Today’s celebration makes us think back to Holy Thursday’s Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the Eucharistic celebration. But today we narrow the focus, specifically to the dumfounding reality, that in the Eucharist, Jesus is truly present. Our catechism says: “Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity” (CCC, 1413). He’s truly present, and that was the belief and practice of the Church even before there was such a thing as the Bible.
Well let’s face it: this belief is a sticking point between us and most other Christians. Yes, many Christian communities celebrate a communion ritual, but they would most likely say that it’s a symbol, not ”Christ….present in a true, real…manner”. This is no small matter for us. Somehow, we can’t just say, let’s agree to disagree, and get on with shared communion. Much the same as a couple, when one of them thinks that marriage is a means to transcendence, an instrument of salvation, and the other thinks it’s merely a change in exemption on their tax return—they differ too much on something too important to just marry and assume everything will work itself out.
But we pray that we all Christians come together into communion and in the meantime, we work together as the Body of Christ in the ways we can. Jesus, who prayed that we would be one in chapter 17 of John’s Gospel, will eventually accomplish this. And lest we fall into feelings of guilt over what might seem like exclusion of others from the Eucharist, let us also bear in mind that it’s their decision to not believe in Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist.
But as for us Catholics who claim that the Resurrected Christ is present in the Eucharist—do we really believe? On some level, we all struggle to understand it. But we would do well to truly examine where we are on this question. And more than just his presence, that he gives that life to us—in our hands and on our tongues. It’s too easy to take it for granted and receive it with no awareness, no preparation, or evaluation of readiness. We do better to struggle with understanding than to give it no thought at all. And if you are struggling, ask God for greater faith. Read John 6. Come to adoration. Read the Last Supper narratives again and again.
So, do you believe? Do you believe that he shared this meal with his disciples saying “This is my Body and my Blood”; that he put himself on the cross and allowed his body to be broken and his blood to be poured out, because somehow, it could put you and me back into right-relationship with God? That Jesus, in a fullest sense we can experience, is here every time we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, including this Mass? That he is present in this way, to personally touch you, to give you his life, and to affect a change in you?
Do we believe that? Matthew Kelly once posed that “if Muslims believed that God was truly present in their mosques, and that by some mystical power they could receive and consume him in the form of bread and wine, they would crawl over red-hot broken glass for the chance. But as Catholics, we are so unaware of the mystery and the privilege that most of us cannot be bothered to show up to church on Sunday and many of those who do can hardly wait to get out”. (Rediscover Catholicism, Kindle Locations 3062-3065).
In the year 304 in North Africa, a group of Christians gathered to celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday. Because of the harsh restrictions against Christianity, Sunday Mass was punishable by death. The group was discovered and warned that they may gather, but not for the Eucharistic meal. They replied, “There is no Eucharist without the Church and there is no Church without the Eucharist. Without the Eucharist we cannot live”. For continuing, they were killed. Would that it meant anything to us, as it did the 49 martyrs of Abitinae. In a moment from now, we will receive freely what they were killed for receiving. May we be filled with awe and trembling, and ready.