The Eucharist (Feast of Corpus Christi update)

CCC 1324 The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.””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.”

The chalice of benediction, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread. (1 Cor 10:16-17)

The Eucharist considered as a Passover, the matters used in the Eucharist, and the meaning of wheat bread and of grape wine

The Eucharist is the fulfillment of the Passover.  Christ is our paschal lamb, and He is the one sacrifice that is acceptable to the Father. He is perfect man, and offered Himself in perfect love, and now makes intercession for us to the Father in Heaven, “For he testifieth: Thou art a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech…Whereby he is able also to save for ever them that come to God by him; always living to make intercession for us.” (Heb 7:17, 25)

At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lord’s command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the eve of his Passion: “He took bread. . . .” “He took the cup filled with wine. . . .” The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ; they continue also to signify the goodness of creation. Thus in the Offertory we give thanks to the Creator for bread and wine, fruit of the “work of human hands,” but above all as “fruit of the earth” and “of the vine” – gifts of the Creator. The Church sees in the gesture of the king-priest Melchizedek, who “brought out bread and wine,” a prefiguring of her own offering. (CCC 1333)

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The necessity of wheaten bread is deduced immediately from the words of Institution: “The Lord took bread” (ton arton), in connection with which it may be remarked, that in Scripture bread (artos), without any qualifying addition, always signifies wheaten bread.” (NewAdvent.org)

We see St. Ignatius of Antioch, at the beginning of the second century and on the way to his martyrdom, use this vivid imagery:

“I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” (Epistle to the Romans)

In speaking of the wine to be used, St. Thomas says

This sacrament can only be performed with wine from the grape. First of all on account of Christ’s institution, since He instituted this sacrament in wine from the grape, as is evident from His own words, in instituting this sacrament (Matthew 26:29): “I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine.” (ST III, Q. 74)

We see the connection between the wine and the blood throughout Scripture.  A few examples shall suffice:

“Tying his foal to the vineyard, and his ass, O my son, to the vine. He shall wash his robe in wine, and his garment in the blood of the grape.” (Gen 49:11)

“I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the Gentiles there is not a man with me: I have trampled on them in my indignation, and have trodden them down in my wrath, and their blood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my apparel.” (Isaiah 63:3)

And the angel thrust in his sharp sickle into the earth, and gathered the vineyard of the earth, and cast it into the great press of the wrath of God: And the press was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a thousand and six hundred furlongs. (Rev 14:19-20)

Thanks be to God for the most precious gift of His Body and Blood, which unites us in our created and earthly state to our Lord in Heaven, who takes common things and raises them up, as He takes fallen man and offers him divine and eternal life.

“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.”

“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink.”

The Eucharist as a sacrifice in the Council of Trent and in Vatican II and the Real Presence

The Eucharist is called The Holy Sacrifice, because it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior and includes the Church’s offering. The terms holy sacrifice of the Mass, “sacrifice of praise,” spiritual sacrifice, pure and holy sacrifice are also used,150 since it completes and surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant. (CCC 1330)

“…the celebration of this sacrament is called Christ’s sacrifice. Hence it is that Ambrose, in commenting on Hebrews 10:1, says: “In Christ was offered up a sacrifice capable of giving eternal salvation; what then do we do? Do we not offer it up every day in memory of His death?” Secondly it is called a sacrifice, in respect of the effect of His Passion: because, to wit, by this sacrament, we are made partakers of the fruit of our Lord’s Passion.” (ST III, Q.83)

A priest is only a priest if He offers sacrifice.  And there is only an altar if there is a sacrifice to be offered.  Our High priest is Christ, who “offered Himself once” on the altar of the Cross, yet continually offers this same Sacrifice as in intercession for us (“Whereby he is able also to save for ever them that come to God by him; always living to make intercession for us.” Heb 7:25) In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord tells us “If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath any thing against thee; Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift” (Matt 5:23-24).

There is to be an altar, and to be a Sacrifice, offered forever (see also Malachi 1:11) to God.  This Sacrifice, pleasing to God, can only be the one Sacrifice of Jesus Himself.  As Johannes H. Emminghaus says well in his book The Eucharist, “Time is, after all, only relative; that is, it is simply a quality of our created order (according to place and time) existing in the succession of events. God’s action transcends and surpasses time.  In the ritual symbol, therefore, Christ’s action is really and continually present” (pg. xvii, introduction).

Christ is truly present, in a unique and substantial way, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  His once for all Sacrifice is constantly offered on behalf of His creatures who live in time. He is the Bread of Life, and whoever eats His Body and Drinks His Blood has Zoe, that is, divine life.  It is thus that we become “partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4)” and come to eternal life.

The Councils and the Magisterium reaffirm His real and substantial presence in the Eucharist:

First of all, the holy council teaches and openly and plainly professes that after the consecration of bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is truly, really and substantially contained in the august sacrament of the Holy Eucharist…For there is no repugnance in this that our Savior sits always at the right hand of the Father in heaven according to the natural mode of existing, and yet is in many other places sacramentally present to us in His own substance by a manner of existence which, though we can scarcely express in words, yet with our understanding illumined by faith, we can conceive and ought most firmly to believe is possible to God. (Trent, Session XIII)

In these words are highlighted both the sacrifice, which pertains to the essence of the Mass which is celebrated daily, and the sacrament in which the faithful participate in Holy Communion by eating the Flesh of Christ and drinking His Blood, receiving both grace, the beginning of eternal life, and the medicine of immortality. According to the words of Our Lord: “The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Mysterium Fidei)

“Through him, with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.”

So much is left unsaid in this brief treatment of the most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but I pray you will wait patiently with me until I can treat of it more deeply…

On second thought, I do not pray you wait patiently but, rather, seek to learn on your own; there are great books and many Scriptures that can build our understanding of the Eucharist, but I recommend above all else that you present yourself to the Lord in Eucharistic adoration and ask Him, who is our one Master, our one Teacher.

Go to our Lord

This is a traditional English translation of the “Pange Lingua” written by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Pange Lingua

Sing, my tongue, the Savior’s glory,
of His flesh the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our immortal King,
destined, for the world’s redemption,
from a noble womb to spring.

Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wondrously His life of woe.

On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He the Pascal victim eating,
first fulfills the Law’s command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own hand.

Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His word to Flesh He turns;
wine into His Blood He changes;
what though sense no change discerns?
Only be the heart in earnest,
faith her lesson quickly learns.

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
Lo! o’er ancient forms departing,
newer rites of grace prevail;
faith for all defects supplying,
where the feeble senses fail.

To the everlasting Father,
and the Son who reigns on high,
with the Holy Ghost proceeding
forth from Each eternally,
be salvation, honor, blessing,
might and endless majesty. Amen.

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