Catholics believe in the “real presence of Christ” in the Eucharist, but as a concept I think it’s short-sighted at times. Not to knock the Eucharist as something that isn’t special or important, but I think that this literal definition of Eucharist doesn’t go far enough.
When I participate in Mass or Eucharistic adoration, I focus and meditate on the Jesus that is truly present in this sacrament. But sometimes in the process I keep Jesus at arm’s length where I can sit in splendor and adore him without challenging myself to go beyond a one on one relationship with him. I end up placing Jesus in a nice tidy box where I can control him, allow him to be present only in a way that is comfortable for me.
Isn’t Jesus really present when I leave the four walls of the church after Mass or adoration too? Isn’t he present in the suffering of the poor? Isn’t he real when we find him revealed in the suffering of our lives?
Or is this just a façade? Maybe Jesus doesn’t have any real implications in my everyday life at all? Is he just a transcendent wafer sitting there aloft beckoning me to adore and then exits my life the moment mass is over?
The doctrine of the real presence in Christianity states that at the celebration of Mass (also known as Holy Eucharist or Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox tradition) Jesus Christ becomes truly present in the bread and wine. It is a belief held definitively by Catholics and Orthodox Christians, and by many Anglicans and Episcopalians as well and some Protestants.
Since Eucharist literally means “thanksgiving,” it’s not enough to simply receive or adore Jesus alone and have an experience that doesn’t empower us to change the world we live in. I think Jesus himself would say that inward reflection was not his intention when he gave us the Eucharist.
Jesus History 101
Jesus grew up poor, destitute. He was clearly a member of the lower class of his society. Eating together was a huge and intimate part of his culture. People not only shared the little food they had but meals also determined social status. If you got invited to a meal by someone important, you were somebody. You would be able to make influential friends and gain power in society. You didn’t eat with just anybody if you were someone of influence. If someone of little repute invited you to a meal, you turned them down. So lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors often ate alone on the outskirts of society both literally and emotionally.
Eucharistic adoration is the practice of placing the consecrated bread or host on the altar so that the faithful may join in prayer and worship before the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Jesus turns this upside-down. When he was invited to a meal by “sinners,” he went freely. What’s more is that culturally he was expected to reciprocate. By attending these meals he alienated members of his family because they now had to invite these lower-class bums into their home. Jesus violates tradition and mandates inclusion instead.
The Bread I Give…..
Does the Eucharist change our lives? I think the answer could be “no.” If we’re not looking for the real presence of Jesus in ourselves and others outside of Mass and adoration, we could simply be practicing “empty ritual,” something that doesn’t empower us to live out the gospel in our lives. In short, powerless ritual deadens our practice of faith and abandons Jesus at the altar where we think he solely belongs.
But that doesn’t mean that rituals are all bad either. There are times that I feel a deep connection to God when I’m at Mass. And I admit that Eucharistic Adoration does give me a peaceful feeling. But the five minutes I spend listening to a homeless person tell their story over a meal in my parish’s homeless shelter teaches me more about God and about life than any ritual ever could. In my sharing with the least among us I see God working through my actions, I see change happen for both of us. I am transformed into a new person, and I celebrate holy eucharist in that moment of Christ’s presence as well, perhaps even more than I do at the altar.
For Jesus to be really present to us, we need to make our celebration of Eucharist complete. We need to bring Jesus outside of the church walls to show others that the Eucharist is more than dead ritual. It is truly Jesus who enlivens our hearts and souls to make a profound difference in the lives of others. To bring the bread of life into a newer deeper meaning, we need to reveal Jesus to others by our actions as well as by our ritual. Furthermore, our ritual needs to provoke action. As the real presence of Jesus courses in our veins, aren’t we required to bring that real presence out of ourselves and into the lives of others, especially the least of our society? Aren’t we required to not only see and feel Jesus in ourselves but also in those around us? After all, if we keep Jesus hidden in our churches and in ourselves, we horde Jesus.
And the last time I checked, gluttony was a sin.