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A Eucharistic Retreat
Why Did Christ Institute the Holy Eucharist as His Bodily Presence on Earth?
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
In earlier meditations, we have asked ourselves, What do we believe when we say we believe in the Real Presence? Our focus in the first phase of our retreat was on understanding the essential elements of our Catholic faith in the Holy Eucharist. We concluded with explaining the meaning of the Eucharist as Sacrifice Sacrament, Communion Sacrament and Presence Sacrament.
In this second phase of our meditations, we shall concentrate on the reason why Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist as His bodily presence on earth. God became man, conceived and born of His virgin Mother. He suffered and died on the cross. Then He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. Close the first chapter of the book of Christianity. We are now asking ourselves not why God became man, but why the God-man remains on earth in the Eucharist.
Why did Christ do this? In one sense, we have already seen, implicitly, why Jesus did what He did. He wanted to provide us with what the Church has come to call the triple form of the Holy Eucharist as Mass, Holy Communion and the Real Presence. But our purpose here is to dig deeper, and to make more explicit what we have seen so far. Our aim now is to more clearly answer the question, Why?
The comprehensive answer is that Christ gave us the Eucharist so He might give us His grace through the Mass, Holy Communion and the Real Presence. However, from now on our meditations will concentrate on the third of these motives, the Real Presence. Christ gave us the Eucharist through transubstantiation in order to provide us with His real, physical, bodily, corporeal, geographical, local presence in the Blessed Sacrament. In other words, He instituted the Holy Eucharist to be present on earth outside the Sacrifice of the Mass besides giving us Holy Communion.
The words outside and besides are being so widely challenged especially since Vatican Council II. Some people are actually afraid to use the words Real Presence. Or as one prominent writer said in an article for a national journal, Eucharistic Adoration is an outmoded superstition.
We better be sure our minds know what we do when we come before Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist and pour out our hearts to Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Are we practicing an outmoded superstition?
Why the Real Presence?
Given the magnitude of the subject, I can only give an overview of this mystery in the present conference. There are four levels to the answer to our basic question, Why did Jesus institute the Holy Eucharist as the Real Presence? He did so:
Our purpose in these meditations is to enlighten the mind in order to inspire the will. The mystery of the Real Presence is to be lived. In the later meditations, we will go into more detail examining each of these four fundamental motives for Christ giving us His Bodily Presence on earth.
All the reasons for the Real Presence can be summarized in four words: Manifestation, Communication, Profession and Imitation. As we look more closely at these reasons, we see the first two (Manifestation and Communication) pertain to Jesus Christ. The second two (Profession and Imitation) pertain to us. In other words, Christ is on earth in the fullness of His Incarnate Deity not only to give us something, but also to receive something from us.
Manifestation and Communication
Manifestation: On His side, Christ remains on earth to reveal Himself as God made man in the basic attributes of His divinity, namely, His wisdom and power, His love and mercy. He instituted the Real Presence in order to manifest these divine perfections.
Communication: Also on His side, Christ is on earth in the Eucharist to continue His Incarnation by giving us what we most need the graces He merited on Calvary. These graces are both personal and apostolic. On the personal level, Christ communicates His grace to us for our salvation and sanctification. He enlightens our minds and strengthens our wills through His grace in the Real Presence.
But Christ also gives us grace to be apostles of His grace to others. We may define the apostolate as the channeling of grace. The apostolate is to channel grace from Christ, through us, to others. And we are only as effective communicators of Christs grace to others as we are possessed of His grace ourselves. We can best obtain these graces for others from Christs Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.
Profession and Imitation
Christ also gave us His Real Presence because He expects a response from us. That response is on two levels, profession and imitation.
Profession: Through the Real Presence, Christ wants us to profess our faith and hope in Him and our selfless love in Him.
We may profess our faith in Him as God who became man to be our saving Lord. There is nothing in Christianity which requires a more profound profession of faith than the Real Presence. Believing in the Real Presence means believing in everything which God has revealed. Faith in the Real Presence comprehends faith in the whole of divine revelation.
We may also profess our hope in Him as our final destiny, and on earth, as a source of all the help we need to enlighten our dark minds and strengthen our pathetically weak wills.
Through His Real Presence, we also profess our love for Him who loves us so much and our love for Him shown by our love for others. If the Real Presence is the highest profession of Gods love for us, why did He institute the Holy Eucharist as the Real Presence? To show us how much He loves us. Christ had no merely academic purpose. His purpose was to evoke our love in return.
Imitation: Christ also expects our response from His Real Presence by imitating Him in His Eucharistic life now on earth. He wants us to pattern our lives not only on the Jesus described in the Gospels but on Jesus in His present Eucharistic Reality.
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