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A Eucharistic Retreat
Meditations #9 and #10
The Holy Eucharist as Presence Sacrament
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Now we enter directly into the heart of this Eucharistic Retreat. Our aim here is to better understand what we mean when we say the Holy Eucharist is not only the Sacrifice Sacrament of the Mass or the Communion Sacrament, but the Presence Sacrament. When we speak of Presence Sacrament, we are saying the Real Presence of Christ on earth in the Eucharist is the source of grace four times over:
Grace of Realization
First of all, Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is the source of grace we have received to come to Him in the first place. This prior grace underlies all the others. We know we cannot do anything supernatural without Christ. Thus, we certainly would not be inclined to adore Him in the Holy Eucharist unless He had already given us the light and the desire to do so.
The same holds true of the inclination to express our love for Him and to be drawn to approach Him for whatever we need. Unless Christ had first given us the grace to even open the door of a Church or a chapel and then come in and tell Him we love Him and trust Him and ask for what we need unless Christ had first given us this grace of supernatural instinct none of us would be participating in this meditation. Whether you call it the grace of attraction, the grace of appeal or the grace of supernatural impulse, Christs Real Presence in the Eucharist is a magnet which draws souls to itself so they might want to be present where He is present to be with Him, near Him and even open our minds in conversation with Him.
During His stay in Palestine, Christs visible presence was just that. Thousands of people flocked to see Him and hear Him. They just wanted to be in His company and enjoy the comfort of being with Him. Love always wants to be near the one whom it loves. This is dramatically illustrated in the Gospel narrative of Zacchaeus (which is read in Masses for Church dedications). St. Luke tells the story:
He was passing through Jericho and behold there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a leading publican and he was rich. And he was trying to see Jesus, who He was, but could not on account of the crowd, because he was of small stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.
When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him and said to him, Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for I must stay in your house today. So he made haste and came down and welcomed Him joyfully.
Upon seeing it, everyone began to complain, saying, He has gone to be a guest of a man who is a sinner. But Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, Behold, Lord, I give one half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have defaulted anyone of anything, Ill restore it fourfold.
Jesus said to him: Today salvation has come to this house, since he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:1-10).
No wonder this Gospel is read for the dedication of a Catholic Church. Christ is present there in the fullness of His Incarnate Divinity. As Christ said to Zacchaeus, Today salvation has come to this house. In other words, we believe a Catholic church or chapel is a sacred place, a holy place. What makes it holy? The all holy God in human form who is present in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in those edifices!
Christs presence in Palestine drew Zacchaeus to go out of his way to seek the Lord. Today, Christs presence in the Blessed Sacrament is just as magnetic. It draws human hearts to their Savior. It calls them in the silence of Christs voice to come to Him as He once said, Come to Me all who labor and are heavily burdened and I will refresh you. This is the grace of realization. In other words, Christs presence is the Holy Eucharist on the foundational level is a grace of realizing Who is on earth and then reacting accordingly.
If there is one feature of Christs visible presence in Palestine, it is the fact that this presence was, in our language, a source of emanating grace. After all, once we believe God took on human flesh once we believe the God-man breathed our air, ate our food, drank our water, walked on our earth and could be seen with bodily eyes, heard with bodily ears, and touched with bodily hands once we believe that, is there any limit to what we would expect His very presence to do?
After all, God is the Almighty Creator of the universe. He brought the mountains and seas into being out of nothing. When this omnipotence is present, and where it is present, we can expect anything from Him, just because of His presence. You can call this emanation of grace or radiation of grace. Whatever name you call it, this presence of the Almighty in human flesh is bound to be, shall we say, very productive. And His powerful presence can be found today in the Eucharist.
Again, we go back to the Gospels to illustrate what this emanation of grace from Christ means. The episode happened while Jesus was on His way to the house of Jairus, whose daughter was dying. In fact, by the time Jesus reached Jairus home, his daughter had already died.
