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Devotion to the Real Presence and Growth in Sanctity
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
First, what do we mean by the Real Presence?
By the Real Presence we mean the Presence now on earth until the end of time of Jesus Christ. True God and True Man in the fu11ness of both natures contained by the Eucharistic species. He as it were dwells, that's where Christ in the fu11ness of His human and divine natures abides. The Latin phrase is Connitator. It is though we have Jesus Christ inside there in a way that He is not present anywhere else except in heaven. What do we mean by the Rea1 Presence? After the Consecration we distinguish philosophically between substance and accident. The substance is that which makes a thing what it is and underlies its properties, but the properties, but the properties can change. The substance remains. We are the same substance from the time we were conceived in the womb to the present moment. Our accidents or properties have certainly changed. Now some questions:
Teaching, therefore, devotion to the Real Presence as a means of growth in sanctity should begin with the one who does the teaching, him or herself knowing exactly what the Real Presence means. What does it mean? It, first of all, means that in the Eucharist we have the whole Christ. The Council of Trent gave us the term which is part of our faith, in the Eucharist we have the Totus Christus. The whole Christ. Saying that we believe as Catholics that in the Eucharist Christ is present with the fullness of His divine nature and the fullness of His human nature. There is no problem whatever or no test of the faith to say that Christ is present with the fullness of His divine nature because Christ had been present as God on earth long before the Incarnation took place. Christ as God is everywhere! The real test of faith is whether we believe Christ is present not only as God but is present as Man...Nor is that enough. It is not merely that He is present as Man but that He is present as Man in the fullness of His bodily or corporeal nature and in the fullness of His spiritual human nature. Nor is that enough. We believe that in the Eucharist is present Christ with His Body and Blood which are living and possess all the physical properties that any living human being has. So too with the soul. That soul is united with Christs humanity. It is therefore a soul with a mind. Christ has two intellects; He has two wills. Consequently, Christ is present in His soul with the fullness of His human mind and His human will and both distinct from the Divine mind and will.
What is the simplest way of identifying the Real Presence? The Real Presence is Jesus Christ who is living in heaven at the right hand of His heavenly Father and on earth only and exclusively in the Eucharist. To summarize, therefore, the Real Presence refers to that reality which constitutes the Living Christ. And just as truly us Christ was really present in the fullness of this human and divine natures only within the limits of that Child whom Mary loved at Bethlehem and outside of Him though God was surely present but Christ was not present as the God-Man in the straw in which He lay at Bethlehem. He was not present in the air that He breathed, He was not present as the God-Man in Mary or Joseph. He was present only and uniquely in that human being Who was born on Christmas day. The Eucharist began in the womb of Mary. Augustines phrase the flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary", is beautiful. It means that when we believe in the Real Presence we believe that having risen from the dead and ascended at the right hand of His heavenly Father, Christ did not leave the earth. The real difference between anyone else and a Catholic is that a Catholic believes that Christ is present in heaven and on earth. The expression and on earth is our faith in the Real Presence. The discovery of the full reality of the Real Presence I consider one of the greatest graces in the spiritual life. A lot of believers don't really see it. Thats the foundation!
Now the history of spirituality as related to the Real Presence. Here you could choose the life of any saint ancient, medieval or modern; if you want to know that relationship there is between devotion to the Real Presence and growth in sanctity read the lives of the saints and look for this. They all had it. Not all the biographers don't have that strong of faith themselves. One of the simplest ways of promoting devotion to the Real Presence among those in formation is to get them to read from and about these saints about whose devotion to the Rea1 Presence we know the most. Once it dawns on you then you deal with Him as you deal with the living Christ. You talk to Him; you know He is there listening. He sees you; and with the eyes of faith you see Him. Being in the company of Christ is not the same as knowing in whose company you are. This is one grace that I urge you to get for yourselves and then to urge those who are in the religious community to pray for, for themselves. Some young people may have it. Converts have it. Most of the time thats how their conversion starts. (Story of "Springum", the convert who painted in Catholic Churches) (end 6 Chapter John - Doctrine of Eucharist) (Promised never to point in any place except where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.)
