Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

A Theological Meditation On The Liturgy Of The Eucharist

by Roch Kereszty


More an analysis than a meditation, this article explores the centrality of the Eucharist in Christian faith, life and worship as the continual reenactment of God's self-emptying love.

Larger Work

Communio: International Catholic Review


524 - 561

Publisher & Date

Communio, Washington, D.C., Fall 1996

Vision Book Cover Prints

One day in the late 1930's Jesus revealed himself to an agnostic Jewish-French girl, Simone Weil:

He took me into a church. It was new and ugly. He led me up to the altar and said: "kneel down." I said "I have not been baptized." He said, "fall on your knees before this place, in love, as before the place where lies the truth." I obeyed.1

Indeed the Eucharist is the Truth: it sums up the truth about God, humankind and the cosmos. It reveals God made man in the state of pure gift for us and invites us to become pure gifts for God and one another through the same Eucharist. All this takes place in the most humble and hidden way: the incarnate Son becomes present in the form of simple bread and wine. No wonder that from the first moment of its revelation the Eucharist became the greatest challenge for the disciples' faith, an issue that has divided those who believed from those who refused to believe: "This is hard talk. Who can accept that?" (Jn 6:60) However, if we accept the "logic" of God's self-emptying love, the Eucharist becomes that luminous center which sheds new light upon all the other mysteries of faith and shows their bearing upon our communal and personal existence. It is indeed the "mystery of faith" par excellence.

In this article I would like to present this luminous center of our faith as clearly and simply as possible so that we may grasp some of "the depth and height, the width and length" of God's mystery. Contrary to the usual evolutive model of presentation going from the Old Testament preparation through the New Testament foundations and the history of the doctrine to constructing a contemporary synthesis, my starting point will be a theological analysis of the actual Eucharistic celebration as it is reflected in the present Eucharistic prayers of the Catholic Church both in the Western and Eastern rites. The adage lex orandi, lex credendi is particularly important today: the official prayer of the Church and in particular the rites of the Eucharistic celebration provide the most fruitful approach to recovering the fullness of the Church's faith. Following the advice of A. Schmemann, I want to proceed "from the living experience of the Church" and "from the concrete liturgical tradition that has been preserved by the Church.'2 This method, hopefully, will avoid a wide-spread reductionism which treats only certain aspects of Eucharistic doctrine in isolation from the whole.3 The danger of my approach is, of course, to get lost in historical inquiries and matters of detail. So I will try to center the discussion on the most important issues. In presenting a Eucharistic theology I cannot avoid facing up to its philosophical implications, but will attempt to keep the philosophical discussion on a non-technical level.

1. Who Celebrates The Eucharist?

Christ gave the command to celebrate the Eucharist to his twelve disciples. They were chosen by him as the "Founding Fathers" of the renewed Israel of God and in their persons represented the whole Church.4 The practice of the Church from the first decades of her history (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34) attests her conviction that the Lord's Supper, the breaking of the bread, can only be celebrated by the Church of Christ. Only the ecclesial Body of Christ (united to him by faith and baptism) can offer his Eucharistic Body to the Father in order to be nourished and become increasingly united to him by partaking in his Eucharistic Body.

Yet this sacrificial meal has never been a self-serving activity of the Church. The Body of Christ has always been proclaimed as given up for the many, meaning all human beings, and his Blood poured out for the remission of all sins. The Church in every form of Eucharistic celebration has always offered the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of all humankind.

However, while the whole community offers Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice and themselves in union with him, according to the immemorial tradition of the Church only a bishop or presbyter can validly preside over the celebration. This is not a mere legal requirement, which could be changed by the Church at least in emergency situations. The Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ entrusted to his Church but remains his own sacrifice. Therefore, only someone sent by Christ and representing Christ as the head of his Church can validly make Christ's own sacrifice present in the assembly so that the whole assembly may offer it as her own. In other words, only those who are in the line of apostolic succession, receiving their sacramental authority from Christ through the apostles and their successors can validly consecrate. The absolute need for the ministerial priest in the Eucharistic celebration then does not express the craving of power by the hierarchy but rather the absolute dependence of the Church on Christ in her central act of worship. The need for the ministerial priest expresses sacramentally the radical insufficiency of the Church: she does not possess the source of her life in herself, but receives it continuously from Christ in a tangible, sacramental way.5

2. Liturgical Time

The unique character of liturgical time will appear in comparison to the sacred time of primitive religions and the "sacred time" of contemporary secular celebrations.6 Time is understood here in an existential sense as "personal time," i.e., the experienced process of growing and/or diminishing personal existence in successive interaction with outside agents. Opposed to time is God's eternity, the simultaneous and full self-possession of his infinite being.

M. Eliade has shown convincingly that for primitive peoples the time of ritual celebration was sacred time, a return to the time of their own origin. By periodically reciting or re-enacting their myth of creation (cosmogony, anthropogony, connected often with theogony) they believed to have returned to the primordial, qualitatively "more real" time of their origins. The ritual reenactment was not taken simply as a psychological recalling of past events but as an actual participation in them. Through the performance of the ritual they believed to have regained a new, valid existence, they felt "re-born" or "re-created," fit to continue their daily life until an awareness of diminished existence (for instance the end of a yearly cycle of time) drove them again to repeat the ritual event.

Eliade also pointed out the similarity and difference between this primitive conception of sacred time and that of Christian liturgical time. According to Eliade, Christians also believe to participate in sacred time during their liturgical celebrations but this sacred time is not that of creation but of the historical time of Jesus Christ. Such a comparison is true but it needs further clarification.

The initial greeting of the Latin Mass in its simplest and strongest form: "The Lord (be) with you," repeated again before the Eucharistic prayer, shows that the Eucharistic celebration takes place in the Christian community that has already been constituted as such by the presence of the risen Lord prior to the actual celebration. The more elaborate greeting: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship (communio-koinonia) of the Holy Spirit be with you" shows the role of each divine person in the constitution of the ecclesial assembly. The ultimate source of the risen Christ's presence is the Father's love. Christ is present among us and within us through the Holy Spirit who is both the cause and the pattern of ecclesial koinonia: The Spirit enables us to enter into communion with the risen Christ, through the risen Christ with one another and to accept the love of the Father.7 Consequently, the celebrating community is called "to enter" through the Holy Spirit into the "time" of the risen Christ and through Christ into the Father's eternity.8 This "time" of the risen Christ, however, differs from earthly time in two ways:

1. Earthly time marks changes both of growth and loss of being and therefore always includes past, present and future. The risen Christ faces no diminishment of existence; therefore, his present moment never becomes past but constantly grows into God's eternity.9

2. All growth in Jesus' human existence (especially the results of his suffering and death) is taken up into his eternal present. In other words, his glorified, risen existence eternalizes what he has become through his life, suffering and death up to his last act of self-surrender on the Cross. Moreover, the actions and sufferings of the earthly Jesus, as the actions and sufferings of God in his humanity, have not been mere transitory realities; rather, they transcend the limits of time and space in the power of the Holy Spirit and transform all those who open themselves to the Spirit's promptings.10

We then partially agree with Eliade: the "time" of the liturgical celebration does indeed include a reference to the sacred, historical time of the earthly Jesus, but, what Eliade omits, also to his risen existence. In the Eucharist his saving death becomes present to us in the sense that it enables us to share in his death. Only to the extent that we are being conformed to his death, do we also increase our share here and now in the eternal life of his Resurrection.11

The mystery of this participation can be better articulated if we compare "liturgical time" with the "time" of secular celebrations. When we celebrate our birthday, we recall the events of our lives, especially our first conscious memories of our parents and these memories do affect us in the present. However, not the past events themselves affect us here and now but their memory, which could be very different from the events themselves as daily experience proves time and again. In the case of the Eucharistic memorial, however, not only the psychological remembrance of Jesus' life, teachings, suffering, death and Resurrection are effective in our lives, but these events themselves transform our very being much beyond what psychological remembrance is capable of.12

These reflections help us understand why only the Christian community can celebrate the Eucharist. Only they have participated — albeit inchoately — in the death and Resurrection of Christ through faith and baptism, and thus they are enabled to share progressively in the death of Christ in order to enter more effectively into the "time" of the risen Christ. The Christian community has understood the special character of liturgical time from the beginning. Paul tells the Corinthians that they "proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes" (1 Cor 11:26) and he recalls the ancient liturgical acclamation of the first Aramaic communities: "Marana-tha!" "Come, Lord" (1 Cor 16:22). It is in the Eucharistic assembly that the redeeming death of the Lord is effectively proclaimed (by sharing in his crucified and risen humanity), his present lordship most keenly perceived and his final glorious coming anticipated.

From this perspective we perceive the core of truth in the intuition of primitive rites. In primitive religions people were yearning to return to the sacred time of their creation, to a remembered initial wholeness, innocence and fullness of being. God has abundantly fulfilled this desire in the Eucharist. Enabled to share in Christ's death by the Holy Spirit, we are also renewed and re-created not only for a new cosmic existence but for the participation in the eternal life of the Triune God.

