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The Holy Eucharist - Marian Catechist Manual

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The center of a spiritual life is a deep faith in the Eucharist as Sacrifice of the Mass, Holy Communion, and Real Presence. At the center of this faith is the realization that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became the Son of Mary to be with us, on earth, as He promised, until the end of time.

One must develop this Eucharistic faith if they hope to become apt instruments in the hands of God for the salvation and sanctification of others. One should grow in their understanding of what the Vicar of Christ, (Pope John Paul II) means when he says that there is only one Sacrament of the Eucharist and yet this sacrament confers grace in three different ways. Each manner of divine grace corresponds to the three forms in which the Eucharist has been Instituted by Christ.

It is at one and the same time a Sacrifice-Sacrament, a Communion-Sacrament, and a Presence-Sacrament. The revealed foundation for this conclusion is the fact of Christ's abiding presence in the Eucharist. It is the "Redeemer of Man" who by His passion and death on the cross merited the grace of our salvation. But it is mainly through the Eucharist that the same Jesus Christ now channels this grace to a sinful human race.

It is in this comprehensive sense that we can say, "The Church lives by the Eucharist, by the fullness of this sacrament." This fullness, however, spans all three levels of its sacramental existence, where, by "sacrament," the Church means a sensible sign, instituted by Christ, through which invisible grace and inward sanctification are communicated to the soul.

The Mass is the Sacrifice-Sacrament of the Eucharist. As the Council of Trent declared "the Sacrifice of the Mass is not only an offering of praise and thanksgiving." It is also a source of grace: "By this oblation, the Lord is appeased, He grants grace and the gift of repentance, and He pardons wrongdoings and sins. The blessings of Redemption which Christ won for us by His bloody death on Calvary are now received in abundance through this unbloody oblation."

Holy Communion is the Communion-Sacrament of the Eucharist. As the same Council of Trent defined, Christ present in the Eucharist is not only spiritually eaten, but also really and sacramentally. We actually receive His Body and Blood, and we are truly nourished by His grace. It was Christ's will "that this Sacrament be received as the soul's spiritual food, to sustain and build up those who live with His life." It is also to be a "remedy to free us from our daily defects and to keep us from mortal sin."

The Real presence is the Presence-Sacrament of the Eucharist. How? The Real Presence is a Sacrament in every way that the humanity of Christ is a channel of grace to those who believe that the son of God became man for our salvation.

Grace Through the Humanity of Christ

The underlying theme of the Church's Eucharistic teaching is the fact of "Christ's consoling presence in the Blessed Sacrament. His real presence in the fullest sense; the substantial presence by which the whole and complete Christ, God and man, is present." (Pope John Paul II, September 29, 1979)

Once this fact of faith is recognized, it is not difficult to see why prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is so efficacious. Indeed it explains why, without a second thought, Catholics have simply referred to the Real Presence as the Blessed Sacrament. It is a Sacrament, or better, it is the one Sacrament which not only confers grace but contains the very source of grace, namely Jesus Christ.

As we read the Gospels, we are struck by the marvelous power that Christ's humanity had in effecting changes in the persons who came into contact with Him. Already in the womb of His mother, He sanctified the unborn John the Baptist the moment Elizabeth heard the voice of Mary. At Cana in Galilee, at His mother's request, Jesus told the servants, "Fill the jars with water." When the steward tasted the water, it had turned into wine.

Jesus spoke with human lips when He preached the Sermon on the Mount, when He taught the parables, when He forgave sinners, when He rebuked the Pharisees, when He foretold His Passion and told followers to carry the cross. Jesus touched the blind with human hands, and healed the lepers by speaking with a human voice. On one occasion a sick woman touched the hem of His garment. The woman was instantly healed. Immediately, relates St. Mark, aware that power had gone out from Him, Jesus turned round in the crowd and said, "Who touched my cloak?" Significantly, Jesus told her, "Your faith has restored you to health."

All through His public ministry, the humanity of Christ was the means by which He enlightened the minds of His listeners, restored their souls to divine friendship, cured their bodies of disability and disease, and assured them of God's lasting peace. That is what St. John meant when, in the prologue of His Gospel, he said, "though the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth come through Jesus Christ." Why? Because Christ is the only-begotten son of God who became flesh, and not only lived but, in the Eucharist, continues to live among us.

In order to draw on these resources of infinite wisdom and power, available in the Eucharist, we must believe. In the words of the Adore Te, we can say; "I believe everything that the Son of God has said, and nothing can be truer than this word of the Truth. Only the Godhead was hidden on the cross, but here the humanity is hidden as well. Yet I believe and acknowledge them both."

Those who can thus speak to Christ in the Eucharist will learn from experience what the Church means when she tells us that the Real Presence is a Sacrament. It is the same Savior who assumed our human nature to die for us on Calvary, and who now dispenses through that same humanity, now glorified, the blessing of salvation.


By Father John A. Hardon, S. J.

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