Consequently, one of the most effective ways of inspiring religious to be more devoted to the Real Presence is to expose them to the life history of the great men and women who have reached sanctity because of their own great devotion to the Real Presence. A few names are: the outstanding theological writer on the Real Presence is St. Alphonsus Ligori; St. Peter Julian Eymard the founder of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers and Brothers. His writings about the Real Presence are especially important because they bring out how Christ in the Real Presence is to be imitated. This Christ who is imitable is imitably from His visible stay on earth and from His Eucharistic stay on earth. Among the virtues that Peter Julian brings out that Christ wants us to especially imitate in the Eucharistic Presence are His patience, His love, His obedience and with strong emphasis His humility. A .third saint is St. Margaret Mary. The two books that are easily available in English translated are her letters and her autobiography. (Mr. Harry John financed the translation and circulation of these two books.) Margaret Marys devotion to the Eucharist was so deep that devotion to the Sacred Heart she says, is devotion to the Real Presence to the Holy Eucharist. There is no devotion that modern Popes have more emphasized than devotion to the Sacred Heart. For the best reasons; because the Eucharist is the Sacred Heart...making sure that we know His physical Heart is there. Now an analysis of both the why and the how of cultivating devotion to the Real Presence and this fostering sanctity.
Why? There are three principal reasons why devotion to the Real Presence is such an effective means of fostering holiness:
How to foster progress in holiness through greater devotion to the Real Presence:
Compare the Real Presence with the Mystical Body of Christ.
Both are realities. Christ now has two existences which until He died on the Cross He had only one. Perhaps we could put this in stages. Before the Incarnation, God was present on earth only as God. With the Incarnation God became present on earth as the God-Man. The distinctive difference between Christ's presence on earth since the Incarnation and before, the distinctive difference is His humanity. There is now a human being who is hypostatically, that is totally, and substantially united with the divinity present: in the world of space and time. The moment Christ died on the cross, the Mystical Body came into existence. The Physical Body of Christ came into existence at Nazareth when Mary said, Be it done to me according to Your word. The Mystical Body came into existence the moment Christ pronounced the words, It is finished. Into your hand I commend my spirit. The moment Christ died what had been only the physical Christ now took on in addition His members with whom He united Himself as their head. The Mystical Body of Christ, therefore, is the Church. The Mystical Body may also be called the communion of saints. The Mystical Body is that communion of the souls in heaven, the souls in purgatory, and the living who are in God's grace and members of the Church on earth, who are the members of what we call the Mystical Body, whose head is the Physical Body. So the Mystical Body is a society; the Mystical Body is a group of people united with Christ. The Mystical Body has a soul. The soul of that Mystical Body is the Holy Spirit. St. Paul distinguishes - he never mixes the two up; he never confuses the Physical Body of Christ with the Mystical Body. The physical Body in Greek is Sarx; the Mystical Body or the Church in Paul is Soma. What's the difference? The difference between the Physical Body of Christ and the Mystical Body of Christ is all the difference between Jesus Christ who is the Son of God, that became the Son of Mary, and the society of all those who are united with Christ joined to their head. The Mystical Body as such is not sensibly perceptible. You cannot see the Mystical Body as Mystical Body with your senses. You do not directly touch this Mystical Body but the head, Christ, is sensibly perceptible, the members are as members sensibly perceptible. The Physical Christ is Jesus; the Mystical Body is the Church.
We receive the Physical Body of Christ substantially. We receive the rest of the Mystical Body in spirit or voluntionally because Christ has all of us on His mind; He has all of us in His heart, is so far as the whole Church is on Christ's mind and in Christ's heart to that extent we receive what is on His mind and in His heart.
The Physical Body of Christ by Christ's own command is necessary to keep the Mystical Body of Christ alive. In other words, the members of the Mystical Body who are still struggling on earth will not remain united with that Mystical Body unless they receive the Physical Body. They will not grow in union with Him; they will not grow in union with one another, unless they receive the head of the Mystical Body in the Eucharist. The one is a condition for the other. Remember until we reach the Beatific Vision we can be separated from Him. Consequently we must constantly strengthen our bonds with Him at the risk of losing that union when we mainly strengthen our bonds with Him through the Eucharist. That is why it is called the sacrament of unity. We are all naturally individual persons, separate, distinct from one another. Nature divides; grace unites. The principal source of that which unites is the Eucharist. That's why Christ couldnt have as He did at the last supper the command to love one another as He has loved us unless He gave us the means. He made sure He gave us both the command and the means on the same occasion.
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