Last night we reflected on the person of the Holy Spirit. In this we learned that faith begins for us as an action on God’s part. God chooses us to know Him. It is through the action of the Holy Spirit, given to us in Baptism and Confirmation, that we come to know the Son. The Son then brings us to Father, revealing to us the depth and breadth of the Father’s Divine Mercy.
I also spoke about the journey we will be taking to the heart of the Holy Trinity. This journey begins for us with a Consecration of our hearts to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At Christmas each household will be receiving the book, “33 Days to Morning Glory,” by Fr. Michael Gaitley. I am inviting each one of you to experience this 33 day mini-retreat which will culminate on March 25th, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, our parishes secondary feast day. After this consecration to Mary each of you will be invited to then consecrate your lives the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The book that will be our guide is Fr. Gaitley‘s “Consoling the Heart of Jesus.” This consecration will happen on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
This evenings reflections on the Son will be focused primarily on the Son’s Eucharistic Presence in the Church. I took this approach because I am making the grand assumption that you who are here are already familiar with the details of Jesus’ life here on earth. As the Church of the Nativity we ought to be very familiar with the story of his virgin birth, his mother Mary, the angels, shepherds and wise men. We also are familiar with the stories of his ministry: his sermons and parables, his healings and miracles, his constant reference to forgiveness. We are also familiar with the opposition by the Roman and Jewish authorities which led to his death. We are most familiar with the details of his arrest, passion, crucifixion and death. And of course we are familiar with the stories of His resurrection and ascension to heaven where He returned to His father.
We also are familiar with the Mass and the other sacraments in which Christ himself is present, through the ordained minister, who administers the grace of the sacraments. In the mass we pray the Nicene Creed in which we speak the words “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made . . .” In these words we are professing, week after week, our belief in the Son’s eternal presence and action with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Because of this familiarity I felt it would be best to reflect on the Son’s abiding Eucharistic presence in His Church. While Jesus rose from the dead and ascended body and soul to heaven, He did not leave us alone. He has left us His very self through the Holy Eucharist.
As Catholics we believe in the doctrine of transsubstantiation; the belief that the bread and wine are changed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. This means that once this bread and wine have been blessed they remain, in very substance, the body and blood of Christ. This is why we have always, from the very beginning, brought the “bread that has been blessed” to those who were sick or unable to come to Church. This “holy bread” would be set aside in a special place of reservation which eventually became the tabernacles of our churches. Over the ages we became aware of the sacredness of this real presence of Christ in the eucharist and so the entire devotional practice of prayer and adoration came into being as an extension of our celebration of the mass.
The Vatican II documents refer to the Eucharist as the “source and summit of our faith”
In the ancient Church the mass was referred to as the mysterion or mystery.
This is not magic. Magic is something that is not real that can be seen (Making an elephant disappear, cutting a woman in half). These things appear to be happening, but they are not real, they are illusion.
Mystery is something that is real that cannot be seen. Catholics have always believed the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. This is what we call the real presence. Christ is really present, we simply cannot see him (other than in the form of bread and wine)
The Orthodox Churches also believe this.
Our Protestant brothers and sisters believe many other things. Some say it is only a symbolic meal. Lutherans teach “consubstantiation” (body & blood and bread & wine). Christ is present in his divinity in the gathered assembly (Wherever two or three are gathered) but bread and wine remain bread and wine.
Martin Luther himself even began by saying the meal was only symbolic. But by the end of his life he stated “the text is simply too strong to say that it is not the body and blood of Christ.” (cf. John 6;22-68 & 1 Cor. 11:23-25). It is important to note that it was not until the time leading up tothe reformation that anyone officially begin to teach anything else.
And so the Orthodox and Catholics alone believe the Eucharist is the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ.
Having said that, it is only Catholics who have a devotion to the blessed Sacrament. Othodox Churches reserve the blessed sacrament in tabernacles, but only for the sick. Catholics have had a devotional practice of praying to Christ in the Eucharist outside mass. Tis practice dates back as early as the 8th century.
