Read ~ Chapter 10: The Eucharist and the Sacrifice of Mass
Father Anthony Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)
The teachings contained in this chapter are based on Holy Scriptures, the Tradition of the Catholic Church [especially the First and Second Vatican Councils, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Fathers of the Church (especially St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine)], the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (especially Saint Pope Paul VI, Saint Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis). All Apostolic Encyclicals and Letters are found on the Vatican Website: Vatican
Desire for union with God
Vatican II: The human person is transcendent by nature: One of the important accomplishments of the Second Vatican Council is to emphasize that the human person is transcendental by nature. This means that when we act in our life, every action that we perform opens our being to the infinite, to the mystery. We have seen that innate longing in us to the divine from the start of humanity: people attributed divine powers to the sun, moon, thunder, war, etc.…these were called gods because people felt the need for higher powers.
Old Testament: In the Old Testament, that longing towards the infinite put on a face because for the first time here God revealed Himself as one God. No more pantheism; no more belief in many gods. Monotheism is the name of the game. There is one God who created the heaven and the earth; one God who called Abraham and chose the Hebrew people to be his people. The divine is personal and the longing of the Israelite towards God started becoming a little bit more concrete than ever before.
In the Old Testament, not only the human person is looking for God; it is God who is looking for the human person. God adopts Israel: “You are my Son; “You are my spouse.” The Song of Songs in the Old Testament represents the love of God that is espousing Israel to be his people.
Union between God and humanity in the New Testament
Meaning of the word ‘Eucharist’: This expression derives from the Greek word ‘eucharistein’ which means action of Thanksgiving to God for creating us, redeeming us, and sanctifying us.
Impossible to understand the Eucharist without Christ’s Incarnation: The Incarnation is the condition of possibility of the existence of the Eucharist. Such an extraordinary sacrament is the natural consequence of Christ’s Incarnation. Here is the logic behind this statement
Christ’s Incarnation is an irrevocable act: With the Incarnation of God the Son, the absolute maximum union that could ever exist between God and humanity took place in the Person of Jesus Christ. When Christ assumed an authentic human nature like ours in the womb of the Virgin Mary, he united Himself to that human nature once and for all. By dying and rising from the dead, he took this human nature back to be united with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever. This act is irrevocable and unrepeatable.
The subject who is acting in Jesus Christ is divine: When Jesus was walking on the streets of Jerusalem, it was God walking on those streets but in his human nature. When Jesus walked on the water, God walked on the water but in his human nature. When Jesus cried, did God cry? Yes, but he did so in his human nature. When Jesus died on the cross, did God die on the cross? Yes, but he did so in his human nature, not in his Divine nature; God cannot die in his Divine nature. Herein lies the deepest mystery of the Incarnation: the divine Person of the Son acted in a human nature.
Every word and act of Christ has an eternal value: The fact that the subject acting in Jesus Christ is divine, implies that every action and word Jesus said has an eternal value. God’s words and actions are irrevocable and cannot be undone. Since God entered history uniting himself to a human nature, such a presence must be eternal and must continue in space and time until the end of history; hence the logic behind the founding of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Since the Word dwelt among us (John 1:14), the Eucharist becomes Christ’s continuous dwelling among us. Every time you look at a tabernacle, you realize that “the Word dwelt among us” is in the Catholic Church forever.
The sacramental Sacrifice of Christ
Christ’s sacrifice saves humanity: If every action of Christ is everlasting, especially his death and resurrection are at the center of his actions. Without the death and resurrection of Christ there is no salvation for humanity. This makes the sacrifice of Christ the most important act that God ever performed in our history. It also makes it the center of the Catholic Church’s sacramental and spiritual life. The Second Vatican Council, in order to focus on the Sacrifice of Christ in the Mass above all other liturgical practices and prayer life, emphasized that “Mystery had to be restored to priority over devotion…” (Pope Benedict XVI, Theological Highlights of Vatican II, 32)
The Church re-enacts sacramentally the sacrifice of Christ: Many non-Catholics believe that the sacrifice of Christ happened once and for all and it is merely a historical event of the past. They gather on Sunday to remember what Christ has done for humanity and, believing in it, they receive the grace of redemption. In Catholic theology, this is not enough. When the Church gathers on the first day of the week (as the Acts of the Apostles relates), the Church not only prays and not only remembers Christ’s sacrifice. The Church sacramentally re-enacts and re-perpetuates the sacrifice of Christ. It is not only a gathering around the table of the Lord. The Church sacramentally sacrifices Christ on the altar in order to receive the grace of redemption. Vatican II teaches that “at the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again…” (SC, 47)
Eucharist as the sacrifice of Christ in the present: In his infinite love and wisdom, God did not want the sacrifice of his Son to be executed only as an event of the past (even though it did happen once and for all). God wanted that sacrifice to be daily celebrated (of course in a sacramental way) all over the world. In this way salvation is granted to humanity not only through an act of the past, but also as an act in the present. The Catholic Church celebrates daily the salvation of Christ’s sacrifice in Mass.
