THE SEVEN SACRAMENTS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
COMMUNION AS REUNION
Introduction: Eucharist is the Sacrament of Sacraments
Tonight our topic is the Holy Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament, and there is so much to be said on this subject because this is THE Blessed Sacrament. This is the Sacrament of sacraments! This is the principal sacrament of the Christian religion. This is truly the mystery of faith, and when I say that, I mean THE mystery of faith because none of the other six give to us Christ himself. But in the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we receive Jesus Christ Himself -- His body, His blood, His soul, His divinity -- total Christ is ours in this sacrament.
So what I would like to do is to break up the talk into four parts. I'd like to share with you the four parts right now so you might be able to follow along. The first part is a catechetical summary. Now I'm not planning on doing this with the others necessarily, but I want to touch the basics to make sure that we all have the basics in mind because we have to be able to assume that to move on and I don't want to take it for granted. I want to just touch it briefly, but I want to touch it so that we all understand what the Catholic Church's teachings are.
The second thing I would like to do is to focus upon the Biblical background of the Church's teaching and to see where in Sacred Scripture -- I wouldn't say where in Sacred Scripture the Church got its teachings because the Church got the teachings from Jesus Christ. Sacred Scripture is rather a reflection of what Christ handed down to the Apostles.
The third section will be to consider some objections that people have expressed to the teachings regarding the Holy Eucharist. Not just theological objections, we are going to consider one or two of those, but also some psychological objections that you may have as Catholics.
Then finally, I would like to share with you some of the most inspiring thoughts that I've gathered in reading what the saints, the Doctors and the Fathers of the Church have said about the Blessed Sacrament. And I want to share these by way of conclusion in the fourth part to give you something to take away and to take into your prayer, to take into the silence of the night so that you may visit our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and have a very intimate time with Him.
The catechetical summary: I just photocopied some pages out of a very good and reliable catechism. I'm not going to read it all to you but I want to touch upon some highlights. What is the Holy Eucharist? The Holy Eucharist is a sacrament. All right, so we can think of everything we have said so far about a sacrament being an oath, sacramentum, and an oath being that which constitutes a covenant. In this case, this is THE sacrament that constitutes THE New Covenant. And what is a covenant? It's practically equivalent to a family, a sacred family bond.
So as flesh and blood are the bonding agents in the natural families that we all were born into -- we received our flesh and blood from our parents. So that when Christ establishes a New Covenant, a new family, a sacred family, he does so using the same sort of material. Only the flesh and blood of Christ becomes supernaturally charged as the bonding agents for God's universal family, so that we are actually temples of the Holy Spirit in which the Blessed Trinity indwells.
So the Holy Eucharist is a sacrament and a sacrifice. It's a sacrifice, an unbloody sacrifice in which our Lord Jesus Christ -- body, blood, soul and divinity -- is contained wholly and offered and received under the appearances of bread and wine, (under the appearances of bread and wine by which we mean color, taste, weight, shape and whatever else appears to the senses.) In the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we have the one sacrament that really seems, doesn't it, to contradict our senses?
Here we do not have bread and wine and something else. Here we have Christ himself no longer bread and no longer wine, though our senses would tell us otherwise. We call it the Eucharist because Christ instituted it at a meal in which he gave thanks at the beginning and "eucharisto" is the Greek word for thanksgiving. So this is a thank offering, a specific kind of sacrifice. In addition to being a thank offering, it also pulls together all of the many Old Testament sacrifices. And there were several, and they were bloody and they were costly, and all of them have been reduced down to one clean, pure sacrifice of the altar, namely, the Eucharist.
The Holy Eucharist is also called the Blessed Sacrament because it is the most excellent of all the sacraments because it gives us Christ Himself. The Holy Eucharist is called Holy Communion when it is received, usually in Church. Sometimes Communion is taken to the sick, in which case it is called Viaticum. So the Body and the Blood of Christ can be received in communion.
Now how did Christ institute the Holy Eucharist? Because after all, how have we defined sacraments for ages? An outward sign, instituted by Christ to give grace. So how and when did Christ institute this sacrament?
Institution of the Eucharist
He instituted the Holy Eucharist in this way, "He took bread, blessed and broke it and giving it to his Apostles said, 'Take and eat, this is my body.' And then he took a cup of wine, blessed it and giving it to them said, 'All of you drink of this for this is my blood of the New Covenant which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins.'" Do you realize that in all the gospels Jesus Christ never spoke the word "covenant" except on this occasion? Somebody could conclude, "Well, maybe the word's not important." On the other hand, anybody who knows Judaism of Jesus' day and the Old Testament religion which he embraced and fulfilled would tell you that, no, there probably is no other word with the significance of covenant. So, I would suggest to you that Christ reserved that all-important term for the all-important occasion when he would institute the glorious New Covenant, the new family, the Divine, sacred family that constitutes the Church.