St. Luke describes what happened while Christ was en route to Jairus home:
It happened as He (Jesus) went that He was pressed by the crowds and a certain woman for over twelve years had had a hemorrhage and had spent all her means on physicians but could not be cured by anyone, came up behind Him and touched the tassel of His cloak and at once, her hemorrhage ceased and Jesus said Who touched me? But as everyone was denying it, even those who were with Him said, Master, the crowds throng and press upon You, and are you saying who touched Me?
But Jesus said, Someone touched me because I know that power had gone forth from Me.
But the woman, seeing that she had not escaped notice, came up trembling and falling down at His feet, declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched Him, and how she had been healed instantly. And He said to her, Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace. (Luke 8:43-50)
Every detail of this miraculous healing of the woman deserves careful scrutiny. Why? Because it is a perfect example of how Christs presence on earth radiates grace on people just because He is on earth.
The woman had been doctoring for years, but no one ever helped her. She believed Christ could heal her, but the crowd around Christ was too big. Moreover, she might have been afraid even to talk to Him, not knowing what He would say. So what did she do? She tugged on the hem of Christs cloak and she was instantly cured.
But thats not all. Christ asked, who touched me? And Peter, always taking the lead for the disciples, said Who touched me? Everybody is pushing and shoving and you ask, Who touched me? Christ was not satisfied. He said, someone has touched Me. Why? Because I perceived that power had gone out from Me.
In all my years of teaching Eucharistic Theology, Ive told my students this is the classic text describing the pouring out of grace from Christ just because He is present nothing else is necessary. Just because He is really, physically and geographically on earth.
So it is today. The living Christ is on earth in the Holy Eucharist no less truly and really than He was at the dawn of Christianity. He not only can, but He wants to work signs and wonders in this world He created. And He does work miracles, constantly, now through the humanity which He possesses as God. But we have to believe.
So far, we have seen how the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist gives us what we call the grace of realization, with which Our Lord enlightens our minds and inspires our wills with the foundational grace of realizing His physical presence on earth and responding to this faith by coming to Him in the Holy Eucharist. We have also seen how Christs Presence in the Blessed Sacrament is the fountain of graces, emanating from Him out to the whole world, radiating divine power to even work miracles for those who believe.
Now, we go on to explain how Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is a source of actual graces to those who appeal to His goodness to grant them, personally, whatever they need. Then after seeing how the Blessed Sacrament provides for all we truly need, we will examine how the Real Presence is a treasury of Gods love, in which He is ready to do wonders for others, provided we come to Him with trustful confidence.
Source of Actual Graces for Ourselves
In order to appreciate the Real Presence as our source of actual graces, we should briefly explain what the Church means by actual graces. An actual grace is a temporary supernatural intervention by God to enlighten the mind or strengthen the will to perform supernatural actions that lead to heaven. Actual grace is divine assistance to enable us to obtain, retain or grow in supernatural grace and the life of God. For the sake of completeness, we should add that in Gods providence, He uses persons, places and things as instruments or channels of actual graces which enlighten and inspire us on our road to heaven. In Gods providential plan, He wants everything in our lives to be a channel of grace.
One of the most authoritative documents explaining how the Real Presence is a source of actual graces is the Encyclical Mediator Dei of Pope Pius XII. In this document, he traces to the Churchs earliest days the practice of adoring Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Unfortunately for Catholics today, books after books and journals dripping with error are telling them Adoration of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist is a dispensable exercise. Many Catholics are being told the only reason the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle is to provide Holy Communion for those who are sick or unable to receive by coming personally to Church.
But the faith of the early Christians tells us of the rich history, there couldnt even be any churches. Churches were all underground. The Blessed Sacrament indeed was reserved to provide for those especially awaiting trail and possible execution for their Catholic faith, but this Jesus was always adored even after Mass and outside of Mass and tended to be the object of special veneration. Once we believe Jesus is really on earth in the Eucharist, we can easily understand how the Church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has uncovered the depths of what this means and the corresponding practices of piety.