The Holy Spirit makes present Christ’s sacrifice in the Church: The Holy Spirit makes the sacrifice of Christ present every day on every altar in the world because the Holy Spirit extends in the Church Christ’s redeeming sacrifice until the end of time. The Holy Spirit from above and the Church from below cooperate to re-enact and re-perpetuate the sacrifice of Christ until his second coming. People don’t attend Church on Sunday only to pray or meditate or be a part of a loving community. The primary goal is to participate in Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on the altar. Thus, they in a personal and communal way, share in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Serious sin of omitting Mass on Sunday: The bloody sacrifice took place in the presence of the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, St. John, and others who watched Christ being sacrificed for humanity’s salvation. Many present at the scene did not believe. When we celebrate Sunday Mass, we become like the Virgin Mary and others in witnessing the sacramental sacrifice of Christ. Mass becomes the most important act we can ever do in our lives. We don’t want to become like those who saw the bloody sacrifice and were indifferent believers. Therefore, the Church has always emphasized how serious is the sin of omitting Mass on Sunday.
The Eucharist is the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ: Transubstantiation
The Eucharist is the actual Body and Blood of Christ: In Catholic theology, we call “transubstantiation” the transformation of the essence of bread and wine into the actual Body and Blood of Christ. This means that the actual substance of the bread turns into Christ’s Body, and the actual substance of the wine turns into the Blood of Christ. There is no ‘consubstantiation’ (parallel existence of bread/wine and Christ’s Body/Blood): there is no other substance in the reality of the transformed bread/wine except the Body/Blood of Christ. EWTN presents outstanding shows and talks on transubstantiation: EWTN
The Eucharist is not just a symbol: The bread and wine are not the symbols of the Body and Blood of Christ; they are both the actual Body and Blood of Christ. When Christ established the Sacrament of the Eucharist at the Last Supper he did not say “Take and eat, this is the symbol of my body;” he said, “This is my Body,” which is the result of the miracle of the Incarnation. Christ also said: “Do this in memory of me.” Christ’s command “Do this in memory of me,” is exactly what the Catholic Church is doing every day. (See Luke 22:19-20)
The Eucharist is ontologically the Body and Blood of Christ: The Eucharist is the ontological Body and Blood of Jesus Christ; it is the Eucharist ‘only for us.’ The Catholic Church rejects the belief that the Eucharist becomes the Body and Blood of Christ because of the presence of the community. If the entire human race dies today, the Body of Christ in all the tabernacles of the world will remain the actual Body of Christ.
Effects and Spirituality of the Eucharist
Vatican II: the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life (LG 11): When we receive the Eucharist, we perform the most important act of our life uniting ourselves to Christ. It is the source of God’s supernatural grace in us. If we were walking in the desert water and food would be a source of life for us to stay alive. The Eucharist has the exact same spiritual effects in our life: it nourishes our day with God’s divine life and urges us to perform all our actions according to the values of Christ’s Gospel. In this sense Vatican II emphasized that the Eucharist is “the fount and Apex of the whole Christian life.” (Lumen Gentium, 11)
In the Eucharist we share in God’s eternal banquet: At the same time, as we receive the grace of the Eucharist, we walk on our journey and prepare ourselves for tomorrow’s Eucharist again. So, the Eucharist is not only a source of strength for us; it is the goal for our tomorrow. This tomorrow will be the ‘forever present’ when we die. Then the Eucharist becomes the eternal food of the eternal day that we share with the Blessed Trinity and the Saints forever. The Catechism teaches that “by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.” (CCC, 1326)
The Eucharist is at the center of the Church’s life: Already here on earth, the highest possible union with God is in the Eucharist: no logic can fathom how God’s life works in us when we are united to Christ in the Eucharist. Based on that, the Eucharist becomes the center of the Church’s life, as Vatican II asserts: “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.” (PO 5)
The grace of the Eucharist works in an ‘ordinary’ way in us: The Eucharistic grace of Christ is not a magical intervention of God in our life. The Eucharist is a very concrete source of grace that works with us and in us as we are sailing on our life’s journey. We receive the grace of the Eucharist one day at a time and unite ourselves to Christ in the concreteness of our human journey. Christ’s grace will enter our world as we strive to unite ourselves to Christ every day.
The grace of the Eucharist and sin: The grace we receive from this sacrament removes venial sin and strengthens the person to avoid Grave grave sins. Even though the sacrament of Reconciliation cannot be replaced by the Eucharist, the Eucharist will forgive venial sins because of the intimate union between the communicant and Christ. Grave sins must be confessed and forgiven through the sacrament of reconciliation.