If the above considerations are true, then in pastoral practice we should try to create the best conditions for the perception of this sacred liturgical time so that the celebrating community may more easily leave behind the regular "time" of daily living and enter into the special "time" of the liturgy. This theology of liturgical time does not exclude the scheduling of the Eucharist in the middle of a work day, but it certainly opposes a restricted time slot which would result in a hurried and undignified celebration. It also discloses the incongruity of interrupting the sacred liturgical time by secular activities, such as making announcements during the silent period after receiving communion.

The liturgical time of the Eucharistic celebration, should also transform our personal "time" of daily living. To the extent that we live without faith, our search for finding "ultimate fulfillment" in earthly goods compels us to live in unreality. Unable to accept that the present moment of pleasure in constantly slipping out of our hands, we compensate for the frustration either by dreaming about the past or by yearning for the future, distorting past or future into an imaginary fulfillment.

The pressure for the unbeliever to escape into unreality is even less resistible in the case of suffering. An acute loss of being or a serious threat to one's being drives the suffering person away from the unbearable present.13

Believers, on the other hand, try to enter into the liturgical time of the risen Christ not only for the few moments of Eucharistic celebration, but gradually, they intend to live their entire daily existence in that time. Sharing the time of the risen Christ, however, becomes possible only to the extent that we constantly share in his death. This includes our renouncing the false promise of earthly fulfillment, which forces us to falsify our past or future. Then we are willing to accept the unavoidable frustration of the present moment, the slipping away of happiness and the slow or swift loss of our earthly existence. To the extent that we can do this sincerely, we no longer alienate or distance ourselves from the present moment. It becomes for us an ever new opportunity to share in the life of the risen Christ. On the level of concrete living this means that we can love God and neighbor with Christ's love in every moment of our lives, regardless whether the present moment is full of pleasure or pain; the share in Christ's love, in turn, carries with it a foretaste of eternity since it opens us up to the infinite fullness of God. The possession and practice of Christ's love on earth, however, does not result in the experience of infinite joy; the consolations of grace are mediated through our limited earthly bodies. Our sufferings can totally eclipse the joy. Yet even in the midst of the most intense suffering, a "still point" in our soul truly participates in God's eternity through the risen Christ.

3. Liturgical Space

In primitive religions all of nature was perceived to be sacred, not in the pantheistic sense which considers nature as the whole or part of divinity, but rather symbolically: primitive people saw every natural object as diaphanous, revealing in some way a sacred, supernatural mystery, at once awe-inspiring and attractive. They were especially sensitive to certain natural phenomena: the boundless dimensions of the sky revealed them divine transcendence; huge rocks, mountains, trees, wild animals (bear and buffalo) pointed for them to a supernatural strength and majesty; springs and rivers symbolized the abundance of divine life and fecundity.

Sacred buildings were erected probably at a later stage, buildings in whose sacred space and statues a god was believed to dwell. Even the cult of Yahweh inspired the building of the Meeting Tent in the desert and finally the building of the majestic Temple in Jerusalem. All these religions shared the common belief that their gods or their God dwells exclusively or at least with a particular intensity within the space of a man-made building. Consequently, a sacrifice was deemed valid only within the sanctuary and on its altar, whether it was a public temple or the sacred space of the household gods of a family.

Relishing the newness of their religion, the first Christians liked to point out that, contrary to all other religions, they have no altar and no temple. Actually, their temple and altar were not man-made structures but the Body of their crucified and risen Lord (Jn 2:21). Wherever the Eucharist was celebrated in which the Eucharistic Body of Christ united to himself his faithful so that the many might all become one Body (1 Cor 10:17), there was the sacred space, the temple or sanctuary. Thus for Christians the sacred space has become eminently personal, the Christian assembly sharing in the body-person of the crucified and risen Lord. Wherever the Christian assembly celebrates the Eucharist in which Christ nourishes with himself the assembly, there is the sacred space, the assembly itself becoming a Temple of the Lord in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). For this reason the first Christians did not feel that their worship was less valid in a private home than in a building erected specifically for the purpose of worship. Even today no essential theological difference is perceived between a Eucharist celebrated in a private home and the most solemn mass in the most ornate cathedral of the world. Yet, as soon as it had become politically and economically feasible, Christians began the building of churches already during the first centuries of almost unceasing persecution. However, these buildings were called domus ecclesiae "house of the assembly" so that the name itself would make clear that the building derived its sacred character from the Eucharistic assembly (ecclesia), rather than the assembly becoming sanctified by contact with the sacred building. Jungmann points out also the fact that the Christian church buildings were radically different from the pagan ones since they had to house the whole assembly. In contrast, the pagan temples provided enough space only for the altar and the officiating priests. In the Christian liturgy the whole assembly is "a holy priesthood" offering the spiritual sacrifice of the Eucharist, Christ himself and themselves "through him, with him, and in him."

The above theology of sacred space obviously allows for many different architectural styles and for many different arrangements of the inner space and shape of a church building. At the same time, however, not any arrangement of inner space and outer shape equally expresses all the dimensions of the Eucharistic mystery; in fact, some forms are positively contrary to the truth of Christian sacred space. For instance, in any arrangement the altar should be the natural focus of attention rather than the congregation; the congregation, however, should not be unduly separated from the altar, since the whole community celebrates the Eucharistic sacrifice. Yet, as pointed out earlier, the specific role of Christ as the head of the Body his Church and the radical dependence of his Church on Christ is sacramentally expressed by the unique role of the ministerial priest (bishop or presbyter) in the Eucharistic celebration. This presiding role of the ministerial priest should also be visibly expressed; it would be wrong for him to "melt" into the celebrating congregation.

Moreover, since Christ wants to remain permanently with his people in the Eucharist, the tabernacle in which the Holy Eucharist is reserved for adoration "should be placed in a part of the church that is prominent, conspicuous, beautifully decorated and suitable for prayer" (Can 938,2).

4. The Liturgy Of The Word

While a Christian liturgy of the Word without Eucharistic celebration has always been deemed possible and at times desirable by the Church, the reverse has never been the rule. Some possible exceptions aside, we do not know about any ordo of the Eucharistic celebration, which would not have been preceded by some form of a Liturgy of the Word. We see the cause and paradigm of this practice in Lk 24: 13-32. The risen Lord appears to his two distraught disciples going to Emmaus and explains to them "all the Scriptures that were about himself (24:27). Only after their doubts had been dispelled and their hearts set on fire while Jesus explained to them God's plan of salvation as laid out in the (Old Testament) Scriptures, were the eyes of the disciples opened and were they able to recognize the presence of the risen Lord in the "breaking of the bread" (24:32; 35). This account then explains the chief reason why the Liturgy of the Word should precede the celebration of the Eucharist. The faith of the community needs to be enlightened and enkindled by listening to the Word of God and its explanation, so that their eyes of faith may be opened to recognize Jesus in the Eucharist. Rather than being a magic rite which changes the celebrants automatically, the Eucharist is a sacrament of faith. Even if the minister lost his faith but still intends to do what the Church does, Christ becomes present in the Eucharist by virtue of the faith of the Church, which the minister wants to serve. However, the minister and the celebrating community are transformed into the body of Christ only to the extent of their personal faith in the Eucharist.

Thus, listening to Christ's teaching, his deeds and suffering in history enkindle our desire to meet the same person in our personal history so that he may personally address to us the same words, that he may personally perform the same deeds in our lives and that we may unite our suffering with his life-giving Passion. Just as there is an intrinsic connection and natural dynamism between the gradual and fragmentary coming of the Word in the Old Testament and its incarnate, personal presence among us in the New Testament, so does the hearing of the Word of God lead us to receive the incarnate Person of the Word into our being.

However, without accepting an anthropology which perceives the crucial role of the body in the consummation of human personal encounter, we cannot understand the Incarnation as the climax of the continuous coming of the Word of God in history, nor can we perceive what the Liturgy of the Eucharist adds to the Liturgy of the Word. In every human life an exchange of words, written or spoken on the phone, is not the fullest form of communion. The spoken word, if uttered out of love and calling for a response of love, finds fulfillment in bodily presence and communion.14

This analogy of human communication helps us to understand the relationship between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist: the Word spoken and explained enkindles our faith, prepares us for the personal presence of the Word in flesh under the sign of bread and wine.

While the Liturgy of the Word reaches its fulfillment in the Eucharistic presence of Christ on the altar and within us, it also unfolds for us and applies to our concrete situation the riches of Christ's Eucharistic presence. By meditating on the Word of God, we begin to understand the mind of Christ: both the Old Testament reading and the one from the apostolic letters or the book of Revelation lead us to a better grasp of the Gospel which directly proclaims the words and deeds of Christ. As we listen to the varying cycles of readings, we can concentrate our attention on an always new aspect of the mystery of Christ. The readings do not allow us to distort the perception of his presence by our own thoughts and feelings but rather enable us to enter into his own mind and heart. For instance, by meditating on the words of the Gospel, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God," we begin to understand the attitude of Christ, his complete dependence on the Father. We begin to see his whole life as the living out of this beatitude. Jesus carries out the Father's will step by step in his own life, receiving his teaching from the Father and performing the Father's works. This living by the Father's will is his daily food. Then we can ask the Eucharistic Christ to change us so that we can realize his attitude in our daily lives.

