Advent, Christmas are the times of the year to think about the presence of Christ among us, especially in the Eucharist
By Bob Hunt
Advent and Christmas seasons are times for reflecting on the presence of Christ among us. During Advent, we prepare for the solemnity of the Incarnation by penance and adopting a joyful, expectant attitude. Jesus is coming! During Christmas, we celebrate Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23), in the birth of our Lord into history.
It’s a good time to reflect on the presence of Christ among us in the Eucharist. Each day, and especially each Sunday, Catholics are called to gather for the celebration of the Eucharist, a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” Eucharist describes both the liturgy that celebrates the sacrifice of Christ and the presence among us of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine.
This is the mystery of the Real Presence: that Jesus Christ is really present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearance of bread and wine.
At the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples, “This is my body. This is my blood” (Mark 14:22-25). We take Him at His word. When Christ was confronted over His claim to be the bread from heaven, He firmly declared that whoever ate His body and drank His blood would have new life.
When so many walked away because of this hard teaching, Jesus didn’t call them back so He could explain Himself, insisting that He only meant a symbolic eating and drinking of His Body and Blood. Rather, He let them walk away. He then turned to His disciples and asked, “Will you also go away?” It was St. Peter who answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:41-69).
St. Justin Martyr, a second century philosopher and convert to Christ, explained in his First Apology, completed around AD 155, the faith of the early Church in the real presence
of Christ in the Eucharist: “We call this food Eucharist; and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration, and is thereby living as Christ has enjoined.
“For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic Prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the 13th century, gave us the language of transubstantiation. It’s a big word with a big meaning. It means that the bread and wine, the substance of the Eucharist, are transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord. Hence, trans – substance or transubstantiation. The elements of the Eucharist continue to appear as bread and wine, but they are no longer bread and wine. They are the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Because God is eternal and does not exist in time, every moment for Him is now. As such, at every Mass the one perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross (Hebrews 10:1-18) that took place so long ago is made present before us so that we today and every generation that has been or is to come may be present at and participate in the one sacrifice of Christ. To celebrate and pray the Divine Liturgy every Sunday is a responsibility each Christian has for his or her own salvation, for the Church, and even for the entire world.
The word liturgy, also from Greek, means “the public work of the people done on behalf of the people.” It is a work of service for all that defines what a person is. The liturgy of a mail carrier is to deliver mail. The liturgy of a fire fighter is to fight fires. The liturgy of a police officer is to police the community. It is a service for all that defines what they are. Just so, the liturgy of the Christian is to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). It is a service for all that defines what we are.
The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is our Catholic faith. It has been the faith of Catholics since the beginning. It will be the faith that continues to sustain us until Christ comes again.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.
Bob Hunt is a husband, father, and parishioner at All Saints Church in Knoxville and is a candidate for the permanent diaconate.