Imagine eating the sun—and imagine you could do it without perishing. What would happen? You would receive into your body the source of light and warmth. You would have within you all the light and heat that you could possibly ever need or want. No more heating bills, no more lightbulbs, no more winter trips to warmer climes.
When we receive Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, we receive the source of all supernatural light and warmth, the light of truth, the heat of love, for indeed He is the “sun of Justice.” We receive God Himself, the very Son of God, Who is inseparable from the Father and the Holy Spirit. Saint Ephrem the Syrian wrote: “He called the bread his living body and he filled it with himself and his Spirit…. He who eats it with faith, eats Fire and Spirit….”
That we are not killed instantly by this contact with eternal and infinite Fire is, in its own way, a greater miracle than would be eating the sun without perishing. Our Lord protects us, courteously hiding His blazing glory lest we be overwhelmed, and gently radiating His peace.
It is because we receive divine fire—a fire far more potent in the range and reach of its possible spiritual effects than any physical fire—that the worthy reception of the Eucharist is purifying, illuminating, and unitive. The Holy Eucharist does within and upon the soul that which fire does within and upon combustible matter, burning away contrary dispositions and transforming the matter into itself. But since the spiritual soul is incorruptible, the soul can become fire without perishing, like the miraculous burning bush. The Eucharist does for the soul what the fire of the sun does for the earth, spreading light, warming bodies, causing growth.
As we learn from the Fathers, Doctors, and mystics of the Church, the Real Presence of Jesus has a proper effect on our soul and our body. It acts principally on the soul, for, again like the sun, Jesus radiates grace to everything that surrounds Him, everything with which He comes into contact, according to His will, “according to the measure of the giving of Christ” (Eph 4:7).
Like the healing of the woman with the flow of blood (cf. Lk 8:43), the diseased blood of the old Adam cannot be healed by any human medicine, but only by the touch of the new Adam, the physician of souls. The Lord touches first the essence of the soul, increasing in it the grace that makes the soul pleasing to God, an adopted son of the Father, a sister and bride of the Son, a temple of the Holy Spirit. He touches the powers of the soul, informing them with virtues, strengthening virtuous habits. He stirs these powers into operation—He produces within us acts of faith, hope, charity, and all the virtues. Only in the life to come will we be given to know just how many times it was Jesus who, faced with the listless torpor of our fallen condition, animated our souls into action and prompted us to bear fruits pleasing to God and profitable to us.
Holy Communion influences the body, too. This is very important to see, even if we cannot understand it completely. Wrapped in the long shadow of Descartes, modern Westerners seem afflicted with a tendency to consider “spirituality” the exclusive domain of the spirit—leaving the flesh to fend for itself like an abandoned orphan. This is not what the Lord who created heaven and earth has in mind for us material creatures. By means of the Holy Eucharist, our flesh is made more obedient and docile to the soul, rendered more receptive to the informing power of soul and virtue. The Lord is sown into the flesh as a seed of immortality: He radiates divine life, divine existence, upon what has merely earthly life and earthly existence.
The Life we long for, the blessed life, the life of heaven: this Life we can take into ourselves. That God should give us Himself is completely beyond our limited understanding, but not at all beyond His unlimited power. The Way we seek to follow, the Gospel way, is not a philosophy but a Person, the Word made Flesh, and this Person gives Himself to us.
We must therefore cling heartily and happily to the Eucharistic Lord, and receive Him as often as we can, go before Him in Adoration, let our minds and hearts be “eucharisticized” so that our lives will be, more and more, an act of thanksgiving for His mighty work of redemption in us.
This article is adapted from a chapter in Dr. Kwasniewski’s latest book, The Holy Bread of Eternal Life: Restoring Eucharistic Reverence in an Age of Impiety. It is available as an ebook or paperback from Sophia Institute Press.
image: The icon of Jesus Christ the Priest from Chiesa di Santa Maria Maddalena, Ravenna via Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com