Then finally, he gave his Apostles the commission, "Do this in remembrance of me." So that when our Lord said, "This is my Body and this is my Blood," the entire substance of the bread and the wine was changed into his Body and his Blood. We call this "transubstantiation" for lack of a better word. It's a metamorphosis. It's a total transformation. Why? Because we take Christ at His word. Isaiah 55 verse 11 tells us, "My word shall go forth from my mouth. It shall not return to me empty but, it shall accomplish that which I purpose." When Jesus Christ says, "This IS my Body" to a piece of bread, that word spoken by Christ is spoken by the same One who said, "Let there be light," at the beginning of creation. And the darkness didn't answer back and say, "No, we're darkness." No, light came into existence by the mere expression of God's all-powerful word, because Christ is the living word spoken by God which is all-powerful. If Christ were to say to me, "You're a woman," I would become a woman because that is the word of God.
Some people quote the passage in Hebrews where it talks about the fact that our Lord does not lie. Our Lord does not speak falsehood. Well, you know what? It isn't just morally impossible for God, for Christ, to lie. It's physically impossible, for whatever Christ would say, by the fact that he said it, his word would make it so. It isn't just that he wouldn't lie; he couldn't lie, even if he wanted to, because his word is so powerful and when that word is spoken over the bread and the wine to transform it into the ultimate gift, the ultimate act of self-donation, because a lover isn't done giving to the beloved until he has given himself, wholly, freely and entirely.
Well, that is the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Why do we believe that Christ changed bread and wine into his own Body and Blood? Well, because he said so, because of what we will see in the sixth chapter of John, which was taken from the reading of the Mass this morning, but also because the Apostles understood that he meant these words literally and we're going to see that in the Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, lst Corinthians, chapters 10 and 11, which we will look at in a minute. It has also been the continuous belief of Christians everywhere, in all times.
St. Augustine said, "Our Lord held Himself in His own hands when he gave His body to the Disciples." Isn't that beautiful? Our Lord held himself when he gave the gift to his Apostles in the Upper Room. Now part of the catechism's presentation of this doctrine also includes the Real Presence. I mentioned transubstantiation. Christ gave to his priests the power to change bread and wine into his Body and Blood when he made his Apostles priests at the Last Supper. He ordained them. Maundy Thursday refers to the "mandatum," the mandate that Christ gave to his Apostles by which he made them priests, and then he told them, "Do this in remembrance of Me." So at Mass, at the words of consecration, transubstantiation takes place, that is the entire substance of the bread and the wine become the Body and Blood of our Lord.
Sacramental Effects of the Eucharist
Then, finally, since a sacrament is instituted by Christ to give grace, we want briefly to ask and answer the question, "How is it that the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist gives grace?" First of all the sacramental grace that it gives is a one flesh, one spirit union with our Lord, which is the most tremendous grace in heaven and on earth. It's something that the angels can never imagine because they never became flesh. They do not partake of human nature. It's an ultimate gift that surpasses everything else in all creation.
In addition to the sacramental grace, there is also what is known as sanctifying grace; that is the grace which increases our maturity as God's sons, who grow up in his family - sanctifying grace. The third effect as it relates to grace is that it preserves us from sin. It preserves us from sin and it strengthens our resolve unto holiness and finally, the fourth thing that it does is that it remits all venial sin.
What should we do when we receive Holy Communion? We should spend some time adoring the Lord, because we have become a temple. We have become a tabernacle. We have become almost like the Blessed Virgin Mary who carried the Word Incarnate within her womb for nine months. We carry the Word Incarnate for about ten or fifteen minutes and as he is flowing through our veins, and as he is assimilated into our bodies, we need to speak the most loving and generous words that our hearts can create. We shouldn't leave the church as quickly as possible. I sometimes look around at Mass and my kids, we all look around and we see these people leaving. Sometimes they leave before they even come back and take their seat. Other people leave very quickly, as soon as the song begins. We refer to it as the "Judas shuffle" in our family, because as soon as Judas received our Lord in the Upper Room, what did he do? He went out into the parking lot...no, no, out into the night.
We too, need to restore the practice of thanksgiving. If we don't give thanks when God our Creator and Redeemer is within us, flesh and blood , body and soul and divinity, when will we give thanks? What will make us pause, stop and sacrifice a little time to really give him thanks? Let's restore that old tradition of five, ten, fifteen minutes of thanksgiving or at least a brief family prayer with the kids to tell our Lord, "Thank You for coming into me. Thank You for creating Your new family."