The link between the Liturgy of the Word and that of the Eucharist is so strong that Vatican II speaks about these two parts of the Mass as one act of worship (SC 56).

5. The Preparation Of The Gifts

In the Eucharistic texts of the New Testament no mention is made of the offering of bread and wine prior to their becoming the effective signs of Christ's presence. The first one in Christian literature to mention the bringing of material gifts to the presider at the celebration is St. Justin in the middle of the second century. He explains that the bread, wine and water to be used for the Eucharistic celebration are brought to the president. But no sacrificial significance is attached to this action.15 Irenaeus is the first theologian who emphasizes that the Church offers to the Father of Jesus Christ the first fruits of creation as a sacrificial offering.16 He does this to point out against the Marcionites that the God of creation is the same God as the Father of Jesus Christ. Yet he does not consider the bread and wine as sacrifice in themselves apart from the Eucharistic action in which they become the Body and Blood of the Lord. Only a later and gradual development attributed more and more emphasis to the preliminary offering of the gifts before consecration and thus led to a false assumption according to which the offertory was a sacrifice in itself rather than a mere preparation. Some began to regard it as the sacrifice of the Church, distinguished from the sacrifice of Christ which took place after consecration.17

The reform of the Mass after Vatican II changed both the prayers of what had come to be called Offertory and changed even the name "Offertory" into "Preparation of the Gifts" in order to avoid any ambiguity of two consecutive sacrificial offerings. In comparison to the one true sacrificial offering of the Body and Blood of the Lord within the Eucharistic Prayer or Anaphora, we have at this point only a preliminary offering which serves as a mere preparation for the actual sacrifice.

Yet, in conjunction with what follows the offertory procession the offering of the bread and wine have a valid theological meaning. We bring to the altar and offer to God "this bread . . . which earth has given and human hands have made" as well as "this wine . . . the fruit of the vine and work of human hands." In both cases, however, we add the final outcome of this offering: they will become for us "the bread of life" and "our spiritual drink."

The preparation of the gifts then symbolizes the highest achievement of what we human beings are capable of on our own, even as baptized members of the Church and animated by a living faith. At the same time it also points out the dynamism of the liturgical action: our gifts will not be annihilated and replaced by the Body and Blood of Christ nor do they remain simply juxtaposed to the Eucharistic sacrifice; rather it is our gifts of bread and wine that will become our "bread of life" and "our spiritual drink." We need to discuss here in more detail the theological meaning of "transubstantiation" or to use a less misunderstandable term, the ontological transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.18

What the people offer at this point through the ministerial priest and along with him are ontologically ordinary bread and wine, yet precisely their ontological reality serves as the basis for multiple, interconnected symbolic meanings.

a) In the Jewish culture where the Incarnation took place bread and wine reminded the people of God's creation. With some effort of empathy even the people of very different cultures where other forms of food and drink are more widely used can recognize the symbolic meanings of bread and wine.19 It is God's earth that produces the grain and the grape, the raw materials for our gifts. Thus through the bread and wine we offer to God his own creation, acknowledge our total dependence on the Creator, praise his generosity and the goodness of his gifts.

b) The bread and wine, however, are not creation in its pristine state before human civilization has touched it. On the contrary, the production of bread from the sowing of the seed through harvesting the grain and baking the bread up to its being placed in the ciborium on the altar engages the work of many human hands with different expertise; it brings into motion the whole intertwining web of human society. The wine in the chalice is likewise the result of a long process of human work and social interaction. While the bread is our most necessary food, wine is the symbol of what is more than just basic nourishment. It suggests an atmosphere of celebration and leisure, which are the source of any cultural activity. Wine is used for festive gathering where people enjoy life and each other's company. Thus the bread and wine aptly stand for all that is good in human civilization and culture which transforms and perfects (rather than destroys) nature.

c) Finally, the bread and wine before consecration stand for the human person in the totality of his or her personal, social, economic and cultural relations. On the one hand we spend ourselves in "earning bread" and making wine, in sustaining and enriching the human community, civilization and culture. On the other hand, we are what we eat and drink, the bread and wine signify our lives in the world, our vital energies, our minds and hearts. In other words, the bread and wine stand for our embodied selves in manifold interaction with society and God's creation.

To summarize all three aspects we may say that the preparation of the gifts expresses our intention to offer to God the whole of his creation, our efforts to build a civilization of love, and ultimately our own personal and social selves. Yet, the structure of all the original Eucharistic rites and the change of offertory into a preparation of gifts by the post-Vatican Western liturgy make it very clear that this is only a preparatory step rather than a sacrificial act in itself. No real sacrifice is possible before and apart from the consecration of the gifts. This fundamental fact brings to light both the highest dignity and the deepest misery of the human being: it manifests both our will to give ourselves and all of creation back to God as a perfect gift and our radical inability to do so.

Why can we not offer a perfect gift to God as long as we are left to our own human resources? Biblical revelation, liturgical tradition and theological understanding provide two reasons for this inability.

a) Only the Son knows the Father; he alone understands the Father's infinite splendor, truth and love both in himself and as revealed in his creation. Consequently, only the Son made man can offer himself with such an infinite love, praise and thanksgiving that is worthy of the Father's infinite perfection. Briefly, only God can give a perfect gift to God.

b) Moreover, humankind has sinned. Original sin and the increasing avalanche of personal sins have separated us from God. Burdened by our sins, we cannot approach God and live. This awareness comes to light most dramatically in the experience of Israel, but is also attested in the most primitive religions of humankind. Before we can petition and praise God, let alone love him, we need to obtain forgiveness for our sins. From the very beginning of history humankind has felt the need for atonement. Yet the continuously flowing blood of human and animal victims outside and inside Israel attests that no sacrificial victim could provide the reconciliation we had been looking for. Only the innocent Son of God who took upon himself all the consequences of our sins could offer the Father an atoning love in our place and for our sake, which would obtain free access for all of us to the Father. Only in this way do God's infinite love and wisdom become fully manifest, a love and wisdom, which turn the worst evil into the greatest manifestation of his infinite love.

Even though not a sacrifice in itself, the Preparation of the Gifts is indispensable for the Eucharistic sacrifice. The Father does not destroy our gifts nor does he simply place next to them the sacrifice of his own Son. Rather, he accepts our gifts of bread and wine so that they will become our bread of life and spiritual drink, the Body and Blood of his Son. This fact of transformation has been constantly attested in the Church since the second century.20 It has been expressed in most Eucharistic liturgies much before the philosophical-theological formulation of the doctrine of transubstantiation began. That our gifts are transformed into the true sacrifice of Christ rather than replaced (or juxtaposed to the Body and Blood of Christ) have important consequences for Christian existence. Just as the Father does not reject our material offerings, he does not reject the inner attitudes expressed in them; on the contrary, he takes seriously our efforts at repentance and our desire (already inspired by his grace) to give back ourselves and the universe to him in atonement, thanksgiving and praise. As the gifts of bread and wine are changed into the sacrificed humanity of His Son, so are our efforts of offering to God ourselves, our work and all creation to be transformed into the perfect sacrificial attitude of his Son. Through him, with him, and in him we can and should become the perfect sacrifice of thanksgiving, petition and atonement.

Thus, we would oversimplify the facts by saying (as it has often been done) that the bread and wine offered to God at the beginning of the Mass constitute our gifts to God while the Body and Blood of Christ are God's gifts to us. We have to add that our gifts at the beginning of the Mass become the perfect and acceptable sacrifice only through the consecration as they are turned into the perfect gift of self of the crucified and risen Christ. His gift to us consists ultimately in making us an everlasting gift" to the Father through, with, and in his Son by the unifying power of his Spirit. In order to expand on these themes, we need to consider the theology of the Eucharistic Prayers themselves.

6. Eucharistia — Berakah

The solemn Eucharistic prayers of the Church have probably developed from the blessings said after festive Jewish meals. These prayers praise God the Creator and Savior of Israel, who gave Israel the land and the law; by reminding him of his mighty deeds in the past, they call upon his saving intervention in the present.21 The Christian prayers have naturally continued this twofold approach of praise and invocation (epiclesis) but the prayers were filled with Christian content. They give thanks for the culmination of God's saving acts in Jesus Christ and in the context of thanksgiving they recall his words and gestures over the bread and cup at his last Supper.

The ministerial priest speaks here primarily in the name of the Church rather than of Christ. However, the Church, which gives thanks through the priest is not restricted to the particular celebrating congregation. Every Eucharistic prayer takes place in communion with the universal Church that is scattered throughout the world and also joins with the thanksgiving of all the angels and saints of the heavenly court who praise God unceasingly. We finish every preface of the Roman liturgy with words like these:

With all the angels and saints we sing forever to your glory:

"Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might."

