Spiritual Practices and Attitudes 7. Eucharist: Bread of Life
Notes by Michael Whelan SM
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2002) goes to the heart of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist:
The sacrificial nature of the Mass, solemnly asserted by the Council of Trent in accordance with the Church’s universal tradition, [Ecumenical Council of Trent, Session 22, Doctrina de ss. Missae sacrificio, 17 September 1562 : Enchiridion Symbolorum, H. Denzinger and A. Schönmetzer, editors (editio XXXIII, Freiburg: Herder, 1965; hereafter, Denz-Schön), 1738-1759.] was reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council, which offered these significant words about the Mass: ‘At the Last Supper our Savior instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood, by which he would perpetuate the Sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until he should come again, thus entrusting to the Church, his beloved Bride, the memorial of his death and resurrection.’
[Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, ‘Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy’, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 47; cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’, Lumen gentium, nos. 3, 28; Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, ‘Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests’, Presbyterorum ordinis, nos. 2, 4, 5.]
It should not surprise us therefore when St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), in a work on the Feast of Corpus Christi, writes:
No other sacrament has greater healing power; through it sins are purged away, virtues are increased and the soul is enriched with an abundance of every spiritual gift. (See Office of Readings for the Feast of Corpus Christi.)
This profound and beautiful Eucharistic tradition implies that the Eucharist is there for us, not because we are pure and without sin, but precisely because we are not.
Listen to the words the celebrant at Mass says as he holds up the host:
Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world, blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.
The congregation responds with honesty:
Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof .... say but the word and my soul shall be healed.
Thus Pope Francis reminds us:
The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. (Evangelii Gaudium, #47.)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’ (Lumen Gentium, #11)’. ‘The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch’. (Presbyterorum Ordinis, #5)
Participation in Mass and Communion is a participation in ‘the Sacrifice of the Cross’ – literally the most momentous event in the history of the cosmos! It is therefore appropriate that we approach this participation with deep reverence and great joy, with high hopes and strong expectations. When we are offered the Bread of Life, our ‘Amen!’ should be spoken with confidence, without hesitation. This is potentially ‘a life-changing communion’ (Evangelii Gaudium, #138.)
We are all encouraged to make Eucharist ‘the source and summit’ of our lives. Eucharist gives healing power, the creative energy and the building force of our lives – no matter how broken they may be.