The Supreme Gift

Author: editorial staff

 

The Last Supper scene as portrayed in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ underscores the singularly important fact that, before offering Himself up as a victim on Golgotha, Jesus left us “a means of sharing in [the sacrifice] as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and profit from its inexhaustible fruits. This belief has sustained generations of Christians down the ages.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 11)

 

In his recent encyclical, John Paul II observes that the Eucharist is not just one among Jesus’ many precious gifts to His Church. It is the supreme gift — the gift of himself, of his person in its sacred humanity. It is also the gift of his saving work. Nor does this gift remain confined to the past, since all that Christ is — all that he did and suffered for all men — participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all time (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 11).
When He instituted the Eucharist, Jesus said: This is my body which is given for you … this is my blood which is poured out for you (Lk 22: 19-20; Mt 26:26). Thus, He made it clear that the Holy Mass is a sacramental re-presentation (i.e. making present) of His sacrifice on the cross. At Holy Mass, Jesus offers us His Body and Blood as food and drink. He did not say that the bread and wine were symbols of His Body and Blood. Though the bread and wine retain their outward appearance, their substance undergoes a miraculous change. The bread and wine truly become the glorified Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus stresses the reality of His presence under Eucharistic appearances: My body is real food, and my blood real drink (Jn 6:55).
Christ’s teaching on the Eucharist shocked His disciples. The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (…) Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (Jn 6: 52, 60).
Judas’ betrayal of Jesus began at this very moment when he refused to believe his master’s words: “But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that should betray him (Jn 6:64).
Seeing how hard it was to accept this truth about the Eucharist, Jesus asks them rhetorically: Do you take offense at this? (Jn 6:61). He goes on to elaborate on the truth of this great mystery: Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life (Jn 6: 62-63). Here Jesus points to the mystery of His humanity, which was glorified through His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. The glorification of His human soul occurred at the moment of his death on the cross. The glorification of His body took place at the Resurrection. His ascension, on the other hand, marked the end of his physical, visible presence on earth. His humanity (body and blood) began a new mode of existence: For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Col 2:9). At the same time, Christ’s departure at the Ascension marks His coming in a new, all-present way, albeit imperceptible to the senses. His body became invisible and claimed its rightful place within the almighty Trinity of Persons that is God. Thus, Jesus in his humanity becomes universally present: He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things (Eph 4:10). In the Eucharist, Jesus offers us His body and blood as food to eat and drink. It is the same Jesus in His invisible, glorified humanity — the fruit of His infinite love and mercy in the mystery of the death and resurrection. At every celebration of the Eucharist, Jesus makes present His sacrifice on the cross and gives us His real body and blood to eat and drink, only now made glorious by the power of the Holy Spirit.
 Whenever we participate faithfully in the Mass and receive Holy Communion with a pure heart, we take full part in the drama of His death and resurrection. In so doing, we offer ourselves up with Him to God the Father, and receive the greatest gift through the Holy Spirit: eternal life and love. That is why Jesus tells us: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you….As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever (Jn 6: 53, 57-58).
Those who feed on Christ in the Eucharist need not wait until the hereafter to receive eternal life: they already possess it on earth, as the first fruits of a future fullness which will embrace man in his totality. For in the Eucharist we also receive the pledge of our bodily resurrection at the end of the world: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:54). This pledge of the future resurrection comes from the fact that the flesh of the Son of Man, given as food, is his body in its glorious state after the resurrection. With the Eucharist we digest, as it were, the “secret” of the resurrection. For this reason Saint Ignatius of Antioch rightly defined the Eucharistic Bread as “a medicine of immortality, an antidote to death” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 18).
This supreme gift is offered freely to us all — but under one condition: that we be free of serious sin. In that case, we should seek reconciliation with God in the Sacrament of Penance, for Scripture warns us: Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the [Lord’s] body eats and drinks judgment upon himself (1 Cor 11: 27-29). 
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