What does “real presence mean?”
Transubstantiation means the ordinary bread and wine , which is prayed over using Words of scripture, through the outpouring of Holy Spirit through prayers of priest and people becomes body and blood. What this means for us is that Christ becomes very really present to us, not only in his divinity, but also in his humanity. The matter of the Last Supper, bread and wine, transports us back in time to Nazareth. Through our celebration of the Eucharist we enter into, and become a part of the great Paschal Mystery, Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. We are fed then by the bread that comes down from heaven, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ’s risen body in heaven.
Sacred Scripture attests to this. Let’s look at the words of institution (“This is my body. This is my blood.).
Scripture: “This is my body” – 1 Cor 11:23-25 – Paul was not present at the last supper, and yet he gives us the earliest written account of the Lord’s supper. He wrote this letter 10-15 years after Christ. Where did he hear these words, if he was not at the Last Supper? In the mass. These words are also found in Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20. These gospels in their present written form date back to 70-85 AD (forty years after Christ). Again Mark and Luke were not at the Last Supper (as far as we know from scripture). The author who wrote the gospel of Matthew probably was not the actual apostle but rather a disciple of Matthew. Jesus did speak these words in the presence of the of the Twelve apostles
The one Apostle to actually write a gospel was John who wrote nearly 60 years after Christ. His account of the Last Supper, found in John 13:1ff, has no words of institution. Instead gives a model of service. Jesus washed feet of disciples and said, “I have given you a model to follow, so that what I have done, you should also do.” John 13:15. John is teaching us that there are consequences of believing in real presence.
Let’s look at the earliest writing of these words of institution.
1 Corinthians 11:23-25 “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that 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 remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. . . . Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
These were the very words that Martin Luther said were simply too strong for the Eucharist not be the body and blood of Christ.
In recent centuries the exact interpretation of these scripture passages has come into question as a direct result of the reformation. Sadly, even the reformers do not agree amongst themselves what these words mean. And so, if we want to know what these scriptures truly mean, does it not make sense to go to the source who gave us these scriptures. That would be the Catholic Church, and we did not even form the Canon of Scriptures, known to us as the bible until the 4th century. The books that are in the New Testament, while written in the first century of Christianity, were not officially declared the canon of scriptures for another 200+ years.
So what was the Church teaching about the Eucharist for those first 300 years? To this we can look to the writings of the Early Church Fathers.
Church Fathers – The Eucharist of the Early Christians, Pueblo Publishing Company, @1978
Didache ca. 90 – “Teachings of the apostles”
Chapter 10:3 “All powerful Master, you created all things for your name’s sake and you have given food and drink to the children of men for their enjoyment . . . Moreover, you have bestowed a spiritual food and drink that lead to eternal life, through Jesus your servant.”
Clement of Rome – ca 95 – Pope
44,2 – Apostolic succession & priesthood
Only those validly ordained can offer the sacrifice of the mass
Ignatius of Antioch – ca 110 – Bishop (cf. Office of Readings, Tuesday Week 27)
Wrote letters to his community on his way to execution
Urged them to remain closely united to Christ and the Church
To maintain the bonds of faith and love,
Under the leadership of the bishop
And around the one altar whereon the one bread,
Which is the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ
Is broken in the Eucharist, the sacrament par excellence
“My earthly love has been crucified and there is in me no fire of earthly love . . . I take no pleasure in corruptible food or in the delights of this life. I want the blood of God which is the flesh of Jesus Christ who is the child of David and when I drink I want the blood of Jesus which is his incorruptible body.”
Ignatius also reaffirmed the necessity of apostolic succession.
“Where there is no bishop, or priest or deacon there is no Church.”
Justin – ca 150 – historian and martyr
First Apology – Chapter 65-67
66,2 “For we do not receive these things as though they were ordinary food and drink. Just as Jesus Christ our Savior was made flesh through the word of God and took on flesh and blood for our salvation, so too (we have been taught) through the word of prayer that comes from him the food over which the thanksgiving has been spoken becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus, in order to nourish and transform our flesh and blood.”