You know how we respond whenever we hear that an important guest is coming to our house? We clean up. We scrub it down. We get ready and then we dress up and then when that guest comes, we spend time. You know when you visit somebody's house and you're there for dinner, do you keep your coats on? What would that signal to the people? If you came and said, "Oh make yourselves at home. Let me take your coat." "No, I'll keep it on." How many times do you find people just sitting at Mass with their coats on, looking at their watches, wondering about the football game and the starting time, or whatever? Our Creator, our Redeemer is going to come into our body and be united to our soul. It's always helpful to remind ourselves of the basic catechism and its teachings.
Eucharist is the Cause of all the Other Sacraments
Now let's move on. Let's just remember briefly that the Eucharist is the principal sacrament. It is the sacrament of sacraments. In fact, I'm going to suggest right now that the Eucharist is rightly understood as the cause of all the other sacraments. How could that be so? Well, think of Baptism. Baptism incorporates us into the Church which is the Body of Christ. It is the qualification to receive the Eucharist. We are baptized to come into the Body of Christ, so that the Body of Christ can come into us in the Eucharist because in the Eucharist the Church becomes what it eats. We are what we eat when we receive the Eucharist because we are united to the Mystical Body of Christ in the most perfect way, and that's the whole point of Baptism.
Confirmation is the sacrament that enables us to gain Divine power to live out Christ's Eucharistic sacrifice, so that we ourselves can become extensions of Christ's sacrifice as we serve others and as we serve God and offer up ourselves.
The sacrament of Penance is also caused by the Eucharist because the whole point of Penance is to restore us into the fellowship of the family so that we can be back at the meal for supper, so that we can receive the Eucharist.
Likewise, Anointing. It prepares our body, Extreme Unction does, it prepares our body and soul to become perfectly united with Christ's Eucharistic sacrifice, as we are prepared to be resurrected and glorified and united to Christ in heaven in his Mystical Body.
Even Matrimony, I believe, could be seen as caused by the Eucharist because the whole point of Matrimony for St. Paul in Ephesians 5 is this "one flesh" union that signifies the Eucharistic union of Christ and the Bride, the Church. That's really the symbolism and the power, the dynamism that makes Matrimony sacramental.
Then, finally, the sacrament of Holy Orders is caused by the Eucharist because the whole reason why priests are ordained is to perpetuate the Eucharistic sacrifice in the Church's life and through history. So the Eucharist is the principal sacrament in the sense that it is that from which all of the other sacraments are caused, from which they flow.
Biblical Background of the Church's Teaching on the Eucharist
Now, what I would like to do with you is to take a look at some of the crucial Biblical passages that the teaching of the Church is built upon or, you could say, reflects the teachings of the Church. If you have a Bible, turn with me to John, chapter 6. This is the locus classicus, John, chapter 6. Now it's important to realize, to understand the Eucharist. We need to understand a little bit about the Old Testament sacrifices and feasts, but we don't have the time for it. Especially we need to understand that Christ instituted the Eucharist while he was celebrating the highest and holiest festival of the Old Testament, namely, Passover.
He was and still is our Passover Lamb. He was and still is God's firstborn Son. You remember back in Egypt the Israelites sacrificed the Passover lamb and the Egyptians sacrificed their firstborn sons. Christ comes along as the sacrifice for Israel and for Egypt because he is both the Lamb that we present and God's firstborn Son. He unites and he fulfills all of the meaning and the significance and the power of the Passover in the New Covenant of the family, the flesh and blood that he creates with the sacrament.
In John, chapter 6 begins by saying, "Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews was at hand." In other words, everything that is about to take place in John, chapter 6, takes place within the context of celebrating Passover. First we have the miracle, the multiplication of the loaves. Jesus said to Phillip, "How are we to buy bread so that these people may eat? This he said to test him for he himself knew what he would do." And so everything unfolds. I think you know the story. Jesus then took the loaves and when he had given thanks, in the Greek that's "eucharisto", he distributed to them to those who were seated so also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, 'Gather up the fragments left over.' " And, of course, there were twelve baskets with fragments and the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.
"When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, 'This is, indeed, the prophet who is to come into the world,'" which is a reference back to Deuteronomy where God told us that the Messiah would come and he would be like a second Moses. And as Moses fed the people in the wilderness with manna, so the Messiah would feed the people of God as well. And it goes on, down in verse 25, "When they found Jesus on the other side of the sea, they said to him, 'Rabbi, when did you come here?' Jesus answered them, 'Amen, Amen, I say to you'." He is swearing the truth of his utterance. "You seek me not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes but for the food which endures toward eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you for on him has God the Father set His seal."
