The Eucharist is the spiritual life-blood of the Christian because in receiving it we consume the glorified body of the Risen Lord, whose life transforms us, elevates and empowers us to become like him.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
23 June 2014
On June 22, Pope Francis gave an address to the faithful before praying the midday Angelus in which he spoke about the beautiful, life-giving reality of the Eucharist as Jesus Christ. He talked about how John’s gospel affirms that Jesus is the bread from heaven whose gift of himself is received in the Eucharist: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).
“Jesus stresses that he did not come to this world to give something, but to give himself, his life, as nourishment for all those who have faith in him,” said Pope Francis.
Our Holy Father also noted some of the effects of receiving the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ: “Every time we take part in the Holy Mass and nourish ourselves with the Body of Christ, the presence of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit acts in us, it molds our heart, communicates to us interior attitudes that are translated in behavior according to the Gospel.”
Pope Francis, then, spoke of the transformative effect of the Eucharist on those who receive it. As the Eucharist is received, Christ is consumed, whose life transforms us into him whom we have received. For instance, when we consume ordinary food, we transform it through the digestive process into our own flesh and blood. It thus becomes nourishment for our physical bodies. But with the Eucharist there is an essential and infinite difference. The Eucharist, which is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, is the stronger element. Those who are properly disposed to receive the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist are always changed by it because they are not simply receiving ordinary food but the divine and human food of Jesus Christ. The Eucharist changes us, we do not change it.
The Eucharist is the spiritual life-blood of the Christian because in receiving it we consume the glorified body of the Risen Lord, whose life then transforms us, elevates and empowers us to become like him. The Eucharist grants us a share in the divine life of the Divine and Human Savior of the world, whose gift of himself imparts eternal life to those who love him. That is why Jesus says, “if any one eats of this bread [my flesh], he will live for ever” (Jn 6:51).
Further, Pope Francis noted that in receiving the Eucharist God communicates interior attitudes of holiness to us, infusing our hearts and minds with his own love and his own thoughts, through the wondrous presence of Jesus and the divine impulses of the Holy Spirit. Among these interior attitudes is “First of all docility to the Word of God,” said Pope Francis.
Docility to the word of God is an interior attitude of vast importance. So much so, in fact, that it cannot be overemphasized. That to be closed to the word of God is to be closed to the Word made flesh (Jesus Christ) and the divine promptings of the Holy Spirit is obvious.
With that in mind, what does it mean to be docile to the word of God? It is a bigger question than we might at first realize. Perhaps the place to start is to reflect briefly on what the word of God is, and on how we hear it.
It is often the case, when we think of the word of God we think of the Bible, which is the inspired word of God. Scripture is God-breathed and human authored. The word of God is God’s own self-disclosure to humanity, a gracious self-communication through which we learn of the beautiful truth of salvation in Jesus Christ, as well as what it really means to be human. Divine revelation is the story of God and the story of humanity’s struggle to embrace and love God. That, in fact, is the story of the Bible.
Catholics and some other Christians, of course, also recognize that Sacred Tradition is, too, the word of God. Sacred Tradition is divine revelation deposited in the heart of the living community of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The “’Sacred deposit’ of the faith” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 84), consists of both Sacred Tradition and Scripture, which are two distinct modes of the transmission of God’s one divine revelation (cf. CCC, 81-82).
We can see, then, that Sacred Tradition is crucial to receiving the word of God because it is the word of God. Therefore, as a result of the intimate relationship between Sacred Tradition and Scripture, we can say that the “Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (CCC, 82).
Additionally, here is a key concept: “[Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching” (CCC, 81). Simply stated, it is the Magisterium of the Church (the teaching authority of the Church consisting of primarily the bishops in communion with the pope) that guards and transmits the word of God to the entire world.
The obvious connection here is the crucial necessity of listening to the Church in order to receive public divine revelation in its fullness. The doctrine of sola scriptura (Bible alone as the sole rule of faith), borne of the Reformation in the sixteenth century as Protestants sought to distance themselves from the Catholic Church, is insufficient. The Christian religion is not the religion of a book; it cannot be, for the saving gospel revealed by Christ and of which St. Paul so often speaks about cannot be contained in the finite pages of the Bible. The totality of God’s revelation, which culminates in the Person of Jesus Christ, cannot be fully expressed in the pages of Scripture.
In order to preserve and transmit divine revelation in its fullness, God the Father found it fitting and willed that his Son establish a divine and human, earthly and heavenly, infallible and singular reality we call the Church. This definite and specific institution, guided by the Holy Spirit, whose members are one body and therefore form one united community, have as their head Jesus Christ. The Church, then, is the body of Christ and therefore, in a real way, is Christ. The Church is a supernatural community whose members have been given divine life in their Master and Head. All of this speaks to the indescribable generosity and wisdom of the Father who invites humankind to participate in his life and salvific will in becoming members of his only Son’s body.
Because the deposit of faith is preserved, expounded and transmitted by the Church, we can say, as did Vatican II, that the fullness of truth subsists in the Church (Lumen Gentium, 8). Christ has entrusted the fullness of grace and truth to the Catholic Church (CCC 819), in which the “one true religion … subsists” (CCC 2105), and though which the “fullest of the means of salvation can be obtained” (Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis redintegratio 3 § 5).
If we want to listen to Christ, it is necessary to listen to the Church, whose words of truth speak the mind of Christ.
But the word of God is not fully received, subjectively speaking, by the individual until it is received with docility, openness, eagerness. The point Pope Francis is making, is that docility is something which is produced in us through the worthy reception of the Eucharist. As we open ourselves to the Eucharist, we too open our hearts to the Word made flesh, who gives his own body and blood, which he poured out as a sacrificial offering of love on the cross as the food of truth and life under the signs of consecrated bread and wine.
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus (see Lk 24:13 ff.), although we may hear the word of God and our hearts may burn within us, it is in the breaking of the bread that our eyes are truly opened to the presence of Christ. The word of God nourishes the mind and prepares the heart; the Eucharist completes this preparation and transforms us into Christ, whose words we have heard, whose glorified body we have received, whom we adore and love. The Eucharist makes us docile that we may be made like God.
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Photo Credit: Gabriel Sozzi
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.