He wrote this because some pagan religions were beginning to imitate what Christians were doing. These cults, which do not center on the life of Christ, were false religions. Justin says that we receive the flesh and blood of Jesus “in order to nourish and transform our flesh and blood”
Other Church Father’s also give us significant writings: Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons – ca 130-200; Clement, Bishop of Alexandria – ca 200; Terrtullian – ca 200-220.
The doctrine of the real presence of Christ even precedes the official pronouncement of the doctrine of the Trinity, defined at the Council of Nicea, and the Canon of the New Testament, defined at the Council of Chalcedon.
We have always taught that the Eucharist is the real presence of Christ. So what does real presence mean? Let me give you a few examples.
There is a well in Nazareth that dates back to the time of Christ. When one visits that well today you can recall that Jesus would have come to this well as a child. The feeling of Christ’s presence there is very palpable.
I think of also when I traveled to Rome and entered St. Peter’s Basilica. I was able to go down into the crypt where St. Peter’s bones are kept in an ossuary. I remember the very profound sense of being in the presence of the one whose feet were washed by Jesus. The one who denied Jesus, but was also chosen by Jesus as the first pope. I was very really in the presence of the fisherman.
You might have had experiences like this when you have visited the grave of a loved one. Or when you look at the picture of a loved one who lives far, far away from you. I remember visiting a woman in a nursing home. When I entered her room she was sitting looking at the wall smiling. When I asked her what she was doing she said, “I am looking at my family, and they are smiling at me.” On her wall where snapshots of her family covering the entire wall, and they were all smiling. The pictures were for her a very real experience of being in the loving presence of her family.
This is real presence and this is why Catholics have the devotion of Eucharistic Adoration and praying in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. There is no place where we get closer to Christ than in the Eucharist. You can go off by yourself in your room and pray and he will be there in his divinity. But in the presence of the Eucharist, Christ is with us in both his humanity (body and blood) and in His divinity.
Let us continue our walk through the history of Eucharistic Adoration.
– St. Augustine, in the 4th century wrote these words
“The bread that you see has been sanctified by the word of God and it is the body and blood of Christ.”
In another place he wrote about Eucharistic devotion with these words,
“No one should ever approach the Eucharist without either a prostration (genuflection) of a profound bow. We do not sin if we adore him, but, we do sin if we do not adore him.”
– It was at the Cathedral in Lugo Spain where people began to pray before the Eucharistic presence of Christ in approximately 750 A.D.
– The first Eucharistic Procession was on Palm Sunday around the year 1000 A.D. in England.
– 200 years later, during the 13th Century, St. Francis of Assisi gave us the first 40 hours devotion, commemorative of Christ’s 40 hours that he was in the tomb. In this he promoted veneration and adoration of the Eucharist. Sacrament / Sacrifice / Real Presence have always been a part of Franciscan spirituality.
– Mideval Fathers began using the image of the Ark of the Covenant (Ten Commandments), which was a covenant sealed with the blood of the Passover lamb, as a sort of prefiguring of the tabernacles in our Churches, the Ark of the New Covenant (which sealed with the Body and Blood of Christ, the Lamb of God)
– In the 14th Century Sr. Julian of Mt Cornelion received a mystical vision calling for a new liturgical feast honoring the body of Christ, for which she was banished from her convent. She told of this vision to a parish priest, Fr. Jacques Pantaleon. After her death Fr. Jacques thought nothing would ever come of this vision. He went on to be named the Archbishop of Jerusalem. Called to Rome to report to the Pope he arrived only to find that the pope had died while Fr. Jacques was traveling to Rome. The Cardinals who convened elected Fr. Jacques as the next pope, Urban IV (1261-1264). It was then that he knew this vision of Sr. Julian was a message from God and so he instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi as a universal feast for the Church. The timing was important because many were beginning to doubt the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This was just two centuries before the reformation.