We all work as breadwinners. We all work for life to sustain it. But Jesus' saying put things in the right perspective because the work we do on earth only redowns to earthly life, earthly sustenance, sustaining human life as it is here and now in our flesh and blood bodies. Whenever we work and we get some bread and we eat it, we are hungry again. I think what Jesus is getting ready to tell the people is that all of the bread that we eat on earth for which we labor so hard, really all this is a symbol or better yet, the hors d'oeuvres served by the master before the main course.
What happens sometimes when you have hors d'oeuvres at a great feast and you're really famished? Or what happens when you're at a great restaurant and you know they have this great Filet Mignon, but you're so hungry that they keep giving you salad and rolls and what do some of us do? We pig out! We eat the hors d'oeuvres and we eat the rolls, and so when the main course comes, we don't have room for it. Well, Jesus is saying, "The food down here is like the hors d'oeuvres. Don't stuff yourselves. Whet your appetite, but don't satiate your appetite. Don't satisfy it because the banquet that I have prepared for you in heaven is just so glorious you can't even imagine."
So bread on earth is but a token, proving to us that God will provide, but pointing to a much greater provision: the Bread which we eat after which we never hunger again, for it's the Bread of Life. Then it goes on, "What work do you perform. Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven.' Jesus then said to them, 'Truly, truly I say to you it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven. My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.' "
It seems like the people were trying to cut him down to size. They were saying, "Well, you multiplied loaves. Impressive, yeah, but Moses multiplied loaves. What special trick do you have up your sleeve? I mean are you more than Moses?" Jesus corrects that little strategy. He says, "It wasn't Moses who gave you that bread from heaven because my Father gives you the true bread from heaven." Hors d'oeuvres. I'm the main course. "For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Lord, give us this bread always." And we say, "Lord, give us this bread always."
Jesus said to them, "I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me shall not hunger. He who believes in me shall never thirst". The Jews murmured to him because he said, "I am the Bread which came down from heaven." They say, "This is Joseph's son, what are you talking about, 'coming down from heaven?'" They will only go so far with him. I mean you multiply the bread. We're impressed. We want to make you king. You could set up a great welfare state, provide for all of us and we wouldn't have to work, especially if you give us this bread which we eat, we will never hunger again. We might even re-elect you next time around."
Jews Find Jesus' Claim Repulsive
Jesus says, "No, this isn't politics. I am the Bread of Life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever and the Bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."
Every Jew in the audience thinks of Leviticus. Oh no, you don't eat flesh. If you eat flesh and if you drink blood, you are cut off from your kindred, according to the Old Testament law of Moses. "So the Jews then disputed among themselves saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'" So does Jesus say, "Well stop, guys, it's just a teaching device. It was just a little illustration to help get a point across." No, He ups the ante; He intensifies their crisis of faith. So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you."
That's the first thing he says. Then he states it a second way: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day." Then he says it a third way: "For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed." And then to top it off, he has to say it a fourth time: "He who eats my flesh," and that word in the Greek means chew, munch down on my flesh, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him." I can almost feel the dizziness of the Jews in the audience, and many of his disciples when they heard it said, "This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?"
They don't say, "Well, who can understand it?" They don't say, "Who can believe it?" They say, "We can't even stand to listen to it. That's how offensive it is." But Jesus, knowing himself that his disciples murmured at him and at the saying, said to them, what? "Oh guys, come on, come on. Relax. It's just a metaphor, just a symbol, just a sign." He doesn't say that, does he? He says, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life."
What is Jesus meaning? He is saying, "Look, I am not saying here is my arm. Why don't you guys just stand in line and take a bite." Right? Well, what is he saying? He is saying that it's the Spirit that gives life and so my flesh and my blood are not quite ready for the communion meal. When will they be? When the Spirit takes the Passover Lamb in the tomb and revives and resurrects and glorifies and infuses the fullness of the infinite Holy Spirit to that flesh and to that blood, so that Christ's flesh and blood is perfectly united to the eternal spirit of God. At that point, Christ's flesh and blood will not be mere flesh and blood. It's the Spirit that gives life. The flesh alone is of no avail.
"The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." What does he mean? The words that Christ speaks are what cause his flesh and his blood to be transformed. Those words are spoken over bread and wine and that is what causes the great communion meal to take place.