The threefold exclamation of holy is taken from the heavenly song of the seraphim around God's throne as is described in Is 6:1-9. In the Byzantine liturgy of St. John Chrysostom the worshipping congregation is not only concelebrating with the angelic court, but make present on earth their heavenly worship insofar as we "mystically represent the Cherubim" in our Eucharistic liturgy.22 Our prayer of thanksgiving then takes place at the point of contact of our time and God's eternity, our history and God's kingdom.

a) Epiclesis And The Words Of Institution

The Eucharistic thanksgiving prayed by the presider in the name of the Church is not a mere psychological act of remembering God's mighty deeds in the past. Through Christ we are actually lifted up into the Father's presence, the primordial source of Trinitarian life and of Salvation History. There is no past, present and future for him but only an eternal present encompassing the whole duration of history. That the celebrating community does indeed enter into the Father's presence is assured by the Holy Spirit. He incorporates us into the one Christ and makes us share in the mind and memory of Christ. In the Spirit's power we recall the Father's mighty deeds that he has wrought through his Son. However, the Eucharistic Prayer is not simply the recollection of God's benefits in our past. Emboldened by what God has done for us, the presiding minister goes over from thanksgiving to the epiclesis. He calls upon the Holy Spirit to accomplish a new creative act here and now in this celebration. In the Third Eucharistic Prayer he prays in these words:

And so Father, we bring you these gifts.

We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit,

that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus

Christ, at whose command we celebrate this Eucharist.

Over past centuries Orthodox and Catholics have vigorously debated about whether the epiclesis or the words of institution effect the transformation of the gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ. The setting of an either-or alternative, however, is not quite appropriate, since it implies that one can separate the action of Christ from that of the Holy Spirit. Christ himself prayed to the Father in the Holy Spirit before each of his important action, in particular, before he chose the Twelve and before he raised Lazarus from the dead. His authoritative "Amen, I say to you" sentence which introduced his utterances of absolute authority implies a previous dialogue of prayer with the Father: His teaching and action are always in response to his Father, a response which takes place in the power of the Holy Spirit.

His minister then does the same in the Eucharistic Prayer. He asks for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from the Father upon the gifts of bread and wine so that they may become the Body and Blood of his Son. In the Western post-Vatican Eucharistic Prayers he begins to recite the words of institution only after this invocation. This shows clearly that the consecration is not a simple act of "command" but the infallible response of the Father to the prayer of his Son in the Holy Spirit. The ministerial priest is only the instrument of this prayer. It is in the power of the Holy Spirit that his quoting of the words of Christ ("this is my body . . . this is the cup of my blood . . . ") become not a mere recital of Christ's past words at the Last Supper but their actualization in the present celebration.23 The words of consecration are analogous in meaning and power to the word of God that has created the universe and to the words the angel transmits to Mary: they do effect what they signify and they effect what only God can effect, a new creation.

Yet we must add some precision here. The Mass — as Sokolowski has rightly pointed out — is primarily a memorial of the Last Supper and only through the perspective of the Last Supper does it point to Christ's death and Resurrection.24 Thus, the words of the institution recited by the priest in the person of Christ recall the sacrifice of Christ from the time perspective of the Last Supper, before he actually suffered and died for us: "This is my body which will be given up for you . . . This is the cup of my blood . . . which will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven." These words are not meant to bring about what is metaphysically impossible, namely, to make present the flesh and blood of Christ in their state before the crucifixion. Nevertheless, the words pronounced at the Last Supper and recited by the priest in the Eucharistic celebration are effective in a twofold way. First, they render present the risen Christ himself in his state of sacrificial gift, a state that he articulated and anticipated at the Last Supper and only consummated in his death and Resurrection. Second, what Christ did at the Last Supper reaches and affects us in every Eucharistic celebration. We are gradually transformed into Christ so that we may become ourselves a gift for God and nourishing food (rather than poison) for each other. In this twofold sense, then, the Last Supper becomes present to us in every Eucharist: (1) insofar as what Christ did at the Last Supper is part of the risen Christ and (2) is transformative of our own lives.

b) The Offering Of Sacrifice

In the Eucharistic prayers of the West the true offering of sacrifice takes place after the epiclesis and the institution narrative.25 Christ's total self-surrender to the Father for our sake, eternalized in his risen state and forever active in our lives is the sacrifice of the Church. The Body given up for us, the Blood shed for us are no longer separated as they were during Christ's death; the two distinct signs of bread and wine symbolize this sacrificial presence of the risen Christ.

However, in the Eucharistic prayers we do not hear the sacrificial prayers of Christ, but those of the Church. The assembly offers through the priest and with the priest "this holy and living sacrifice," "the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world," "this holy and perfect sacrifice." In certain epicleses the priest asks that the Holy Spirit may descend not only on the gifts but also on us so that we may worthily receive the mysteries.26 Again, in other epicleses we ask that the receiving of the body and blood of Christ may result in our being sanctified by the Holy Spirit:

Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit and become one body, one Spirit in Christ.27

The Church also surrounds the sacrifice of Christ with intercessions for the living and dead. Of course, all this she does through Christ, yet we hear in these prayers her voice, not that of Christ. It seems that before the Eucharistic sacrifice is completed in Holy Communion where we all become "the one body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise," and "an everlasting gift" to the Father, the Church, as it were, relishes and savors the greatest treasure she has, Christ himself as her own sacrifice. He alone is the "hostia pura, hostia sancta, hostia immaculata" that has been given to her from the Father by the Holy Spirit.28 She instinctively offers her intercessory prayers while Christ himself is on the altar in the full intensity of his sacrificial presence rather than later, after Holy Communion when he is present in us and works in us to the extent that our freedom opens us up to him.

The documents of Vatican II rightly emphasize that Christ is present in different ways in the Eucharistic assembly: he is present when the Holy Scriptures are proclaimed, present in the presiding minister and also in the celebrating community. Yet "above all he is present under the Eucharistic species" (SC 7). The meaning of this "maxime sub speciebus Eucharisticis" has often become blurred and misunderstood in post-conciliar theology and pastoral practice. Indeed, at first sight it seems somewhat incongruous that Christ is present above all under the signs of material realities, things, objects and very insignificant at that, rather than within his people, created in his own image and endowed with the sacred dignity of personhood. Thus, after Vatican II the emphasis became more and more transferred to this presence of Christ within the celebrating congregation. Not rarely, this has led to a style of liturgical celebration whose center was the celebrating congregation rather than the consecrated bread and wine.

We then need to re-appropriate the scriptural and patristic tradition of the Church: on the one hand Christ is present in the Eucharist so that he may intensify his presence in the worshipping congregation; on the other hand, the transcendent center of the worshipping congregation is the bread of life and the cup of salvation, Christ sacramentally present in the form of sacrifice on the altar. Why is this so? The fullness of divinity dwells in one man, Jesus of Nazareth, because the Son has become this man, assuming a concrete human nature as his own. For the Son of God to be present in the same fullness and intensity within every celebrating Christian, he would have to become incarnate in every one of them, which evidently does not happen. Thus the Son of God made man cannot be present in the same fullness and intensity in a Christian community as he is present under the signs of bread and wine. Even if he dwelt in us as he dwelt in the greatest saints, we do not become Christ himself. The obvious proof for it is that we cannot be worshipped even if we were absolutely pure and sinless. Christ is present in us to the extent that we love him; he changes and transforms us into himself yet we remain mere human beings who worship the One present within us. Moreover, even if we are not in the state of mortal sin, we are always only more or less sanctified. The resistance of our human freedom to Christ rarely breaks down completely, and in spite of our ardent desire to possess him within ourselves, he comes only to the extent of our capacity to receive him.

Part of the paradox of the material reality of bread and wine consists in their absolute (although not free) obedience to their Creator. In the act of consecration they do not exert any resistance against being taken up into the reality of Christ. As a result, they are no longer "substances" in themselves but they reach their ultimate perfection precisely by becoming "mere" signs, or rather such perfect signs that they not only signify the sacrifice of Christ but become the sacrificed Christ himself whose fullness they communicate to us. They are so perfectly transformed into Christ that divine worship is due to the consecrated bread and wine. The bread of life and the cup of salvation then are the transcendent center of the Eucharistic community, its opening into the infinite dimensions of the God made man, a never exhaustible fount of food and drink for eternal life. There is the center of Eucharistic worship, not in the celebrating community. Christ's presence then under the sign of bread and wine is qualitatively different from his presence in the community. Only the elements of the material universe transformed into food and drink by the work of human beings could provide this substantial presence of the crucified and risen Christ without multiplying the incarnations of the Son of God. In this state the glory of the risen Christ reveals itself as a new depth of his humility, in a sense even surpassing his humiliation on the Cross.29 He not only hides his divine glory but also his human personality. In order to be completely available for entering into us and feeding us, he lowers himself to the level of "things," "becomes" bread and wine, the only purpose of which is to provide nourishment and joy to human beings.30 The glory of the Son of God thus reveals his divine transcendence not in his splendid isolation from us, but in overcoming even the last remaining distance and separation between him and his creatures, while respecting our freedom and appealing to our love rather than coercing us by fear.

One more question about the Eucharistic sacrifice: for whom is it offered? Evidently every Eucharist is always and everywhere offered for the whole Church. Yet since the Eucharist was established to make present the sacrifice of Christ for each local community of the Church spread out in time and space, the one perfect sacrifice of Christ is offered in a special way for the community which celebrates it, for the intention of those who celebrate it and for the intentions of those who make a special offering for that mass. It is not the material value of the offering in itself which counts but the inner disposition which it expresses.

