“The Eucharist is the loom on which the threads of the remaining sacraments are woven into the tapestry of salvation.”
And though a single thread of God’s sacramental grace has the instrumental power to incorporate a soul into the Body of Christ, it is lamentable to forego the orchestral truth conveyed by all the sacraments woven in concert throughout the fabric of a human life. The saints give witness to the holy beauty that radiates from the fullness of the Faith lived out through the embrace of the sacramental life completed by the Blessed Sacrament.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic Faith. It is the sovereign of all the sacraments because it is the real presence of Christ. St Thomas Aquinas wrote that the Eucharist is “the consummation of the spiritual life, and the end of all the sacraments.” The Universal Doctor intended for us to understand the words “consummation” and “end” in their deepest philosophical and theological sense as the completion of the teleological purpose- the fulfillment of the goal to which everything points. The Incarnation clearly demonstrates that all things point to and have their fulfillment in Christ. The sacraments are the instruments of God’s grace but the Eucharist, being Christ’s own flesh, is the source of all sanctifying grace.
The infinite depths of the Eucharistic Mysteries can be endlessly pondered and ought to become a subject of regular meditation through contemplative prayer. We can begin to plumb the depths of those mysteries by looking at the New Testament accounts of the Last Supper when Christ institutes the Eucharist. In the Synoptic Gospels the chronicles are found in Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20, and reiterated by St Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. The archives tell us the story of how we came into possession of this most gracious gift, but it takes the rest of the Holy Scriptures and the Magisterium to explain why.
The fathers of the Council of Trent elucidate three things the Blessed Sacrament signifies that serve as food for thought as we begin to contemplate why Christ instituted the most Holy Eucharist on our behalf:
1. The Eucharist signifies Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross, a past event. In 1 Corinthians 6:26, St. Paul said “As often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until he comes.” Christ said “do this in remembrance of me.” This is a permanent echo of the exhortation in Exodus 12:14 for God’s people to recall the Passover meal for all generations; to keep this feast day and to “observe it as an ordinance forever.” The Old Testament Passover Meal is fulfilled and made new by Christ’s institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper followed by His Passion.
2. The Eucharist signifies divine grace which is imparted presently by this Sacrament to feed and preserve the souls of the faithful. The Eucharist is our daily bread; it invigorates the soul, inspires it with abundant virtue, wards off demons, and beckons angels. The blood pouring forth cleanses the world and our souls, while it opens heaven to our hearts.
3. The Holy Eucharist is a foretelling of our future destination in paradise where we will rest in eternal glory and joy in that heavenly country that God promised to those who persevere in upholding His law.
These three signified things are clearly distinguished by reference to past, present and future. The Eucharistic mysteries encompass these three states of time and usher them into eternity under the auspices of the economy of Salvation. In a similar way, the Holy Eucharist under the temporal species of bread and wine remain as such and yet become a single unity in substance: the eternal Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On this side of heaven, we will never fully understand the nature of Christ’s ransom for us, which is the nexus point into which the Old Testament flows and from which the New Testament proceeds. If we imagine the entirety of Salvation History as a body and that the world is a type of circulatory system, then we can see that Jesus’ Sacred Heart is at the center of everything, both spiritual and temporal.
Suffering that privation of grace owing to the fall of our first parents, we inherited Adam’s weakened heart that tends to deoxygenate our life-giving blood. Fallen man is easily fatigued and prone to temptation “when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.” From Genesis to the end of the Old Testament, we find ourselves in need of a new heart.
The waters from the rivers of time flow into the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the midst of the Paschal Sacrifice. Christ turns the water is into wine; the wine becomes the Sacred Blood, made new and poured out for us and for many in the New and everlasting Covenant given to us by the Lamb of God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the new blood is oxygenated and pumped by the Sacred Heart of Jesus into the Body of Christ and circulated throughout that Body by the distribution of the Blessed Sacrament, and thus Holy Mother Church continues to thrive in this vale of tears.
Just as the Jews were liberated from the slavery of Egypt, sustained by the manna, and ushered into the Promised Land, it is by the Eucharistic sacrifice that we are liberated from sin, given our daily bread, and promised heaven if we remain faithful to the law written on our hearts. The Holy Eucharist strengthens us for the endeavor and ushers in the needed graces to persevere. Christ is the New Adam “for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Embrace the real presence of Christ and the life offered through the source and summit of our Catholic Faith, the Holy Eucharist.
image: Eucharist Adoration, Church of St. Mary (Richmond, Ind.)/Wikimedia Commons