Pope Urban asked Thomas Aquinas to write a mass for the feast of Corpus Christi. The hymns Aquinas wrote are still being sung today, Pange Lingua (Down in Adoration Falling).
Finally, let us look at the Liturgical Texts
The earliest dated Eucharistic Prayer that resembles ours today goes back to the year 225 and comes from the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus. This is the prayer that was used for the basis of Eucharistic Prayer II
Eucharistic Prayer II
“Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall,
so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon) – Council of Trent (16th century)
“Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect;
make it spiritual and acceptable so that it may become for us
the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Eucharist Prayer III – Vatican II (20th Century)
“Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you:
by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration,
that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ,
at whose command we celebrate these mysteries.”
So, why a belief in real presence? What difference does it make?
Flesh and blood relationships are essential to life. No one wants an invisible relationship with loved ones. We need to be able to see and hear and touch them.
I read once of an infant who lost both parents in a house fire. The trauma moved child into fetal position and so the child was rushed to a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. The nurses in that unit gave round the clock loving attention to this child. Through talk and touch the nurses were able to bring child out of the self-protective fetal position. This is real presence.
I think of a father going to son’s ball game, at great personal sacrifice; leaving work early, travelling 3 hours to the game, and then returning home late at night only to have to rise early the next morning for work. He could simply call and say I’ll be thinking of you. It means so much more, to both of them, for him to be there. This is real presence.
I think of a mother who stays vigilant at the bedside of her comatose daughter. She know she needs to be there in case her daughter should wake up. This is real presence.
If a father, or a mother, are willing to make such great sacrifice to be with their children, would not our heavenly Father also desire such a relationship with the children He has created. This is central to our celebration of Christmas (incarnation). The spirit dwells within us in order that we might experience God and have a real relationship with God.
God’s desire for us is that we have a body and blood relationship with Him. And, as God’s children we need that relationship. This relationship is made possible in Christ who became incarnate (enfleshed) in the human race. He then, before leaving this world, left us His enduring presence in the form of bread and wine in the Eucharist. Even his last words to his disciples before he ascended to heaven were, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” Matthew 28:20.
Believing in the real presence of Christ is notsomuch a physical phenomenon.
It is a spiritual (psychological) phenomenon.
You can sit next to a stranger on a bus and say nothing. There is no real presence between the two of you.
Or, you can call someone in another country and speak with them. Although you are not physically present there is a real connection, a real presence with them in your conversation.
Remembering a loved one who has died invokes a real feeling within us, This is a real felt presence.
To be present to another person requires a response on our part, especially when that presence is invisible like God.
This is where Eucharistic Adoration can be such a tremendous blessing to us. Although we cannot see God, God has a chosen a way for us to see Him . . .
In the body and blood of Jesus, who became incarnate and dwelt among us . . .
And who in turn gave us a way to continue to see him . . . the Eucharist.
The bread and wine are not simply like the body and blood of Christ, they are the body-and-blood presence of Christ. This is because our relationship is that concrete, that real. Jesus is God revealing himself to us.
This then requires a response on our part. The first response is faithfully receive our Lord in Holy Communion on a regular basis. Minimum of once a week. As a Spiritual Director I often encourage people to attend daily mass at least one time a week. By so doing, you are receiving the grace of the Eucharist more than one time a week.
A second step for us to most fully experience the presence of God in our life is to worship and adore his body and blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. The consecrated host, enthroned in the monstrance on this altar, is the very real presence of Christ in our midst. We never get closer to God than when in his Eucharistic presence. And so we encourage all of you, if you do not already do so, to make a commitment to worship the Lord in this Holy Sacrament. I urge you to take part in the days of adoration set aside each Monday from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Tuesday from 4 – 7:30 a.m.
This devotion will enrich your experience of the celebration of the mass. It will bring you graces over and above those we receive in the sacraments. It will give you peace, when all the world is crashing down around you. It will give you hope, when all the world seems to be moving towards self-destruction. It will help you to know the love of God as you have never known it before. May you the love of God as you have never known it before.