It is remarkable that not all the ancient Eucharistic liturgies pray for the salvation of the world.31 The all-embracing intention of Christ's sacrifice is certainly implicit in the words of the institution: the blood of Christ is poured out "for many" the original Aramaic meaning of which is an all-inclusive multitude. In the Gospel of John Christ makes it very clear that the bread he gives is his "flesh for the life of the world" (Jn 6:51). Timothy 2:1-4 encourages public liturgical prayers for all since God wants the salvation of all human beings. Paul wants to be all to all men so that he may save some of them (1 Cor 9:22). He sums up his vocation as apostle in liturgical terms: he received God's grace to be the "liturgist (leitourgon) of Christ Jesus for the Gentiles in performing the sacred service of God, so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Rom 15:6). The implication is unambiguous if we look at it in the context of Pauline theology: Paul intends to bring to Christ all the Gentiles and unite them to the one perfect offering to Christ in the Holy Spirit. But it is not clear whether in the Pauline Eucharist there was explicit prayer for the salvation of the world. St. Thomas echoes St. Augustine (and a long tradition) when he declares the principle underlying the Eucharistic practice of the Western Church, which prays only for her members:

As Christ's Passion benefits all insofar as it is sufficient for the forgiveness of sins and the attaining of grace and glory, though it produces no effect save in those who are united to his Passion through faith and charity, so likewise this sacrifice, which is a memorial of the Lord's Passion, has no effect save on those who are united to the sacrament through faith and charity. Accordingly Augustine writes, "Who may offer Christ's body except for those who are his members?" And so the Canon of the Mass makes no prayer for those who are outside the Church.32

On the basis of this text then the principle, which justifies the exclusion of prayer for the salvation of the world from the Roman Canon seems to be the mystical identity between the Eucharistic body and the ecclesial body of Christ. The body of Christ can benefit only its own members. Yet the same principle did not restrict the Roman Church's prayers outside the context of the Canon. For instance in her intercessions on Good Friday the Church continued praying for all the unbelievers throughout her history.

In the twentieth century, however, it became more and more evident that there are many different ways of belonging to the Church and even those outside her visible boundaries "whose faith is known to God alone" belong to her in a salvific way.33 Moreover, Catholics became more and more aware of their priestly role for the salvation of the whole world, their intercessory and expiatory responsibility for all human beings. This explains the subtle changes introduced into the new Eucharistic prayers, which were composed in the spirit of Vatican II. Largely traditional in their structure and wording, Eucharistic Prayers III and IV nonetheless explicitly refer to the universal dimension of the Eucharistic sacrifice: "Lord, may this sacrifice, which has made our peace with you, advance the peace and salvation of all the world" (3rd Eucharistic Prayer). In the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer we offer to the Father Christ's body and blood, "the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world."

Yet the traditional principle is preserved. We offer the Eucharist only for those living and dead who in some way belong to the Church because of the more or less implicit faith known to God alone: "they seek you with a sincere heart" (4th) and therefore they are God's children "wherever they may be" (3rd).

c) Holy Communion

Before Vatican II the prevailing attitude after receiving holy communion was to foster "a personal conversation with the Lord" concentrating on our own individual petitions, praise, thanksgiving, and atonement even though our petitions and atonement often involved other people too. Nowadays the dominating practice is a communion hymn and procession which tends to manifest that by receiving holy communion we are built up into the one body of Christ, the Church. By the time we would be able to settle down to some individual conversation with Christ, the parish bulletin announcements drag us back to the mundane realities of daily life.

The nature of the Eucharistic celebration, however, as emphasized by the Council itself, calls for the integration of both aspects. We can be united to each other only to the extent that we are united to Christ himself; on the other hand, we cannot be united to Christ if we isolate ourselves from our brothers and sisters. Communion with Christ and with each other are inseparable. Yet, the source of our communion with one another is our communion with Christ. In every Eucharist according to St. Paul "we proclaim the death of the Lord" (1 Cor 11:26). This proclamation means not only reciting words but a real participation in his sacrificial death. Our sinful self that idolizes this world, that lives only for the desire of the flesh (unbridled sensuality), the desire of the eyes (greed for possessions) and the pride of life (considering ourselves the center of the universe: 1 Jn 2:16) must die more and more in every Eucharistic celebration so that we may share in the life of the risen Christ. This means a confident placing of our whole existence into the Father's hands with gratitude and love and a share in Christ's love for our fellow human beings so that in Christ we ourselves may become nourishing bread and gladdening wine for them.

Our assimilation to Christ is so real that according to Paul those who partake of the one (Eucharistic) bread become one body, the extension of the body-person of Christ into the world (1 Cor 10, 16-17). In other words, just as the personal body of Christ expresses his divine life and communicates his divine love to us, so must our bodies share in the same task. In our bodily, social reality we are to become the manifestation of the bodily reality of Christ in this world. Then we will make the joys and sorrows of each member our own and contribute our part to the good of the whole body, cooperating and coordinating our personal services for the progress of all humankind.

This twofold aspect of Holy Communion then should also manifest itself in the Eucharistic celebration: common singing, prayerful silence, expressing unity with one another and opening up to Christ in personal prayer should go hand in hand, the one aspect must not suppress the other. Only if we allow Christ to transform us, will we discover and love him in our brothers and sisters. And conversely, the life of Christ cannot grow in us unless we also accept him in our fellow human beings.

Interestingly, the more a parish tries to cater to the changing taste of its parishioners by trying to create a liturgical celebration which is always novel and exciting, the more people will complain that they are thoroughly bored and that "they do not get anything out of the mass." Such attitudes reveal the intrusion of a consumerist mentality into both the shapers and the participants of our liturgical celebrations. We come in order to get some tangible results, which prove that spending our time in church was not a waste. If this attitude prevails in a community, a radical re-orientation is needed. We come to give rather than to get something. Yet the Gospel paradox reveals its truth here with a particular force. "Whoever loses his life for my sake will gain it." If we desire to be assimilated to Christ who has become a gift in the totality of his existence, a gift of praise to God and atonement and nourishment for others, he will most certainly accomplish this miracle in us; gradually, almost imperceptibly, but in reality and truth. We will experience that the Eucharist is indeed an inexhaustible source of repentance, renewal, trust, love and perseverance.

As we already alluded to it, the Eucharist being the Body and Blood of Christ, has also an effect on our bodies. In the Gospel of John Christ announces "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day" (Jn 6:54). That the Eucharist assures the immortality of our flesh is emphasized by Irenaeus and remains part of the two thousand-year-old tradition of the Church. This is to be taken not in the simplistic sense that the flesh of those who partake of the Eucharist would not decay. All the Fathers knew that this cannot be true. However, the Eucharist, received in faith into our bodies, nourishes and transforms the soul. Our new risen bodies will have a real continuity with our earthly bodies not because of the identity of the material particles (all our material particles are exchanged within a span of seven years in our earthly life) but because of the identity of our soul which will transform the risen body according to its own likeness. In other words, the Eucharist transforms our souls through our bodies, while our transformed souls will assimilate into their own likeness our resurrected bodies.

It is an almost universally forgotten truth that the bodily effect of the Eucharist is perceptible already in this life. In every mass the priest prays before communion that his receiving of the body and blood of the Lord may heal both his soul and body. While clinical healings by the Holy Eucharist have always occurred in the history of the Church, the ordinary bodily effect is different from clinical healing but even more astoundingly real. It does promote the healing of the body in the sense that its passions and urges no longer prevent us from living the life of Christ; in fact as it becomes perceptible in the saints, all our actions and words, even our body language begin to radiate that love which comes from Christ and expresses Christ. The pure flesh of Christ is "contagious": it will transmit some of its purity to our flesh. His blood is like choice wine; it will communicate to us that "sober ebriety" of the Spirit, which knows no limit in loving and serving.

7. Eucharist And Eschatology

As the second millennium is rapidly coming to a close, an end-of-the-world hysteria is spreading among the old and new sects. Ignoring this mood, an influential segment of Catholic theologians is preoccupied with formulating blueprints for building a just society in this world while the eschatological end is almost forgotten. In fact some of them try to devise the masterplan for a just society with such ultimate concentration as if God's kingdom could be built up by (grace-filled) human efforts. The majority of even practicing Catholics in the first world try "to live a good life" here on earth; for them belief in eternal life seems to be just a "last straw" to hang onto for consolation after all efforts for prolonging a fruitful life on earth proved useless. Eternal life, heaven and hell appear much less real for the average first world Catholic than life in this world; we tend to imagine life after death as a tenuous, ghostly existence, similar to the shadowy world of pagan myths. All these beliefs and attitudes are challenged by the reality of the Eucharistic celebration.

The Kingdom of heaven according to Jesus is not the result of our human efforts (even if these efforts are helped by God's grace) but the gracious gift of the Father, an extension of his already existing heavenly kingdom into our hearts and into human history: "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Our world is to be integrated into this heavenly realm where countless hosts of angels bask in the splendor of God's glory and praise him night and day. For Jesus, this heavenly realm is not a shadowy world but the central reality for the coming of which he is ready to die. The most important metaphor to explain the nature of the Kingdom is that of the wedding banquet. Jesus' parables, his meals with the disciples, his multiplication of the loaves are all educational tools and signs to prepare us for the eschatological banquet. It is in the Last Supper that all his teachings about the Kingdom become reality. The kingdom is communion with him and with each other, established in his free gift of the self through his impending violent death. The awareness of his imminent betrayal and death cannot shake Jesus' serene conviction that the intimate fellowship of this last Passover Meal will continue and be fulfilled in the Kingdom of his Father: "I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father" (Mt 26:29; cf. Mk 14:25; Lk 22:18; 18). The Last Supper then was both a prediction and anticipation of the final banquet of the Kingdom (Cf. Lk 22:30).