The grace of the Eucharist and temporal punishment: When we sin we disturb the moral order. We therefore must amend our sins through suffering that will erase sin and restores the human person to the life of grace. The Eucharist, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, decreases temporal punishment due to sin (see CCC, 1414).
The grace of the Eucharist and the tendency to concupiscence: Every human person is tempted because the law of concupiscence is within us. Temptation is not a sin yet unless we consent to its lure and act on it. The grace of the Eucharist, as the Catechism teaches, helps us to avoid the occasion of sin that usually lead us to temptation (see CCC, 1393).
Impossible not to get something out of Mass or the Eucharist: Those who stop going to Mass claiming that “They are not getting anything out of Mass” are in deep spiritual trouble. If Mass is the sacrifice of Christ, what do they want to get out of it? It’s not an entertainment event. It is not about an eloquent speaker or a concert. The Eucharist is much deeper than that; it works on the deepest ontological level of our being.
When we lay down on the beach, we get tanned by the sun without thinking about it. It is the same thing with the Eucharist: it works its effect in us without even thinking how Christ’s life lifts us up. We might be having problems, but the Eucharist is always there working its divine color in us. When we sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament distracted, will the Eucharist still be efficient? Yes, it will be. All the distractions, in our mind, are a part of the human condition. The most important thing is that we are present with Christ with all of who we are, all your problems, weaknesses, and limitations. St Therese of Lisieux explained one time that she spends hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, even though she was often distracted. She now is a Doctor of the Catholic Church.
The Eucharist as the determining factor of true Catholics: The Eucharist produces the highest union between Christ and our human nature. When Christ was leaving earth, he wanted to give us the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In John 6, Christ was talking to the multitude about his Body and Blood as true food and drink. They asked him to explain, but he kept saying the same thing repeatedly. Then John 6:66 (666 is the symbol of evil) relates that “many of his disciples left him… they went back to their old way of life.”
The Eucharist is the sword that determines who is truly Catholic and who is not. It is the most challenging aspect of the Catholic faith. One might think, “How is it possible, that bread and wine contains the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ?” When people looked at Christ during his earthly life, what did they see? A man. But this man was God Himself in the flesh. When you look at the bread and wine, you see bread and wine, but this bread is the Body of Christ and the wine is the Blood of Christ. At the end of the day it depends on you to accept the challenging logic of the Incarnation or not. After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples of Emmaus recognized him only after he broke the bread (Luke 24:30). The Eucharist is the most efficient tool to experience the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Special devotion to the Eucharist: Over the course of time, the Catholic Church has developed a special devotion to the Eucharist. Saints have spent an incredible number of hours worshiping Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, aware of his ‘Incarnational’ presence in the tabernacle. Statistically speaking, it seems like parishes that have perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament have more vocations to priesthood and religious life.
The Eucharist expresses our desire to be with someone we love. Christ is our heavenly spouse; he is who we want to be with in life and after death. Since heaven is a continuity of what happens on earth, if we are with Christ on earth in the Eucharist, we will continue to be with him in heaven. We have many Eucharistic miracles that were approved by the Catholic Church, like the Miracle of Lanciano in Italy and the Miracle of Santarem in Portugal. In these miracles, God allowed the bread and wine to turn into actual flesh and blood. With miracles, God wants to strengthen our faith in this most noble Sacrament of the altar.
Reference: Scott Hahn: The New Testament and the Eucharist in the Early Church
Validity of the Eucharist
An ordained minister in the succession of the Apostles: For the sacrifice of the Mass to be valid, we need a priest or a bishop who were ordained by the successors of the Apostles. If the entire humanity of lay people stood in front of the bread and wine saying, “Take and eat this is my Body…Take and drink from it, it is my Blood…,” there will be no consecration of the bread and wine. Not even angels are capable of transforming them into the Body and Blood of Christ. Only priests and Bishops ordained validly can perform the consecration.
Bread and Wine, not juices and crackers: The other elements we need to have for the Sacrament of the Eucharist to be valid is bread and wine. Jesus Himself uses these elements at the Last Supper. Many non-Catholics use different elements contradicting thus what Jesus established in the New Testament.
It does not matter if it is leavened or unleavened bread. The Roman Catholic Church uses unleavened bread; Eastern Catholics and Orthodox use leavened bread. Both are valid to become the Body of Christ.
Valid Eucharist in the Orthodox Churches: The Eucharist in the Orthodox Churches is valid because they never interrupted the Apostolic succession of ordinations. Even though we are not in full communion with them, all the sacraments of the Orthodox Church are valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church. With God’s grace, one day we will all be One Church as Christ intended us to be.
Many talks of Bishop Robert Barron on the Eucharist are essential in understanding this sacrament. Visit his website for more information: Bishop Robert Barron
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