Pope Pius XII also points out how the worship of Our Lord in the Eucharist and begging for His grace is a witness to the development of doctrine in the Catholic Church. The following quotation is lengthy but its teaching is basic to our understanding of he Real Presence:
[The Eucharist] contains, as we all know, truly, really and substantially the Body and Blood, together with the Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, it is no wonder that the Church, since her origin, has adored the Body of Christ under the species of bread. St. Augustine affirms, But no one eats the Flesh, unless he has first adored it, adding that not only do we not sin by adoring, but that we do sin in not adoring.
From these principles of doctrine was born and has developed, step by step, the worship of adoration of the Eucharist distinct from the Holy Sacrifice. This worship of adoration rests upon a valid and solid motive. For the Eucharist is both a sacrifice and a sacrament. And it differs from the other sacraments because it not only produces grace, but it contains in a permanent way the very Author of grace.
The Church commands us to adore Christ hidden under the Eucharistic veils and ask Him for the supernatural and earthly gifts which we always need.
Notice what we are being told. We are told the Church commands us to adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and to ask Him for the gifts we always need. Another name for those gifts that come from God is actual grace. Were in constant need of actual graces for a number of reasons: to know Gods will at every moment of the day, to know how God wants us to do His will every day, to be ready to do Gods will once we know what He wants and to actually do Gods will in every action we consciously perform.
Go through the Gospels and what do we find? We find person after person asking Jesus for whatever they needed, or actually, for whatever they wanted. And Christ would respond favorably if He knew the person needed what he or she really asked for. This faith in Christs Real Presence on earth inspired them to adore Him, and they adored Him by begging Him to grant their requests (but always implicitly, to grant what they need).
So today, that is why Jesus Christ is on earth in the Holy Eucharist that we may come to Him to tell Him that we love Him, to adore Him as our incarnate God, to plead with Him to be merciful to us sinners, to pray that He grant us not what we want, but what He wants. In other words, to meet our needs. And let me tell you, one of the most important actual graces for which we should beg Our Lord in the Eucharist is to enlighten our minds to distinguish between what we want and what we need. That is why I like the translation of the Beatitudes that says: Happy are those who hunger and thirst for what is right.
Treasury of Gods Blessings to Others
Finally, the Holy Eucharist as the Real Presence is meant to be a treasury of Gods blessings to others, but we need to discover this treasury at our disposal if we are to obtain for others the immeasurable graces found in the Blessed Sacrament.
First, the power of the Real Presence to provide us with the graces we need personally does not stop there. Christ now on earth in the Holy Eucharist wants us also to come to Him to entreat Him to bless others with His grace. As we read the Gospels, we may be astonished at how often people approached Jesus to ask Him to bless others. One of the most memorable events of this altruistic charity (as opposed to selfish charity in which we love others only as long as and in so far as they love us) was the occasion of a Roman centurion coming to Jesus asking Him to cure the centurions servant who was at the point of death. Christ obliged and was on his way to the centurions house when the centurion sent messages to Jesus to stop Him. They relayed the centurions request: Lord, do not trouble yourself; for I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. But only say the word, and my servant will be healed. It is not coincidental that the Church has chosen these words of the Roman centurion to say at Mass before we receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.
On the last day, we shall be judged mainly on our practice of altruistic charity our selfless love for others by meeting their needs.
Dear Lord, we believe You are on earth for a reason. That reason is that we might come to You, adore You, Our God, and beg You for what we personally need and to entreat You to grant to others what they most need, which is Your grace. Open the eyes of our minds to see the meaning of what we believe so that believing and understanding, we may practice our faith by coming to You and being infallibly sure that youll obtain for ourselves and for others what we and they need on one condition: that we believe that You are our God who became man to give us what we need. Amen.
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