “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14).

Jesus is the creative Word of God who went about doing good (Acts 10:38). Jesus accomplished his ministry by speaking life into being. To the dead man Lazarus, Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:43-45). To the dead little daughter of Jarius, who was one of the rulers of the Synagogue, Jesus said- “Talithacumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” Immediately the girl got up and began to walk around (Mark 5:41-42). Also, the words of Jesus brought health and healing to those who were sick. To the paralytic, Jesus said, “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this.” (Mark 2: 11-12). Jesus’ words restored people to a better relationship with God. For example, Mary Magdalene’s sins were forgiven when the Blessed Lord addressed her thus: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (John 8:11). In the case of Zacchaeus, Jesus reassured him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10). And to the dying thief on the Cross, Jesus promised him eternal joy in heaven, saying, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43).

The power of Jesus’ spoken word was also evident in his prophesy regarding the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem when he said, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2). Jesus also predicted his own suffering and death, saying, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matthew 16:21). He foretold the betrayal of Judas (Matthew 26:21) and the denial from Peter (Matthew 26:34).

God’s Word is the Word that is made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Thus, what Jesus says, is. What God promises, happens. What the prophets prophesize, takes place (Isaiah 55:10-11). In the light of this understanding of who Jesus is and what God can do, we can now appreciate what happened at the Last Supper. The Synoptic Gospels record it thus: “On the night before he died, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.”’ (Matthew 26:26). “In the same way, after the meal, he took the cup filled with wine. Giving thanks, he passed the cup to his friends and said, “’Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant”’ (Matthew 26:27-28). These words bore the creative power of the Logos of God. They effected a change, therefore, not simply at the level of symbolic or metaphorical reconfiguration; instead, they pierced to the very roots of the existence of those elements and changed them into something else- into His Body and Blood. In his great treatise on the Eucharist, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) appropriately compares this “substantial” change to the act of creation, since both are based upon the unique power of the divine Word.

This change, this transubstantiation, explains why the Church emerges from the Eucharist - and why eternal life comes from eating the Lord’s Body and drinking His Blood. According to St. John Mary Vianney (1786-1859), “There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us.” St. Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) noted that “If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.”

Ad majorem Dei gloriam

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