June 16, 2006


The divine gift

As the Church observes the feast of Corpus Christi, or the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, as it is called these days, we might reflect on the tremendous gift that Jesus gave to us during his Last Supper as he prepared to leave us. He gave us himself—his body and blood, soul and divinity—under the appearance of bread and wine.

It sometimes (note that we said “sometimes”) appears that converts to Catholicism have a greater appreciation for the Eucharist than do those born into our faith.

Indeed, the number of converts who have become Catholics primarily because of our doctrine of transubstantiation is countless. Our intimacy with Christ in the Eucharist is something that they didn’t find in any other Church, and it was something for which they yearned.

This was brought to mind by a new book titled The Shadow of God (Doubleday, $24.95). In it, Charles Scribner III, a great-great-grandson of the founder of the publishing company Charles Scribner’s Sons, reminisces about his conversion to Catholicism more than 30 years ago, while he was a student at Princeton University. An editor and publisher, expert in the field of Baroque art and a musician, he wrote the book in diary format over the period of a year. It covers much more than his conversion, but several passages concern the Eucharist.

For example, one of his favorite works of art is Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus. Scribner wrote that it tells the story of his favorite biblical story “because it represents the first Mass, the first Communion, with Christ presiding, after the Resurrection. It is also, literally, the Last Supper of St. Luke’s Gospel—even if shared only by two disciples.”

He wrote, “What gives this evening meal its poignancy is its combination of revelation, recognition, and reunion all in that instantaneous act of Christ’s ‘breaking of the bread’ with his companions. That coincidence of acts lies at the very heart of each Mass celebrated since that time, over the past two millennia: revelation, recognition, and reunion—all through communion.”

A couple paragraphs later, he wrote: “That sequence—the explication of Scripture followed by the meal, the breaking of bread, the revelation of Christ’s real presence, and finally a moment of reflection before going back out into the world—is nothing less than a synopsis of the Mass.”

He returned to the subject 20 pages later. He said that Caravaggio “made it clear that they now recognized him not through familiar features but through the sacramental act of blessing and breaking the bread: In other words, his Eucharistic body opened their eyes to his identity. It was a paradoxically orthodox meaning: Only in the sacrament, or Eucharist, may we fully recognize Christ.”

Of course, it’s not only converts who appreciate the great gift Christ gave us. In that same book, Scribner quotes a letter that the great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote to his father shortly after his wedding: “For some time before we were married we had always attended Mass and gone to confession and received Communion together; and I discovered that never had I prayed so ardently or confessed or received Communion so devoutly as by her side; and she felt likewise.”

Modern Catholics, too, demonstrate their love and appreciation for the Eucharist. Despite the Church’s crisis over sexual abuse of minors by priests, a study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate showed that there has been little change in Mass attendance by Catholics. Catholics realize that they need the graces of the Eucharist, and they would only be punishing themselves if they refrained from attending Mass and receiving Communion because of the scandal.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote: “In Holy Communion we surrender our humanity and we receive divinity. We give up time and we get eternity, we give up our sin and we receive grace, we surrender our self-will and receive the omnipotence of divine will. We know we do not deserve this.
Hence, before receiving Communion we repeat with the priest: ‘O, Lord, I am not worthy.’ It is as if we were holding ourselves back, conscious of the fact that we are unworthy of the divine gift.”

— John F. Fink


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