Jesus Loses Many Disciples Who Reject His Teachings
Verse 66: "After this, many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him." You can imagine, if Jesus was really interested in public relations, commercial sales, popularity -- you know, recently the bishops contracted some advertising firm to see what they could do to upgrade the tarnished image of Catholicism in America. Now, if Jesus had done that, you know, the first thing that the Madison Avenue PR agency would have undoubtedly said to him is, "Trash this stuff here. I mean, how many did you lose in one fell swoop in just a few minutes? A few thousand disciples. You want to be recognized as the King of kings and the Lord of lords? We're going to have to scale down the rhetoric, Jesus. You're going to have to figure out a better way to package the goods. After all, we don't want to tarnish the image."
Jesus said to the twelve, "I'm sorry guys, I didn't mean to reduce our ranks." No. "Do you also wish to go away?" He can start again from scratch if he wants. But Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go?" Once again, Peter speaks out on behalf of the disciples and answers the question with a question, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life and we have believed and have come to know that you are the holy One of God." Peter does not come out and say, "Come on, Jesus, just between us guys, it's easy, you know, this Eucharistic doctrine, we've got no problems with this teaching. I mean all those outsiders, those lame-brains, those pagans. They've got problems with the doctrine." Peter didn't say that. You had better believe that Peter also realized how bankrupt his five senses were when it came to understanding this teaching. All Peter could say is what all we can say and that is, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and have come to know that you are the holy One of God."
I am grateful for the fact that the thousands of people left. I'm grateful. And I'm also grateful when Catholics act with integrity and leave the Church when they no longer believe in the teachings of the Church with regard to the Eucharist. They are doing themselves a favor, acting in sincerity and integrity and they are doing the Church a favor. They are also putting themselves in a position where they are not going to have to play a part that they really can't fill. They are not going to have to pretend to be something that they are not.
Thousands have left in John 6, but one person should have left and he didn't. Who was that? The very next verse, "Did I not choose you the twelve and yet one of you is a devil. He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot for he, one of the twelve was to betray him." This is the first occurrence of any mention of Judas' intention to betray Jesus. When priests and when faithful lose their faith in the Eucharist and make that very fatal decision to stay in the Church, whether they know it, whether they intend it or not, they fulfill a very tragic and a very evil role. And the very next verse which begins chapter 7 is, "After this, Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea because the Jews sought to kill him."
This sets the stage for the rest of the dramatic story of Christ's passion because the Jews seeking to kill him are going to join forces with Judas within the priesthood, within the Church, who is seeking to betray him because these teachings are just ridiculous. Do you imagine that Judas is probably one of the ones who wanted Jesus to strike while the iron was hot: make yourself king now that you are popular enough to become their king.
John 6 reflects the Eucharistic realism of the Catholic Church. The Church teaches it not because it's proof text its doctrine in John 6. It's the other way around. John 6 says what it does because Jesus made it so abundantly clear to the Apostles who made it so abundantly clear to the first generation and the second and the third. This is a reflection.
The Church never went to the Bible alone to proof text its doctrines. You have the tail wagging the dog if you think that way. The scriptures reflect a common mind set, and what's so significant is that there is no felt need to even argue the point because for 1500 years, there wasn't really any argument. All Christians, everywhere accepted the teachings.
Turn to 1st Corinthians, chapter 10 and we can see that reflected very clearly in St. Paul's teaching. 1st Corinthians, 10, very strong language beginning in verse 16, St. Paul says, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a coenea, (the Greek word), a communion or a participation, in the Blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a coenea a communion or a participation in the Body of Christ? Because there is one Bread, we who are many are one body." We are what we eat, the Body of Christ. For we all partake of the one Bread." Let me say that again. "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body for we all partake of the one bread, the one loaf."
Now what does that mean? Does it mean that back in Corinth and throughout Asia Minor and throughout Northern Africa and throughout all Judea, every week they got together and baked a huge, megaloaf of bread, and then sent portions of that one enormous loaf out everywhere? Course not. They ate from many loaves in terms of the bread, but St. Paul says, "Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body because we all eat of that one loaf." He's talking about Christ whom he identifies as the Bread of Life.
He goes on and he says, "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" In other words, he's saying, "You're under oath. Do not dream of deceiving the Lord."
Elsewhere he says in 1st Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 23: "...for I have received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night that he was betrayed, took bread and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my Body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the New Covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it in the memory of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.'"
Is he just speaking symbolically? The following verses betray the fact that he is not. "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and the blood of the Lord." He will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. That's ancient language that's hard for us to understand. It's tantamount to saying, "murder." It's a Semitic way of saying that you put somebody to death when you're guilty of their body and blood.
