The Church, in her prayers, professes her faith in the Eucharist as the whole saving action of Christ
by Bob Hunt
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life. . . . For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch” (No. 1324).
It is the faith of the Church that with each celebration of the Mass the sacrifice of Christ for our salvation is made present so that the faithful may participate in the saving action of our Lord and enjoy the fruits of that sacrifice. Christ is not sacrificed again, but the one sacrifice of Christ is made present.
For centuries the Jewish people have celebrated Passover in remembrance of what God had accomplished for them in freeing them from bondage in Egypt. This was the great saving act of God under the old covenant. At the Last Supper, when He celebrated the Passover meal with His Apostles, Jesus initiated a new covenant and placed Himself at the center of the celebratory meal of God’s people. Eat my body. Drink my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.
Each Eucharist is both sacrifice and meal. It is the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary and the paschal banquet of the saints. It achieves in us the effects of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross: forgiveness, reconciliation, and sanctification. As well, it achieves the communion of the saints in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. When we receive Holy Communion, we receive the body of Christ offered on the cross, and we become the body of Christ that is His holy Church. St. Augustine of Hippo preached about receiving the Blessed Sacrament: “Believe what you see, see what you believe, and become what you are: the body of Christ.”
We receive the body of Christ offered on the cross. It is the same Christ who was crucified who is present in the Eucharist. It is also the same Christ who was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven. It is, then, not only His suffering, crucifixion, and death that is made present but also His resurrection and ascension into heaven. We receive, too, the Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father, where He lives forever, interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25). The Eucharist is everything Christ did to save us made present before us so that we can participate in and receive grace from the whole saving action of Christ. Understanding this can transform our appreciation and gratitude for the gift that is the Eucharist.
Pope St. John Paul II, in expounding on this mystery, wrote: “Christ’s Passover includes not only his passion and death but also his resurrection. This is recalled by the assembly’s acclamation following the consecration: ‘We proclaim your resurrection.’ The eucharistic sacrifice makes present not only the mystery of the Savior’s passion and death but also the mystery of the resurrection that crowned his sacrifice. It is as the living and risen One that Christ can become in the Eucharist the ‘bread of life’, the ‘living bread.’” Pope Benedict XVI also affirms this, writing, “In instituting the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus anticipates and makes present the sacrifice of the cross and the victory of the resurrection.”
The Church, in her prayers, professes her faith in the Eucharist as the whole saving action of Christ. In the anamnesis of Eucharistic Prayer I, immediately following the consecration, the Church prays: “Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed passion, the resurrection from the dead, and the glorious ascension into heaven of Christ, your Son, our Lord, we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty from the gifts that you have given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the holy bread of eternal life and the chalice of everlasting salvation.”
Each Eucharist, then, is a promise of eternal life. Each Eucharist is a victory over death, over the death of sin, and over the death of the soul that is separation from God. Each Eucharist is a preview of the heavenly banquet, where all the saints will rest from our labors. Each Eucharist is a sharing in the body and blood of Christ in anticipation of that day when we will share in God’s divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). We could not possibly be closer to God in this mortal coil than in receiving into ourselves He who is food for our journey and the destination of our journey.
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.