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Eucharist (Part II) – The Common Union [E1]

Updated: May 15, 2022


In Part 2, we examine the union of believers and radicality of belief in the Eucharist that has inspired saints throughout the ages.


Listen to the podcast here:


B. Union of Believers


The Catechism emphasizes that who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ and through Christ are united more closely to each other in one Body, the Church. Our incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism, is renewed, strengthened and deepened by the Eucharist [1].


“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread [2].”


The Greek word translated into “participation” is “koinonia”. This same word is translated in Acts 2:42 as fellowship where we were told the early Church kept steadfast to the apostles’ teachings and fellowship. Koinonia has also been translated as communion. So 1 Cor 10:16-17 can also be translated in the following:


“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. [3]


We are all one body in communion with Christ as our head. We are called to work in tandem to build the Kingdom of God. We are reminded and encouraged to pray for Christian unity when we receive the Eucharist, it should sadden us that there are so many Christians who are not in the full communion of the Catholic Church and lack access to the source and summit of the Christian life.

Altar of Sacrifice

“The Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She unites herself to his intercession with the Father for all men. In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ also becomes the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering [4].”


This passage of the Catechism reminds us that the Eucharist is not just the sacrifice of Christ, but it is also the sacrifice of the Church. We are united with Jesus in offering up ourselves to God. The Eucharist becomes a reminder to be bread broken for others.


At the center of our sacrifice is the offering of bread and wine. In the Old Testament, bread and wine were offered as a sign of gratitude to God for the fruits of the earth [5]. Bread and wine are the “work of human hands [6].” Taking the gifts that God has given us, we have turned them into something more and all done in cooperation with God. The bread and wine remind us that all our work is meant to be given back to God for His glory.


The union that the Eucharist brings does not only apply to the living, it joins us with those who are already in the glory of heaven, and it is also offered for the faithful departed [7]. United with those in heaven, the Eucharist brings us to the foot of the Cross with Mary where we can together contemplate the sacrifice and offering of Christ. United with the faithful departed, we continue to pray for them.

The Disputation of the Sacrament by Raphael, 1510

Table of the Lord

“The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood [8].”


The Catechism emphasizes the dual dimensions of the Eucharist which is the sacrifice of Christ and also the banquet where we receive Jesus. It continues to describe the altar also as the table of the Lord. It is at this table we receive the food from heaven which is the Eucharist. The food from heaven is not even an option, it is a command from Jesus to take the Eucharist and to eat it [9].


The Eucharist achieves for our spiritual lives the same effect that we get when we eat material food for our physical lives [10]. The Eucharist is needed for the growth of our spiritual life and it is the food for our journey in life till we die.


During Chinese New Year, it is traditional to gather on eve of the New Year to have the Reunion Dinner. The children will visit their parents and have a big and hearty meal together. The table of the Lord is Reunion Dinner where all God’s children come together and feast on spiritual food. It is a family gathering of the adopted sons and daughters of God the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus. It is a reminder of the call to unity for all Christians and for Catholics to evangelize.


It was when the apostles and Jesus were gathered in the Upper Room that Jesus prayed for the unity of believers [11]. Jesus prayed for all believers in him that we are sanctified and consecrated in the truth and that we may all be one. Jesus prayed this prayer in the content of the Eucharist. The unity in truth would lead everyone to gather around the Altar of Sacrifice and Table of the Lord to receive Him in Holy Communion.

Radicality of Belief


The Eucharist is a defining doctrine of the Church. It was so defining that it caused Jesus to lose followers. In John 6, Jesus gave the Bread of Life discourse where He pointed to Himself as the Bread of Life and that His follower must eat His flesh to have eternal life [12]. This was so difficult that some disciples said that it was hard to follow, and they left him. It was radical to remain with Jesus because of this saying but the disciples who stayed knew that Jesus spoke the words of eternal life.


Throughout early Christian history, we see the presence of radical belief in the Eucharist. St. Tarcisius was a young acolyte in the Church and he was tasked to bring the Eucharist to the sick. One day he was carrying the Eucharist when he was recognized by a Roman mob as being a Christian. This mob wanted to see what he was carrying and tried to take it from him. St. Tarcisius did not allow it, he kept the Eucharist close to him and the mob beat him to death because of what he carried.