Now, if Paul was just thinking symbolically, he couldn't say that people who eat this unworthily are guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. He might say that they are guilty of some anti-religious unbelief, but I couldn't put up a picture of somebody and then, all of a sudden shoot a bullet in it and be charged with murder, unless I put a bullet in the person. Paul says, "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. He will be guilty of the body and blood. "Let a man, therefore, examine himself and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup." The reckless, fearless pseudo courage of people who deny 2000 years of teaching and risk their souls on a novel interpretation. We've got to get the word out.
Christ doesn't just give us trinkets and tokens. He gives us himself, spiritually and materially, because he is the creator and redeemer of spirit and matter, and we're both body and soul. "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment upon himself." What does that mean? Does it mean that come judgment day you guys are going to be in a heap of trouble? No, it means even more than that. Verse 30, it says, "That is why many of you are weak and ill and some have died." Do you mean to tell me that St. Paul actually believes that because people were receiving the Lord's supper unworthily -- they were profaning the Lord's body and blood -- that some were sick and some were dead? You bet St. Paul believes it and teaches it, and so we ought to believe it and teach it.
Why? Because this is an oath that Christ has sworn and that he swears in us and through us and for us; and if we deliberately deceive ourselves or God, we do so to our own destruction. It's like saying, "Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye." We can't do that safely, but if we judged ourselves truly, we shall not be judged; but when we are judged by the Lord we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So the teaching of St. Paul coordinates perfectly with the teaching of the Apostle John and all of it fits perfectly with the words of Jesus and the universal teaching of the Church down through all the ages.
Objections to the Teachings Regarding the Holy Eucharist
Now, let's move on to consider some possible objections to this. Objections come in two varieties: the theological and the psychological. The most common theological objection is normally taken from Hebrews 10, verses 10 through 12, where the sacrifice of the Body of Jesus Christ is spoken of as being once for all. Once and for all, or more literally, once for all, and then it says, "He sat down at the right hand." He is not continually killed. He is not continually put to death, and I want to make something very clear. As Catholics we do not believe that Jesus dies again and again and again in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the altar. We believe, rather, that this is an unbloody sacrifice. It doesn't mean that he is being killed, only without any bloodshed. It means that he is not being killed at all. It means that Jesus Christ, raised in heaven and glorified, continually presents himself to the Father in a perfect sacrifice, the once for all sacrifice. It's once and for all times and it continues into eternity. That's what it means.
The sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ was once for all and he sat down at the right hand. Now when somebody takes that to mean that there is no longer any continuation of his sacrifice, they run into problems because in Revelations 5, verse 6, we see a difficulty. John in his vision of the heavenly throne room is told to look and he will see the Lion of the tribe of Judah who is conquered. He looks expecting to see a royal figure. The lion is a royal figure of the tribe of Judah which is David's tribe, and so he expects to see a king. Instead, it says in Revelations 5, verse 6, "He turned and beheld a lamb, looking as though it had been slain in the center of the throne."
Jesus Christ was sacrificed on the Cross, raised from the dead and yet that resurrected body bears the wounds; ascended into heaven and glorified so that those wounds are not removed but glorified; so that when we behold our King in heaven at the right hand of the Father, what does he look like? A lamb, looking as though he had been slain. Why? Because the Passover Feast continues on into eternity. Christ is priest and victim. He is the Passover Lamb. No wonder Paul can say in 1st Corinthians 5, verse 7: "Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us." Therefore, what? Therefore, all we have to do is to believe because after all the sacrifice was once for all, it's over and done with; there's no continuation? No, he didn't say that at all.
St. Paul says in 1st Corinthians 5, verse 7: "Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us, therefore, let us keep the feast." What feast? The Eucharistic Banquet, the covenant Passover. But why? Because sacrifices are never complete until the sacrificial victim is consumed. It's the consuming of the victim that really signifies the purpose and goal of the sacrifice, because God ordained and commanded sacrifices in the Old Testament for sin, but not simply to kill animals. What happened to the animals after they were slain? They were eaten because to have that meal, to share communion is the purpose and goal of the sacrifice. It signifies the restoration of family bonds, because who do you eat your meals with? Family members.
So the ultimate, final stage of a sacrifice is communion. Back in Egypt, 1400 years before Jesus, if you had sacrificed the Passover lamb and sprinkled his blood on your doorpost to preserve your firstborn son, and then you went to bed and that's all you did, you would wake up in the morning and your firstborn son would be dead, because you had to eat the lamb. You had to commune upon the victim. You had to consume the sacrifice. What if you don't like mutton, and instead you decide to bake some lamb cookies or lamb wafers with a lamb stamped on them. "This is the lamb we eat: it's just a wafer. It symbolizes the lamb that we slew earlier in the evening." You'd wake up in the morning and you'd be dead. You had to eat the lamb. John 6 at the Passover, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world says it emphatically four times, "My flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him."