Through his death and Resurrection Jesus himself enters fully into his Father's Kingdom. He himself is now perfected; he sits at the right hand of God as the glorious Son of Man who shares in God's absolute power and dominion. He becomes Lord in the same sense as Yahweh has been worshipped as Lord in the Old Testament. The divine lordship of Jesus is still veiled and known only to the believing disciples. The encounters with the risen Lord who repeated the gestures of the Last Supper in taking bread, breaking it and giving it to them (Lk 24:30-31 cf. also Jn 21:12-13) made the disciples understand that the risen Lord becomes present at all Eucharistic gatherings. Thus, the intimacy of the Last Supper continues in the new and eternal banquet of the Kingdom, which they actually share in the Lord's Supper. Hence the Palestinian Church's ancient Eucharistic acclamation that Paul has preserved for us in its original Aramaic form: Marana tha: "O Lord, come!" (1 Cor 16:22)34. The belief in his real but veiled presence at the Eucharist only intensified the desire for his manifest, glorious presence at the end of times.

Thus, to the extent that we truly participate in faith in the Eucharistic celebration, we do enter into the Kingdom of the Father and share in the Eschaton that is primarily not a state of affairs but the glorified Lord himself.

Since the Church discovered in the Eucharist the fulfillment of Israel's eschatological hope (a hope that embodied the hopes of all humankind) in her anaphoras she has preserved all the essential elements of the Jewish prayers of blessing, praise and thanksgiving while pointing out the unexpected fulfillment of Israel's expectations. God gave infinitely more than Israel had hoped for but in a way very different from what Israel had expected.

Instead of analyzing all the relevant texts, we need to be satisfied with a few samples. For instance, the Sanctus of the Roman Mass (preserved also in many Eastern liturgies) is a combination of Is 6:3 and Ps 118:26. Ps 118 is part of the Hallel psalms sung after the Passover meal which expresses the Messianic hope of Israel; the people expected the Messiah to appear at Passover: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." The first part of the Sanctus: "Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory" brings into the liturgy the Seraphim's song who were worshipping Yahweh in the Temple vision of Isaiah (Is 6:3). This combination shows that in the Eucharist the Messiah who comes to save Israel is Yahweh himself in the company of all his angels. Israel never dared to hope that his Messiah would be God himself.

The earthly Jerusalem has been destroyed and on the site of the Jewish Temple the Muslim Dome of the Rock rises to the sky, but the heavenly Jerusalem has come down from heaven, beautifully adorned as a bride ready for the wedding feast of the Lamb, the crucified and risen Christ (Rev 21:1-22:5).

We are not merely aware of the worship of the angels as Isaiah was, but in the Eucharistic celebration we join our voices with theirs and become sharers in the heavenly liturgy of myriads of angels and saints in heaven.

To the extent that we enter into the heavenly liturgy of our glorified Lord, we begin to see the universe in a new light. We anticipate the vision of the end times when the glory of the Lord will radiate through all of God's creation. In the Eucharist material creation transformed by human work reaches its ultimate goal, a goal that infinitely transcends the potential of matter and yet fulfills rather than destroys it: a part of nature which through the civilizing work of humankind had become bread and wine is transformed by the Holy Spirit into the "bread of life" and into "the cup of eternal salvation." Nature in the Eucharist fulfills in an incomparable way its eschatological vocation: it becomes food and drink for eternal life by communicating Christ to us.35 The Eucharist then foreshadows in a unique way the role which to some extent all of the cosmos will fulfill at the end of times: We will see and love God in and through Christ directly but also insofar as its glory shines through all nature. Thus, to some extent, all of nature will be our "eschatological food" in the heavenly kingdom.

Faith in the Eucharist then transcends our anxieties about the ultimate fate of the cosmos, which the scientist can perceive only as a temporary habitat and future threat for humankind. From the viewpoint of natural science human life is a short episode in the history of the cosmos. Over against this true — but limited — perspective, the Eucharist proclaims and anticipates the role of the new, eschatological cosmos: instead of destroying us, it will forever nourish us with God's glory and life.

The Eucharist also reveals the value and the limits of human progress. Without the work of human hands there would be no material for the Eucharist. Analogously, our work of civilization is a necessary condition for the final arrival of the Kingdom. Nevertheless, the preparation of the gifts of bread and wine is not yet the Eucharist. We need fire from heaven, the fire of the Holy Spirit, to transform the material gifts into the Body and Blood of the risen Christ. Similarly, human civilization and progress by itself, even aided by grace, cannot bring about the Kingdom; only the fire of the Holy Spirit, a new divine creative act can. Thus, our longing and prayer for the new heaven and earth in which justice dwells should permeate the whole Christian existence that is nourished and shaped by the Eucharist.36

Up to the present hour the majority of Israel has failed to recognize the eschatological fulfillment of God's promises in Christ. "How can the Kingdom of God be here, even in a hidden way," asks the believing Jew, "when there is war, violence and hatred? Is not the most important feature of the Messiah that 'he will be peace' (Mi 5:4; cf. Is 9:5-6; 11:1-9)? Where is that peace? You Christians yourselves have been engaged in war ever since the birth of Christianity and we became a privileged target of your violence. How can you make us believe that Jesus of Nazareth inaugurated the Kingdom of God?"

Christians indeed distorted the notion of the Kingdom into a theocracy, waging wars, persecuting other religions or at least discriminating against their adherents. The imperial paraphernalia of a long period in papal history and even the Eucharistic celebrations and processions at times gave the impression that our God reigns like an earthly monarch, with pomp and circumstance, by force and violence.

The only way both Jews and Christians can understand the hidden but real presence of God's Kingdom centered on the Eucharist is to re-read again and again the words of the institution in the light of the Suffering Servant prophecies. Jesus became king and lord of the universe not through a definitive triumph in war, but through voluntary suffering on the Cross. "Regnavit a ligno Deus: God has ruled from the tree (of the Cross)." This ancient Good Friday hymn uncovers the roots of Jewish disbelief and Christian distortion. Both Jews and Christians have a hard time accepting that our God reigns from the Cross. The glorified Christ retains forever the wounds of his Passion and remains the Lamb who was slain; his reign is present in the world under the sign of the Cross. Everyone who wants to follow him must take up his cross daily and return good for evil, love for hatred; he must pray for his persecutors rather than try to exterminate them. This is the source of peace for the community of believers who share the first fruits of God's Spirit whom Jesus handed over to the world with his last breath on the Cross (Jn 19:30; cf. also Jn 20:19-23). To the extent that we embrace his Cross and share in his suffering, we will also share in the power flowing from his Resurrection. We anticipate Christ's eschatological triumph only by accepting the Cross with love and serving our fellow humans in imitating the humility of the Servant. Where this happens and to the extent that this happens, there is indeed peace, a peace that no humiliation or torture, not even death can take away from us. This peace is the hallmark of those who receive the Eucharist with the readiness to share in the destiny of their crucified Lord.

8. The Adoration Of The Eucharist Outside Of The Mass

As is well known from the history of the liturgy, in the first centuries the only reason to set apart and preserve the consecrated hosts was to provide communion for the sick and dying. It is only in the Middle Ages that the worship of the Eucharist outside the celebration of the Mass developed in the Western Church. The tabernacle was placed in the center of the sanctuary light burning before it day and night, and all were invited to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. At the same time solemn expositions of the Blessed Sacrament became more and more frequent, the feast of Corpus Christi was established and solemn processions with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of the city began. In the baroque age worship before the exposed Blessed Sacrament and benediction with it began to be perceived as so important in popular piety as to overshadow even the Eucharistic celebration itself. Up to the first half of the twentieth century "visiting the Blessed Sacrament" had been an essential feature of Catholic spirituality. Religious orders and associations of lay people were instituted for the primary purpose of assuring the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, worshipping the Eucharistic Lord as reparation in behalf of all those who neglect and offend him, offering atonement for sinners. Parishes introduced the custom of 40-hour devotion (40 hours of uninterrupted prayer before the Blessed Sacrament). Saints like Julian Eymard arose whose vocation was to explain the importance of Eucharistic devotion with a particular emphasis on the adoration of the Eucharistic Lord in the tabernacle. He is there as a "prisoner of the tabernacle" in his risen state yet in a condition of an even greater voluntary humiliation than in his earthly life. He is not present as a person with civil rights but appears as a mere object, hidden and insignificant.

