In the long history of Christianity heresies have sometimes been associated with Christians unwilling to live with mystery and thus seeking (with puny human intelligence) to comprehend and describe the infinite. And although this tendency has been more pronounced in the great mysteries of the Trinity and the person of Christ, it has not been absent in efforts to understand and explain the profound and beautiful mystery of the Eucharist.
And so some, in their efforts to understand the Eucharist have confined and constricted it in inadequate human categories. And so, for example, Christ’s explicit and unambiguous teaching on the Eucharist as his Body and Blood becomes (for some) just something done in memory of him—with bread remaining bread and wine drunk as wine. Even our Catholic insistence on what has come to be termed “transubstantiation” has to be acknowledged as but human stammering and still distant from capturing or containing the deep mystery that is the Eucharist.
And as much as we Catholics believe in the so-called “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, we need to guard against a too literal and unqualified understanding of the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ. Otherwise we open ourselves to serious questions from those who don’t share our faith in this great sacrament. For example, some would argue that our understanding of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, makes it sound like the Christ in every tabernacle is bizarrely one of many clones. So too, our belief that God, (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), is present everywhere raises the question of how (or if) Christ is more present in our tabernacles than he is elsewhere.
Consequently, while striving to prayerfully and humbly gain a deeper grasp of this Eucharistic mystery is always to be encouraged, we need to guard against tying ourselves up in theological and philosophical knots with these kinds of considerations and questions. For, it is perhaps less important to focus on fully understanding the specifics of this ineffable mystery that we receive under the forms of bread and wine, and more important to concentrate on the personal, profound, and intimate saving encounter that this great sacrament mediates.
However, this is easier said than done, because entering into the mystery of the Eucharist and experiencing this personal, profound, and deeply intimate saving encounter with Christ is inseparable from a preexisting dedicated and serious life of prayer and deep interiority. In the absence of this living relationship with Christ that is the fruit of a dedicated life of prayer, we might as well just be partaking of bread and wine and remembering the passion and death of Christ. And so it is that the degree to which we are able to enter into the mystery of the Eucharist (even while not fully understanding it) will be significantly affected by the depth and quality of our life of prayer. For a life of prayer both prepares us to enter more fully into this great mystery of the Eucharist, and is, in turn, deepened by this Eucharistic encounter with our crucified, risen, and glorified Lord.
As we approach the altar at communion this morning let us pray for the grace of a deepened commitment to our life of prayer and also for the grace to avoid all tendencies to indifference, inattention, and skepticism, as we partake of the outwardly humble forms of bread and wine become for us the living and saving Body and Blood of Christ our Risen and Glorified Lord.