That's what communion is all about and that's what Christ's sacrifice on Calvary is all about. Redemption is accomplished on Calvary. It is applied by Christ through the Spirit from heaven and we keep the Passover Feast every Eucharist when we receive the Passover Lamb in his risen, glorified and all-powerful Body and Blood, soul and divinity. That is the heart and soul of it.
Now, there are some psychological objections as well. We need to touch upon them very briefly. Psychologically, I find that many Catholics have trouble celebrating weekly Eucharist because it's routine. It's humdrum. It's mundane. It's just constant and this idea of routine is a real problem. This is much more of a practical, psychological problem for practicing Catholics. A few suggestions: It is necessary to avoid at any cost a routine spirit. Grace comes with the sacrament intrinsically because it's contained in the sacrament. But the amount of grace we receive depends upon our disposition, our fervor, our love. We receive little from the sacrament because we love little and we want little and we ask for little.
If we sometimes despair of getting our requests because we don't really think God loves us, look again at the Cross, but look again at the Blessed Sacrament. If God the Father will give us His only eternally begotten Son, what will he withhold from us that we need? We need to unite our prayers with the Holy Eucharist. We need our requests to be united and joined with the Eucharistic prayer and sacrifice of the Mass. Those prayers are powerful, indeed. Preparation is most important. We shouldn't just wait until the last minute. Sometimes we just can't seem to wake up. There's a song I like with a line that goes, "He rose from the dead, but you can't even get out of bed!" Isn't it odd how little we get because of the little we love?
We need to trust Him. We need to entrust ourselves to the one we trust more than ourselves. But ultimately there is no excuse for rejecting regular practice, just because it's routine. Most of life is routine. The daily hugs and kisses, the prayers, the meals. All of the things that make family life ongoing and ordinary but beautiful. These are the routines of lovers and family members. The real purpose of routine, then, is to instill deeply ingrained habits, virtues, loves, bonds of love and commitment.
Now some people are part of a cult of spontaneity. They reduce faith to feeling. They want just simply a deeper experience. "What I feel right now is what I will do, and so I will only go to Mass if I feel like it." Well, that doesn't work. It doesn't work at home with your parents and your brothers and sisters. It doesn't work in marriage with your spouse, and it certainly won't work when you parent the children. You're not just going to take care of them when you feel like it. You're going to take care of them when they feel like it.
That gets us into another psychological stumbling block: this idea that it's really just magic. We've got God under our thumb, wrapped around our little finger. Say the magic words and presto, God is beholden to us! There's a half-truth in that because God has made himself beholden to us. The Master has become the servant. The Host has become the main course. What an awesome thought. This is a real danger though for priests and for lay people who do not prepare to receive the Eucharist in the Mass. The way to overcome this magical mentality is to realize that it's God's faithfulness, not man's magical manipulation. God will give us grace whenever we comply with the words of the covenant that He has established, but His faithfulness in appearing is precisely what prevents the Eucharist from becoming magic, because he will appear in holy power, not like some genie reluctantly pulled from some lamp, but like the Lord of the covenant who appears in the midst of his people to give aid to those who sincerely desire it but to give judgment to those who profane the table of the Lord.
If someone insists on comparing this to magic, I'd have to insist that God is the One who plays the part of the magician. He pulls the rabbit out of the hat because he takes the nobodies like us, and He gives us the Body and Blood of his Son and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is He who really does the work. The words and the actions are established by Him. It is only by conforming our words and our actions to his and by conforming our intentions and our dispositions and our desires that all of this becomes beneficial.
This is not some magical or mechanical or manipulative process. This is the act by which God's children submit to the father of a new family. The power of the sacraments is comparable to sunlight. The sunlight intrinsically contains warmth, illumination. The sunlight is in itself strong, bright and warm; but if we want, we can choose to close the shutters. We can reject the light. We can nullify God's grace, if we so will, if we deliberately choose to neglect the grace. So, the Eucharist does not detract from the work of Christ. It manifests the work of Christ.
The sacraments are not detractions from the glory of Christ's work on Calvary. They are refractions of that light. Christ is love's pure light, sacrificed on Calvary, given to the Church which is like a prism, displaying the colors of the spectrum in the seven sacraments. And the sacraments do not undermine or compromise the work of Christ on Calvary. They apply what was accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God and his children.
Practical Insights and Inspiring Thoughts
Now, what can we take home from this? What practical insights can we gain? First of all it tells us, it urges us not to gauge our faith by our feelings. Christ is there whether we feel it or not. He is not a genie. He doesn't just do whatever we feel like doing. He does what he has promised and sworn to do. But that is a glorious fact and that is the only adequate foundation for our faith.