The liturgical renewal in the twentieth century rightly emphasized the central importance of the Eucharistic sacrifice over against the exaggerated emphasis on benedictions and other Eucharistic devotions outside of the Mass. The conciliar document on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, does not mention the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass. However, both the encyclical Mysterium Fidei of Paul VI and the Instruction of the Congregation of Rites insist on its importance while explaining that worshipping the Eucharist outside of Mass has as "its origin and goal" the Eucharistic celebration of the Mass.37 In spite of assiduous reminders by the Magisterium, the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament became neglected in many parishes; the tabernacle was often removed to such an inconspicuous place as to de-emphasize the importance of continuous adoration. This neglect had consequences on the Eucharistic celebration itself. Gradually, but often quite perceptibly, the emphasis shifted from the celebration of the Eucharist to the self-celebration of the community as merely occasioned by the Eucharist. The real presence of Christ was not so much denied as left unmentioned both in homilies and in religious instructions. This seems to be one of the reasons why such a large number of younger Catholics does not believe in or rather has no firm knowledge about the real presence of Christ under the sign of bread and wine.

If we try to see the meaning and the value of the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside the Mass, we need to start from the fact that its origin and goal is the Eucharistic celebration itself. The Eucharistic Lord remains in the same state as he is during the Eucharistic celebration, the state of self-surrender to the Father and that of nourishing food for us, as long as the empirical signs of bread and wine remain. This state he acquired through his crucifixion and eternalized through his glorious Resurrection. He wants to remain with us in this form all the time up to the consummation of history rather than just intermittently, during the short intervals of Eucharistic celebrations.38

One may object here that the risen Christ is permanently present in those whom he nourishes in the Eucharistic celebration; in fact, he is omnipresent since he is God. But according to all the biblical evidence the risen Christ remains a true human being and therefore he cannot be ubiquitously present in his humanity.39 He is indeed present in all those who believe in him and love him, but only to the extent that they allow him to be present through their love and faith. Moreover, as explained above, no Christian will ever be substantially, totally Jesus Christ. It is only in the form of food (and drink, even though it is less convenient to preserve the consecrated wine) that he is permanently, totally, substantially present in his own crucified and risen humanity.40

The Eucharistic presence of Christ fulfills and surpasses the perennial desire of humankind for a sacred place in this universe, a point of permanent contact with the Sacred. The Eucharist is that concentrated divine presence which makes God's extended presence perceptible in all creation. The Eucharistic presence fulfills and surpasses the desire of Israel to have the kabod Yahweh, God's glory, dwell in their midst. God's glory can no longer leave his eschatological Temple nor can he allow his Temple to be destroyed since he forever dwells in Jesus, the new Israel.

Of course, Jesus is not the "prisoner of the tabernacle": his being present there does not in any way impede him to be present in other places and to work in human hearts. His becoming present in the form of bread and wine changes the bread and wine, not him. To say that in addition to the tabernacle Jesus dwells also in heaven is misleading since it implies that heaven is another place analogous to the space of the tabernacle. Heaven is God's transcendent realm that penetrates our world and is present in the most intense way where the risen Christ is present in his humanity, inseparably from the Father and the Holy Spirit and from his heavenly court of angels and saints. Thus, we should rather say that the tabernacle is heaven itself present among us. It is the mysterious ladder Jacob saw in his dream, a ladder that joins together heaven and earth. This ladder, however, is no material object but represents the person of the risen Christ who draws all to himself (Jn 1:51; 12:32).

While Jesus is not restricted by his Eucharistic presence, he freely chose the signs of bread and wine as the form of his permanent presence among us. The incarnate Son does not become bread and wine in the same way that the eternal Son has become man. Bread and wine are not assumed by the Son as his human nature is, "without change and fusion." We cannot speak here about "impanation" as we speak about incarnation. The bread and wine are indeed transformed into the body and blood of the risen Christ, yet they retain their sign value: their empirical characteristics of bread and wine point to Christ as our spiritual food and drink. Jesus spoke the truth when he said, "I am the bread that has come down from heaven." His return to the Father, his transcendent form of glorified existence at the Father's right hand, enables him to adopt a new form of immanence among us. His exaltation results in a new descent, more lowly and more humble even than the Incarnation itself: the risen Lord is present among us not in the visible form of a human being but as ordinary food. Ironically enough, some Catholic theologians insist that since Christ is present as food in the Eucharist, he should not be worshipped but eaten. Precisely because he has become as low and insignificant for our sake as ordinary food and drink that he deserves our worship in gratitude.

This tension between Christ's humble form of appearance and his glorious existence in heaven determines our relationship to him in the Eucharist. Being present before him in the Holy Eucharist, we are in the presence of heaven itself: the joy of the risen Christ reduces the sense of our own personal tragedies and sufferings to size, making us foretaste the ultimate triumph of love. As the great worshipper of the Eucharistic Christ in the deserts of Africa, Charles de Foucauld, said: "How can I be sad when my beloved is already in the joy of his Father?" On the other hand, his humble form of presence reassures us of his ability and willingness to make our sufferings his own in a way that surpasses all understanding. From St. Paul who wanted to fill up in his own body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, through Origen and Gregory of Nazianzus through Pascal up to our age, the Christian mystic has always been aware that the fullness of joy in the risen Christ coexists with his agony in his members up to the end of the world. This means that the risen Christ extends himself into the very being of the worshipper, suffers and prays through him, with him and in him. In this way he turns our sufferings into a well-pleasing sacrifice to his Father. Thus a mysterious exchange takes place between the worshipper and Christ. Christ makes his own our sufferings and gives us a share in his joy. We need time, time spent in adoration before the Eucharist in order to become more aware of the incredible mystery of this exchange. In such communing with Christ by desire the worshipper will have a much greater understanding and desire for what takes place in sacramental communion. Thus Eucharistic adoration prepares us for a more fruitful share in the Eucharistic celebration.

9. "Go In Peace To Love And Serve The Lord": The Eucharist And Christian Morality

From the first writings of the New Testament on, Christian morality and Eucharistic celebration were seen as intrinsically connected. Since there are factions and divisions in the Corinthian community and a lack of sharing between the rich and the poor, Paul passes a heavy judgment on them: "When you gather in one place, it is not the eating of the Lord's Supper" (1 Cor 11:20). He is not saying that they do not validly celebrate the Eucharist, but that their way of celebrating destroys its very meaning.

In the (somewhat idealized) narratives of the Acts, however, the center of the joyful community life of the first Christians was their Eucharistic breaking of bread and the common meals connected with the Eucharist, meals taken in joy and sincerity of heart (cf. Acts 2:42; 46). The Eucharist is the source of their brotherly love and praise of God.

Christian morality tended toward legalism (a mere summary of prohibitions and minimalistic prescriptions) or toward an unjustifiable adaptation to the morality of a given culture whenever Christian living was separated from its source and model in the Eucharist.

The new Catechism of the Catholic Church has again restored the organic link between Christian sacraments (in particular, the Holy Eucharist) and Christian morality by treating morality after the sacraments.

Christian living is indeed the extension into daily life of what happens in the Eucharistic celebration. If we allow ourselves to become truly "one body and one spirit in Christ," we will see the concrete tasks of the two great commandments, love of God and love of neighbor in a new light. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we offer to the Father our own bodies, that is, ourselves as expressed in our bodily actions through, with, and in the Body of Christ. This taking up of ourselves into Christ's sacrificed humanity is our "living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God" (Cf Rom 12:2; cf. 1 Pet 2:5). Just as in the sacrifice of Christ, worship of God and service of man are inseparably united in the Eucharist. How can we refuse to share our material goods with those who are in need when Christ shared his own body with us? Overcoming social and racial divisions, practicing social justice and working for a more just society are only a necessary beginning without which we become guilty of the body and blood of the Lord just as the Corinthians did at the time of Paul (1 Cor 11:27).

The fact that Christ has made his sacrifice present for us in the form of food and drink points beyond the requirements of social justice. It means that not only St. Ignatius of Antioch, but all of us, should become "pure bread of Christ" (Rom IV, 1). Most Christians are not called to literal martyrdom, yet all of us are called to become nourishing "food" for each other. Rather than poisoning each other's lives by exploitive and possessive relationships, we should engage our whole existence in affirming and serving each other. This becomes possible only to the extent that we mediate Christ's love for them.

The more we live from the Eucharist, the more this way of living becomes a light burden. It is true that "we carry about in our bodies the dying of Christ" but to that extent also the power of his risen life becomes manifest in our bodies (2 Cor 4:10-11).


1. "Come With Me" in The Simone Weil Reader, ed. by G.A. Panichas (New York: McKay Company, 1977), 410.

2. The Eucharist. Sacrament of the Kingdom (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1988), 13.

3. Eventually I hope to produce a book on the Eucharist of which this article will be the first chapter. The historical foundations in the Old and New Testaments, the analogies and contrasts with rituals in other religions, the historical developments of Eucharistic theology in the East and the West, the doctrines on the Protestant churches and the contemporary issues regarding the Eucharist will come after a revised form of the present article. Instead of trying to discover the tree in the seed and the budding plant, I will rather first present the tree and look at the process of its growth in retrospect.