Cardinal Van Thuan celebrating the Eucharist in prison. Image used with permission from World Mission Magazine.

Fr. Gregoire Van Giang, a priest in Singapore, shared his testimony about how the Eucharist gave him strength in jail. He was caught printing prayers and songbooks by the communists in Vietnam and he was imprisoned for 3 years. During his time in prison, he grew angry with God but one day, his mother bribed the police to send him a tin of dried food. When he finished the food, he found a host wrapped in plastic. This reminded him that God did not abandon him.


When interviewed by the media on how he was able to stay alive and keep sane during his time in prison for the faith, Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan said it was the Eucharist. During his imprisonment, the faithful smuggled his wine in a bottle labelled “Medicine for stomach ailments” and another container holding small pieces of hosts. With these little bits, the Cardinal would celebrate Mass with three drops of wine and a drop of water on his palm. He was able to survive because of the strength given to him by the Eucharist.


St. Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, was in the middle of Mass when he was gunned down by assassins. He was outspoken about the injustices perpetrated by the government on the people of El Salvador. Though not exactly a martyr for the Eucharist, his death is symbolic of giving up his life for the people he served as how Christ gave himself up for the Church. St. Romero’s death at Mass was his offering at the altar of sacrifice. He embraced his cross like his Lord and Saviour.

"The Defenders of the Eucharist" by Peter Paul Rubens (ca. 1625), depicting Ss. Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Clare of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Norbert, and Ambrose

Conclusion


The examples of the lives of these Christians witness the radical nature of what the Eucharist means. It is not a symbol but the actual presence of our Lord and Saviour. Christians throughout the centuries have risked their lives and livelihood to protect, adore, and receive Jesus in the Eucharist. They were able to do that because of the union with God through the Eucharist and their union with fellow believers in the Church. Their union led to their love of God and they were willing to sacrifice themselves for him.


But sacrifice is not the end, the Eucharist also means thanksgiving. Jesus gave thanks and blessing to God when he broke the bread to proclaim God’s work in creation, redemption and sanctification [13]. The Eucharist is our thanksgiving to God through “koinonia” with the thanksgiving of Christ. It is thanksgiving also because the union with God and fellow believers is lived out not only in this world but in the next. The Eucharist is a foretaste of our union with God in heaven. Christians who keep close to the Eucharist and the Church on earth will find themselves close to God in heaven.


Closing Prayer


We give You thanks, O most merciful Lord and Redeemer of our souls, for this day You have made us worthy by means of these immortal and heavenly mysteries. Direct our way; keep us in fear of You; guard our lives, and make our steps firm through the prayers and intercessions of the glorious and holy Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary. Be exalted above the heavens, O God, and above all the earth, Your glory, now and forever and ever. Amen.


* Thank you for joining us on the A-Z of DiscipleSHIP. We look forward to having you with us again next month, as we dive into the letter “F” for Finances, on what a Kingdom-centred view of money practically means for a Catholic.


** Is there anything in this session that struck you or any thoughts, experiences or ideas which come to your mind? Please leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you.


Recommended Closing Song







Recommended Readings


Hahn, Scott, and Regis J. Flaherty, eds. Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass.


Pitre, Brant. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper.


Footnotes


1. CCC 1396

2. 1 Cor 10:16-17

3. 1 Cor 10:16-17.

4. CCC 1368

5. CCC 1334

6. CCC 1333

7. CCC 1370 and 1371

8. CCC 1382

9. Matthew 26:26

10. CCC 1392

11. John 17:21

12. John 6:22-69

13. CCC 1328


© Presented by the Catholic Theology Network (writers / contributors / sound): Keenan Tan (M.A., Theology, Augustine Institute), Dominic Chan (M.A., Theology, Augustine Institute), Nick Chui (MTS, JPII Institute for Marriage and Family, AU), Debra Dass (Diploma in Theology, CTIS), Marcia Vanderstraaten (Diploma in Theology, CTIS); publicity & design: Chandra Nugraha.

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