I just listened to a tape this afternoon. You can talk to Terry Barber of St. Joseph Communications and perhaps get a copy of it. It was done by Betty Brennan and it was entitled "Return to the Sacraments." Betty Brennan is a New York cradle Catholic who fell away from the Church when she lost her child and she became bitter and hateful towards God. She actually got heavily involved in Satanism for years. She was raised up into the upper echelons of Satanism before some unbelievable experiences brought her back to Christ. The one thing that she testifies to is the fact that in all of the Satanic cults, they don't go by non- Catholic practices. They realize the power of the sacraments. She said, "If a witch who really was a witch walked into a room with 2000 wafers, only one of which was consecrated, she would know the one in a minute.
She describes how in Satanic cults, it's the Catholic sacraments that are really feared and initiated in a blasphemous way. She goes on to talk about how it is that these devil worshippers know, even if Catholics do not, that the sacraments are like the spiritual equivalent to nuclear weapons to completely blast Satan out of our lives. Busy Christians reading books, listening to tapes, going to conferences and neglecting the sacraments. We shouldn't do that. We can read the books and listen to the tapes and do all of those good things, but the best thing we must not neglect. Those sacraments are awesome and divine, especially the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
I want to take some thoughts from some of the saints to close our time. St. Augustine once said, "He who is all-knowing knew of nothing more that he could give than the Eucharist. He who is all-powerful could not do any more than he does in the sacrament and he who is all loving had nothing more that He could give. The Eucharist," he goes on to say, "is a Divine storehouse filled with every virtue."
St. Teresa of Avila once said that here on earth it's impossible to perform a more meritorious act than visiting Jesus often in the Eucharist. If you took all of the good works done by all of the humans who have ever lived in all of history and stacked them all up and multiplied them by a million, they wouldn't equal the merit, the virtue and the worth of one Mass. The Eucharistic sacrifice is Christ's infinite merit, infinite value.
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque said, "Every time you visit the Church for the love of Christ, His heart draws us in an embrace of sheer delight. The tabernacle is like Mary's womb wherein dwells the same Christ who reigns above, adored by angels, He who enters our bodies and souls."
St. Teresa of the Little Flower once said, "He doesn't descend from heaven to remain in golden vessels but to enter and fill our souls."
St. John Bosco once said, "We don't receive the Eucharist because we are good, we go to receive the Eucharist in order to become good and pleasing to God."
Cardinal John Bolderman said, "Just one communion received with the best dispositions, just one with the best dispositions and with true devotion would be enough to make a saint."
The Cure' of Ars once said, "An entire lifetime would not be enough to thank God sufficiently for just one communion, if its value is properly estimated. The sacrifice of the Mass is, of itself, more glorious and meritorious than anything and everything in creation."
St. John Cafiso once said, "If the angels could receive communion just once, they would spend the rest of eternity thanking God for the privilege. The tongue that receives the Lord of mercy, how can it then be used to curse and revile?"
St. Cyril of Alexandria said, "If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist and he who is your God in such a humble disguise, will teach you humility. If the fever of selfish greed rages in you, feed on him and you will learn generosity."
St. Philip Neri once said, that as far as teenagers are concerned, nothing but communion can keep your heart pure. The words of consecration are greater than the words that were spoken at creation, for the words spoken at creation merely brought forth the creation, but the words spoken by the priest bring forth the Creator and the Redeemer. The glory that God calls us to share is the love of an infinite Father. It wasn't enough for Jesus to merely enter into Mary's virgin womb to dwell for nine months. It wasn't humble enough for him to be born in poverty and squalor or to be born and laid in a feeding trough in a cave. It wasn't enough for him to be circumcised or hunted down by Herod the greedy tyrant. It wasn't enough for him to be humbled through being ignored, denied abused, tortured and killed. But now, He is there hidden under the appearance of bread and wine so that we who have done all of this may discover the infinite love and the eternal humility of a loving God as we swallow him down and utterly consume him.
To Receive Holy Communion is to be Assimilated into the Body of Christ
As He said in John 2, "Zeal for my family will consume me, will eat me up." Unlike physical nourishment, the Eucharist is different, very different. When we receive plants and animals in a meal, we assimilate it into our bodies but when we receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, it might be truer to say that He assimilates us to his body and He makes us one with himself, one flesh and one spirit.
In the early Church the Eucharist was known as the medicine of immortality. Jesus when he instituted it, spoke the language of love. That is the language we have to learn anew if we are to live our lives in the family of God.
In the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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