The Eucharist is the ‘source and summit of the Christian life,’ and yet far too many Catholics believe it is merely a symbol rather than what it really is – the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.
Recently on The Inner Life®, Father Dennis Cooney discussed the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and how we can understand the roots of this supreme gift. Fr. Dennis said:
“One of the things we really need to do, in order to appreciate the miracle of the Eucharist – and it is an ongoing miracle – is to recapture the Jewish roots of the Eucharist.
Remember that it’s at the Last Supper, a Passover meal, that Jesus institutes the sacrament of His sacrifice and also His Real Presence. Now, here’s the thing. A good, devout Jew, when he participates in the Passover meal, doesn’t just simply remember a distant past event. But he believes that the God who instituted the Passover and the whole Exodus makes Himself present, re-presents Himself at that Passover supper.
Therefore, you are with the Israelites as they’re being liberated from Egypt. You are with the Israelites as they celebrate the Passover meal on the night of their liberation. You are with the Lord, because He transcends time, He transcends space, and He makes Himself present in the celebration of the Passover.
That’s the context for our understanding the Mass as a memorial. I think many people, when they hear the word memorial, think of a dead and past event that we re-present or make present again through our memory. No, it’s just the opposite.
It’s God who makes the event – Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross – present to us here and now. Because He is, of course, in eternity and He is not contained by time. He can make His eternal offering and sacrifice present to us at every and any moment in time.
He’s present to us, first of all, in His priests, whom He ordained at that Last Supper. ‘Do this in memory of Me.’ In other words, repeat what I have just done. And we have done that down through the ages.
But then also, He Himself is our Passover Lamb. He is the Lamb who was sacrificed for our sake and for our redemption. And that’s why He says in the words of institution, ‘This is My Body, given for you. This is My Blood, shed for you.’ These are not mere empty symbols or metaphors. These are the realities that Jesus makes present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and in the gift of the Eucharist.
The Jews understood the Passover as a living memorial. Not simply a commemoration and remembrance of a past event, but a living, present reality. They were renewing the covenant right here and now in the Passover meal. And that’s the context for understanding how Christ Himself renews His covenant relationship with us, with the Church in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Eucharist.
But we do have to remember that it is, at least initially, counter-intuitive. [In John chapter 6] when Jesus says, ‘You must eat My flesh and drink My blood,’ or at Mass when we see what looks simply like bread or what simply looks like wine and believe that is truly Christ present to us right here and right now. It’s counter-intuitive.
That’s why St. Thomas Aquinas says that the only sense that we are to trust with regard to the Eucharist is the sense of hearing. Because through that sense we receive His word. And His word reveals the reality of what we are receiving and participating in at Holy Mass and in the sacrament of the Eucharist.”
Listen to the full conversation below:
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