4. According to Matthew and Mark, Jesus celebrated the Passover Meal "with the Twelve" (Mt 26:20; Mk 14:17), according to Lk with "the apostles" (22:14). For Luke, however, the apostles were a technical term reserved for the Twelve (6:13). Even though John speaks about the disciples of Jesus, rather than explicitly about the Twelve or the apostles, he applies this term consistently and exclusively to the Twelve after the crisis which followed the Eucharistic discourse (6:66-71). That Jesus celebrates the Passover Meal with the Twelve is theologically important for the Synoptics; see in more detail G. Lohfink, Jesus and the Community (New York: Paulist, 1984). This Passover will serve as the Covenant Meal to seal the eschatological Covenant in the very blood of Jesus with the "patriarchs" of eschatological Israel; the Twelve are now the leaders of a "little flock," a faithful remnant, (Lk 12:32) yet seed for an innumerable multitude: "many (a multitude unlimited in number) will come from the east and the west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 8:11). The remnant of faithful Israel represented in the Twelve are to become the center of salvation for the whole world.

5. See more on this topic in the excellent article by A. de Bovis, "Le presbyterat, sa nature et sa mission d'apres Vatican II" Nouv. Rev. Theol. 89 (1967): 1009-42. The self-effacing transparency of the ministerial priesthood towards Christ as the necessary form of acting "in persona Christi" seems to have been missed by D. M. Ferrara in his thought-provoking address: "In Persona Christi: Representation of Christ or Servant of Christ's Presence?" CTSA Proceedings 50 (1995): 138-45.

6. On the variety of positions regarding the much debated subject of the presence of Christ's historical mysteries in the liturgy, (from O. Casel through G. Sohngen to B. McNamara) see E. J. Kilmartin, "The Christian Tradition of Eucharistic Theology: Towards the Third Millennium" TS 55 (1994): 405-57.

7. The initial greeting of the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom refers to the same reality in terms of the Kingdom: "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages" (The Divine Liturgy of Our Father among the Saints John Chrysostom, (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995), 4 (bilingual text). In the Oriental liturgies there is much more emphasis than in the West on the Kingdom's unique presence among us through the divine liturgy.

8. The metaphor of "entering" the time of the risen Christ means not only becoming aware in faith of his time but also, as a consequence of our participation in his existence, a certain share in his time.

9. Of course, the eternal Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, possesses all at once the fullness of divinity. But perhaps we may speak about an eternal future of the man Jesus, insofar as the eternal Son in his finite human nature grows into God's fullness through all eternity.

10. If even in the material universe every single act of causation has "ripple effects" throughout the universe, if in the realm of human history every human act in some sense influences the whole of humanity, how much more effective is the saving event of Christ that, through the release of the Holy Spirit has the power to transform every human existence.

11. The above statement that Christ's saving death becomes present to us insofar as it acts upon us presupposes a certain philosophical theory of time. One being becomes temporally present to another by acting upon it. Two beings become contemporaneous to one another to the extent of mutually acting upon one another. In the case of the Eucharist, of course, we cannot speak about strict contemporaneity: what Christ did and suffered acts upon us here and now; therefore, his acta et passa are present to us. But we do not act on the earthly Christ; rather, our worship of self-giving reaches the risen Christ as he exists in God's eternity. Thus liturgical time is tripolar: according to the measure of our participation in Christ's death to sin, we share the time of the risen Christ in our present moment here on earth. (Without shifting responsibility to them for this theory, I must acknowledge my debt for the fundamental insight of these reflections to my confreres, D. Farkasfalvy and D. Balas.)

12. St. Thomas describes how the acta et passa Christi are both efficient and formal causes of our transformation through the sacraments per spiritualem contractum (S.Th. III, 48, 6). If we take into account the tradition of the Eastern churches the term spiritualis should refer to the personal activity of the Holy Spirit in whose power the historical mysteries of the incarnate Son transcend time and operate throughout the course of human history.

13. There is, of course, another way to handle unfulfilled desire, the modern atheist looking forward to final nothingness after death and the Theravada Buddhist attempting to extinguish all desires; however, the price to pay in either case is to deny the existence of one's permanent personal self.

14. Of course, communion in body and soul cannot be restricted to marital relations. Every deep personal relationship whether between parent and child or friend and friend, involves — in many different ways — the whole human being, both body and soul.

15. 1st Apology, 67, 5.

16. Against Heresies IV, 18, 1-5.

17. There is, of course, a legitimate Christological interpretation to the sacrificial texts which surrounded the offertory of the Tridentine Mass and to the sacrificial texts which the present day Eastern rites apply to the Eucharistic bread and wine before consecration: they anticipate the reality of the sacrifice of Christ which will become present only through the consecration.

18. The word "transubstantiation" in our culture suggests the exact opposite of its traditional theological meaning. It seems to say that a tangible, observable material object (= substance) changes into another empirically observable reality. The term, however, was invented to stress a very different philosophical-theological meaning: while all the empirically observable properties of bread and wine remain the same, their ultimate (non-observable) reality changes.

19. The Church has never considered herself free to substitute the popular food and drink of other cultures for bread and wine (for instance, rice and tea in Asia). This is not a narrow "Eurocentrist" attitude (the origin of the Eucharistic elements comes from the Jewish culture of the Middle East rather than Europe), but respect for the Incarnation. God has become a Jew in a Jewish-Hellenistic culture. Therefore just as the Jewish and Greek Bible will always remain normative and irreplaceable, so will the ordinary food and festive drink of this culture remain the starting point of the Eucharist in all cultures.

20. See its first formulation in Justin, 1st Apology, 66, 2.

21. For more details and bibliography see L. Deiss, Springtime of the Liturgy, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1979), 6-7; W. Rordorf, "The Didache" The Eucharist of the Early Christians (New York: Pueblo Publishing, 1978), 6-17. The most thorough investigation into the origins of Christian Eucharistic prayers is C. Giraudo, La struttura letteraria della preghiera eucaristica. Saggio sulla genesi letteraria di una forma. Toda veterotestamentaria, beraka giudaica, anafora cristiana, Analecta biblica 92 (Rome: Gregorian Univ., 1981). Giraudo traces the development from the Old Testament sacrifice of praise (emphasizing more and more prayers of praise over against object sacrifices) through the Jewish prayers of blessings to the Christian anaphora.

22. The Divine Liturgy, 22.

23. In many Eastern anaphoras the epiclesis for the sanctification of the gifts comes after the words of institution and is combined with the epiclesis for the sanctification of the participants. This arrangement obscures the above-explained theological meaning but does not contradict it.

24. See Robert Sokolowski, Eucharistic Presence. A Study in the Theology of Disclosure (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1994), 91-92.

25. In the Eastern anaphoras the offering of the (spiritual) sacrifice is often anticipated before the institution narrative and epiclesis and repeated afterwards.

26. Cf., for instance, the anaphora of St. Basil, no. VI: C. Vagaggini, The Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform (Staten Island: Alba House, 1967), 54.

27. 3rd Eucharistic Prayer of the Western Church.

28. The English translation of the Roman Canon does not fully render the riches of the Latin text "(we offer you) this pure, holy and immaculate sacrifice."

29. Cf. P. J. Eymard, The Real Presence(New York: Eymard League, 1938).

30. I put "become" into quotation marks since Christ does not become bread and wine in the same sense as the Son has become man. The bread and wine do not preserve their autonomy as the Son's human nature does nor do they become "accidents," or characteristics of his human nature. In other words, Christ becomes bread and wine only in the sense that the ultimate reality of bread and wine become Christ.

31. It is totally absent from the Roman Canon but the anaphora of Theodore of Mopsuestia prays "for the whole human race who are in sin and error" and that of St. Mark for all in various forms of distress: "Free the prisoners, come to the aid of those in need, nourish those who are hungry . . . lead all in the way of salvation and gather them all into your sheepfold" (C. Vagaggini, The Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform [New York: Alba House, 1967], 65, 72). Cf. Y. M. J. Congar, Jalons pour une theologie du laicat (Paris: Cerf, 1953), 258.

32. S.Th. III 79, 7, ad 2.

33. See the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 13-16.

34. If the words are divided differently: Maran atha it means, "Our Lord has come."

35. This view of creation reaching its transcendent perfection in the Eucharist has already been articulated in Irenaeus (Against Heresies, IV, 18, 5) and has become part of Eastern Eucharistic Theology. See, E. J. Kilmartin, "The Catholic Tradition of Eucharistic Theology," 432-33.

36. To my knowledge, the analogy between the relationship of the offering of bread and wine to the Eucharistic Body and Blood Christ and the relationship of human progress to the final shape of the kingdom was first expressed, in powerful poetic language, by Teilhard de Chardin: Hymne de l'Univers (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1961), 29. It was later formulated in more sober theological terms by Gaudium et Spes of Vatican II, no. 38, and further elaborated by John Paul II in his encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, no. 48.

37. Instructio de cultu mysterii eucharistici (1967), 3e.

38. Urban IV, who in 1264 extended the feast of Corpus Christi to the whole church, explained this truth extensively in his Bull Transiturus, quoted by J. T. O'Connor, The Hidden Manna (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 193.

39. This issue was clarified in Catholic theology at the time of the Catholic-Lutheran controversy about Christ's omnipresence. Luther could affirm it because of his somewhat monophysitic Christology according to which the humanity of the risen Christ takes on the attributes of divinity.

40. Cf. Myst. Euch. no. 9.

© 1996 Communio: International Catholic Review

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