August 3, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

The Eucharist transforms us into Christ

(Twelfth in a series)

Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist is divided into three parts: “The Eucharist, a Mystery to be Believed,” “The Eucharist, A Mystery to be Celebrated” and “The Eucharist, a Mystery to be Lived.”

For the last several weeks, I have considered the first two parts. This week, we begin Part III. We find that Sunday Mass is not just a parenthesis in life.

In this section, the Holy Father reminds us that when we receive the Eucharist something radically important happens to us.

Our reception of Communion is not to be taken casually. We may not be conscious of it, but we are transformed when we receive Christ in the Eucharist. We are transformed into Christ. How does this happen and what does it mean?

Pope Benedict writes: “The Lord Jesus, who became for us the food of truth and love, speaks of the gift of his life and assures us ‘if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever’ (Jn 6:51). This ‘eternal life’ begins in us even now, thanks to the transformation effected in us by the gift of the Eucharist. ‘He who eats me will live because of me’ (Jn 6: 57). These words of Jesus make us realize how the mystery ‘believed’ and ‘celebrated’ contains an innate power making it the principle of new life within us and the form of our Christian existence. … It is not the eucharistic food that is changed into us, but, rather, we are mysteriously transformed by it. Christ nourishes us by uniting us to himself; ‘he draws us into himself’ ” (n. 70).

Because it is something supernatural, the meaning of the transformation of us into Christ in the Eucharist is not easily understood in a world that believes only what it can see. Yet, this is the newness which Christ established in the Eucharist: all that happens in the celebration and reception of the Eucharist is real; the unseen dynamic is supernaturally and profoundly real. Coming down to us through the ages, this is the newness of life that Christ gave us in his sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection.

The Holy Father writes: “The Eucharist, since it embraces the concrete, everyday existence of the believer, makes possible, day by day, the progressive transfiguration of all those called by grace to reflect the image of the Son of God (cf. Rom 8: 29ff). There is nothing authentically human—our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds—that does not find in the sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the full. Here we can see the full human import of the radical newness brought by Christ in the Eucharist: the worship of God in our lives cannot be relegated to something private and individual, but tends by its nature to permeate every aspect of our existence. Worship pleasing to God thus becomes a new way of living our whole life, each particular moment of which is lifted up, since it is lived as part of a relationship with Christ and as an offering to God” (n. 71).

The pope teaches: “From the beginning, Christians were clearly conscious of this radical newness which the Eucharist brings to human life. The faithful immediately perceived the profound influence of the eucharistic celebration on their manner of life. St. Ignatius of Antioch expressed this truth when he called Christians ‘those who have attained new hope,’ and described them as ‘those living in accordance with the Lord’s Day.’ This phrase of the great Antiochene martyr highlights the connection between the reality of the Eucharist and everyday Christian life” (n. 72).

Recently, an informed Catholic layman told me that he wishes our homilists at Mass would dwell more often on the fact that what a Catholic does on Sunday has a connection with what happens during the rest of the week.

He mentioned that he would like to believe that his work, his career, is part of his spiritual life, that Sunday is not just an interruption, something that is unconnected to the rest of the week. He would like to be encouraged to see his work as part of his Christian stewardship.

My friend is on the mark. The Holy Father teaches that the Eucharist permeates every aspect of our existence, not only the short time we are in Church for Sunday Mass. “This holy day becomes paradigmatic for every other day of the week. Indeed, it is defined by something more than the simple suspension of ones’ ordinary activities, a sort of parenthesis in one’s usual daily rhythm” (n. 72).

Because we are transformed into Christ in the Eucharist, what we do in everyday life becomes both “worship” and our ­participation in God’s creation, hence part of our Christian stewardship. †

Local site Links: