Article 105 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1322-134 Most of us have heard the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11). What this means, as the Catechism states, is that “the other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself” (ccc 1324).
As a high school student, I fell in greater love with Christ when I realized more fervently how He is truly present in what appears to be just a wafer of unleavened bread. As I moved on from high school to university studies, my faith encouraged me to meditate upon Our Eucharistic Lord so as to interiorize and assimilate the precious truth that the One upon whom I gazed each time I walked up the aisle to approach Holy Communion is, in fact, “the living bread that came down from heaven” ( Jn 6:51). As the Catechism puts it, “by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life” (ccc 1326).
The first three gospels, and St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, record the historical event of Christ’s institution of the Eucharist (see ccc 1338). These sacred texts help to strengthen our resolve to recognize Jesus and seek to know and to love Him better “in the breaking of the bread” ( Lk 24:35).
It is curious that the fourth evangelist does not record the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. However, St. John does open the door to help us appreciate other important aspects of our Eucharistic Lord, feeding us in a different and uniquely explicit way (see ccc 1338). It is here, especially in chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel, that we come face to face with Jesus speaking about his real and substantial presence in, what theologians will later call the accidents of bread and wine. I have often wondered how we would have met the challenge of properly articulating certain features of the Eucharist if the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel had never been written. Although we may not be familiar with the content of this sixth chapter, the fact is that we have all heard the themes it covers pertaining to the flesh and blood of Jesus. Certainly, we are grateful to the Holy Spirit of God and to the infant Church for this important addition. Since the Bible is the book of and by the Church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it is no wonder that we have everything that is required to comprehend the mystery of Jesus Christ uniquely and completely present in the Eucharist. The Catechism asks, “What is the Sacrament called?” The answer given: “The inexhaustible richness of this sacrament is expressed in the different names we give it” (ccc 1328), including:
— “Eucharist, because it is an action of thanksgiving to God” (ccc 1328);
— “The Lord’s Supper, because of its connection with the supper which the Lord took with his disciples on the eve of his Passion” (ccc 1329);
— “The Breaking of Bread, because Jesus used this rite, part of a Jewish meal, when as master of the table he blessed and distributed the bread” (ccc 1328); — “The Eucharistic assembly (synaxis), because the Eucharist is celebrated amid the assembly of the faithful”
- “The Holy Sacrifice, because it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior” (ccc 1330);
— “The Holy and Divine Liturgy,
because the Church’s whole liturgy finds its center and most intense expression in the celebration of this sacrament” (ccc 1330); — “Most Blessed Sacrament, because it is the Sacrament of sacraments”
(ccc 1330); — “Holy Communion, because by this sacrament we unite ourselves to Christ” (ccc 1331);
— “Holy Mass (Missa), because the liturgy in which the mystery of salvation is accomplished concludes with the sending forth (missio) of the faithful, so that they may fulfill God’s will in their daily lives” (ccc 1332). We all know and believe that “at the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood” (ccc 1333). In the Old Testament Book of Exodus, “bread and wine were offered in sacrifice among the first fruits of the earth as a sign of grateful acknowledgment to the Creator” (ccc 1334) for the departure that liberated them from Egypt. In the New Testament, “when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he gave a new and definitive meaning to the blessing of the bread and the cup” (ccc 1334).
Most of us know, as the Catechism reminds us, that Christ instituted the Eucharist as the memorial of his death and Resurrection, and commanded his apostles to celebrate it until his return; “thereby he constituted them priests of the New Testament” (ccc 1337).
Few of us know, as Sacred Scripture states, that many of the first disciples left Jesus when he first told them about bread and wine becoming his body and blood. The gospel tells us that some of the disciples responded: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” ( Jn 6:60). And then comes chapter six, verse 66, which states: “As a result of this, many of his disciples [left and] returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” An interesting coincidence, isn’t it, that 666 is the chapter and verse describing those who turned their backs on the core teaching of Jesus?!