For many Catholics, the mystery involved with receiving Holy Communion remains a distant reality. The language that the Church uses to define the mystery of the Eucharist is heavily philosophic, thus making it perhaps even more difficult to understand. Yet, we cannot ignore the fact that the Eucharist is at the heart of the Catholic Church.
Understanding bread, wine and community
The reality of this Sacrament can be unlocked for us if we allow the bread and wine to communicate to us what is actually taking place. These sacramental signs, or the “stuff” that is transformed into Christ’s body and blood, don’t just appear out of nowhere. In every Mass, the bread and wine are the gifts presented by members of the community in the offertory procession. The bread and wine, therefore, also represent the community. As bread is made up of many grains of wheat, and wine is made from many grapes, so the Body of Christ is made up of many members, joined together in Christ.
In each of the Eucharistic prayers, a prayer called the epiclesis precedes the part where the priest repeats the words Jesus used during the Last Supper. One of my favorite forms of this prayer is, “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.” Since the gifts are symbols of the community, this prayer applies not only to the bread and wine, but to every member of the community they represent. It is not only the bread and wine that Jesus wants to transform, but each one of us as well. The reality of the Eucharist is meant to become a personal reality. Jesus wants to transform us as well from the substance of our being. And just as the bread and wine still look and taste like bread and wine, so with us, the uniquely personal way that each of us expresses our human nature remain untouched.
This is why the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian vocation” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no. 11). It is through Christ that we participate in the divine life, and it is by being transformed into Christ that we attain the goal of the Christian life. By allowing the words of consecration to be said over us, we gradually open ourselves up to the possibility of being transformed into the very image in which we have been created. Ultimately this is the Christian vocation — to become what we receive. This substantial transformation will therefore enable us to manifest the reality of being a child of God with our unique gifts, with the “stuff” out of which we are made. This is our specific and personal calling, often referred to as a personal vocation.
The transformation we undergo also mirrors what happens to the bread and wine. The bread and wine are not aware of the transformation taking place. They are simply there, or present, and undergo the transformation. All throughout our life our bodies are undergoing continual transformations. We are not aware of the transformations taking place; but we know they are taking place because they concretely manifest themselves. In the same way, all that is required is that we be present to Christ and allow him to transform us. We may never be aware of the actual transformation taking place, but we will definitely be aware of the effects of that transformation in our lives.
Responding to Christ’s call
Unlike the bread and wine, however, Christ waits for our free response to his call. Discerning that call throughout our lives can be difficult at times. Here are some questions that might be helpful:
- In what ways has Christ revealed his call to me in the past?
- Am I nagged by a thought or desire that I classify as a distraction that keeps coming to me while I am praying, or attending Mass? What is that thought or desire?
- Have I had a particular experience that has made me stop and think that there is something more that I am meant to do with my life?
- Has a specific phrase from the Gospel or Scriptures hit me in the recent past that has never had the same effect on me before? What is that phrase?
- Has a friend or group invited me to participate in some form of Christian activity to which I am personally attracted or for which my specific talents are a perfect fit?
- At what times during my day-to-day life am I reminded of or find Christ’s presence?
By allowing the mystery of the Eucharist to become a living reality in our lives, we can realize our full potential as human beings. The life that it transmits to us is none other than the very life of Jesus. As that life becomes more active in us and we are transformed into Jesus, we are assuming the very life of God — divine life. By taking time to consider how the life of Jesus is working in us, we can freely allow that life to affect our everyday lives. What better gift can we offer to those around us?