Uncovering the Eucharist
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Dear Friends,

In our previous catechesis, we have been exploring the teachings of the Church on the Holy Eucharist with great excitement and deep appreciation. Our exploration has revealed the sublimity of the Blessed Sacrament, a beautiful gift that Jesus gave to His Church and to humanity in general. According to St. John Mary Vianney, “There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us.” St. Maximilian Kolbe noted that “if angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.” To understand why Jesus gave this awesome gift of Himself for the life of the world (John 6:51), we have engaged the profound teachings of the Church Fathers, the catechetical instructions of the Magisterium, and the theological reflections of many of theologians from the early centuries of the Church to the present time. We opened the pages of the theological treatise of St. Augustine of Hippo, studied the Eucharistic theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, and reflected on the spiritual musings of Bishop Robert Barron. To wet our spiritual appetite for this great Sacrament of the Altar, we explored the spiritual experiences of the Saints of the Holy Eucharist from St. Ignatius of Antioch to St. Justin the Martyr, from St. Claire of Assisi to St. John Mary Vianney, and from St. Alphonsus Liguori to St. Faustina.

In studying the saints and reflecting on their love for the Eucharist, we came to appreciate the Holy Eucharist as a sacrifice, an encounter, a communion, a school of faith, a faith clinic, and a meeting place of God’s divinity and our humanity. The Eucharist is a meeting between God and humanity. This truth is seen and celebrated when we devoutly recite The Divine Praises during the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament:

Blessed be God! Blessed be His Holy Name! Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man! Blessed be the name of Jesus: Blessed be His Most Sacred Heart! Blessed be His Most Precious Blood! Blessed be Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar! Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete! Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy! Blessed be her holy and Immaculate Conception! Blessed be her glorious Assumption! Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother! Blessed be Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse! Blessed be God in His angels and in His saints!
To continue our reflection on the Holy Eucharist in this series, we will consider the great spiritual wisdom contained in the fourth book of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A. Kempis. Amazingly, this spiritual masterpiece has transcended time, speaking to people of every era for the past 600 years. In this book, we encounter a profound summary of how to approach the Sacrament of the Altar. The fact that the fourth book is dedicated specifically to the Holy Eucharist shows just how strongly the Church believes, upholds, and celebrates the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Christian life. It explains why St. Thomas Aquinas maintained that while the other six sacraments reveal the power of Christ, the Eucharist reveals not only the power of Christ but also Christ Himself (Ipsum Christus). Also, it validates why every saint in the Catholic Church is unequivocally referred to as “A Saint of the Eucharist.” The Imitation of Christ presents the sacrament of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus as the health of soul and body. The Holy Eucharist is the medicine of all spiritual ailments, healing our deep-rooted sins and guarding our worldly passions. By it, temptations are lessened or overcome, grace abounds, virtue is increased, faith is confirmed, hope is fortified, and charity is inflamed and increased.

In the pages of The Imitation of Christ, we learn the following lessons regarding the Blessed Sacrament. The first and most important is that the Eucharist is Jesus Himself. He is the bread of life that came down from heaven (John 6:35). The bread that we receive is the body of Jesus. Indeed, in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). The Eucharist is a sacrifice, a communion, and a Viaticum. Since Jesus is really, truly, and substantially present in the Eucharist, Thomas A. Kempis, calls all people to receive the gift of the Eucharist with great reverence. Our great spiritual master highlights that the reverential way in which holy biblical patriarchs prepared to encounter God shows why it is necessary to prepare spiritually, mentally, and physically for a better and more grace-filled reception of the Blessed Sacrament.

Furthermore, Kempis observes that the Eucharist demonstrates God’s great goodness and love. To welcome the love of God, we ought to present ourselves like people who are in need. Thinking too highly of ourselves may extinguish our thirst to seek the Lord. Humility is a gateway to relating with our all-powerful God. Kempis writes that “We need to come sick to the Savior, hungry and thirsty to the Source of life, a beggar to the King of Heaven, a servant to the Lord, a creature to the Creator, and a desolate person to the compassionate Consoler” (Book IV, Chapter II). In the presence of the Eucharist, we ought to confess our lack of merit, acknowledge God’s generosity, praise God’s goodness, and thank God for His immense love and care. In Holy Communion, we recognize our littleness and applaud the greatness of our God. We accept our limitations and celebrate the infinite nature of He who is true God and true man. While Jesus does not need anything, He willed by the Sacrament of the Eucharist, to live in us (John 6:56). As Jesus dwells in us, we humbly ask for the grace to keep our hearts and body pure so that, with a serene and unblemished conscience, we may receive for our eternal salvation what our Blessed Lord has ordained and instituted principally for His own honor and memorial.

Kempis presents the Holy Eucharist as a gift. The giver of the gift is Christ Himself. This gift is food for the soul, a medicine for all spiritual ailments, and a remedy for our deep-rooted sins. It is wise to receive it frequently because it brings nourishment to our soul and body, strengthens our resolve to overcome temptations, and checkmates our natural propensity to sin. Therefore, it is food not only for the strong but for the weak. It is the food we need to recuperate, conserve, increase, and fortify the sanctity of our soul. For example, in his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis makes this beautiful remark: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of the sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (EG, 47).

In the Imitation of Christ, we learn that the frequent reception of Holy Communion enables us to open the door of our hearts and our homes to the Blessed Lord just as Zacchaeus intrepidly did (Luke 19:1-10). It offers us the sublime opportunity to say “yes” to Jesus just as Matthew the tax collector did (Matthew 9: 9). The Eucharist satisfies the desires of our soul as seen in Psalm 62: 1-3: “My soul thirsts for thee, my flesh faints for thee as in a dry and weary land where no water is. I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary, beholding thy power and glory. Because thy steadfast love is better than life, and my lips will praise thee.” This thirst for the Lord was what led the young St. Augustine to fully embrace the Christian faith as seen in the very first page of his seminal work, The Confessions. He testified: “Fesisti nos ad te, Domine, et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te” (Lord, you have made us for yourself, therefore, our heart is restless until it rests in you). Like St. Augustine, we too ought to frequently receive this beautiful sacrament of the New Covenant. If we deprived ourselves of this heavenly food, we would bring spiritual death to our souls and our zeal to help our brothers and sisters could be extinguished.

Receiving Holy Communion frequently will revive our desire to contemplate how good and benevolent our God is to His people. In contemplating the love of God, we appreciate more intensely the words in John’s Gospel “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” The Eucharist is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love for His people. It can only be understood and contemplated fully if we appreciate it as a sacrament of love. Seeing the Eucharist this way will produce sentiments of gratitude and humility. Kempis wrote, “Your marvelous humility and compassion for us prompt you, Lord God, Creator and Life of every soul, to come to my poor soul and satisfy my hunger with your divinity and humanity. O happy mind and blessed soul! May I receive you with devotion, Lord God, and in receiving you, be filled with spiritual happiness (The Imitation of Christ, Book IV, Chapter III, page 340).” By contemplating the gift of the Holy Eucharist, we are made more aware of the beloved Guest that we are bringing into our heart. We feel the presence of a sweet companion, a faithful friend, and a noble spouse whose love is beyond telling.

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