1All references to CCC are specific to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1984“Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape
and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
“Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed.
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do:
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true”2CCC 1381 & St. Thomas Aquinas (attr.), 1913, Adoro te devote; tr. Gerald Manley Hopkins translation.
Of all things sacred in the Old Catholic Church, the sacraments are perhaps the single most important thing on the Catholic journey of faith with the Eucharist as the ultimate expression of forgiveness and love of our God and our Christ. But why? Why is the Eucharist the greatest of the sacraments? As stated in the Roman Catholic Because “‘…in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself…’” 135 (CCC 1324). We remember, though the celebration of the last supper (Eucharist) the actions of our Lord as he welcomes his coming sacrifice on the altar to save us from eternal death. He blesses bread and likens it to his body; he does likewise with the wine and his blood. In so doing, he provides us with a means to not only remember his sacrifice, but become a part of it through a living expression of his sanctifying grace.
The Eucharist is not the origin of that grace; God is, but through the expression of love of our Lord in the Eucharistic sacrifice we find peace and salvation. It is our chance to become one with the Father and the Son. If we let it, it is our transformation from a life of sin and destruction to peace and dedication to our Creator. In order for it to become such a thing, we must first take the idea of the Eucharist and make it deeply personal. It must become a part of our beings, wholly and completely. And that’s only the beginning.
The Eucharist is, for me and many others, the fullest expression of all that is sacred in belief, spirituality, and religiosity. It is the ultimate expression of love and a dedication to change through the transformation of a piece of bread into the real presence of our Christ, Jesus. It is an opportunity to become so much more than we ever thought possible. “‘The Eucharist… is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit’”3136 (CCC 1325)
It is a difficult path to follow; allowing ourselves to be transformed by something we barely understand, but it is what we need to move beyond our limited self-understanding. We get caught up in all life offers us, as well as what we create around us to secure our needs emotionally, spiritually, and physically. In so doing we forget our path is not our own, but that of the one who walked and lived the example long before us. We forget it is the Christ we follow and whose teaching we are to impart to those we encounter on the journey; not our own individualistic needs. But as we partake of the Eucharist and ourselves are transformed, we become teachers of a way of life imparted to us by our Creator through His son, Jesus, the Christ. But when we take that Eucharist into ourselves – where is that presence of the Christ?
“The Eucharist doesn’t look like Christ; thus, it tests not only our sight but also our faith: do we believe God’s word or our human senses?”4Catholic Information Service, Lay Dominican Novice Manual, 2012.
“Sight, taste, and touch in Thee are each deceived;
The ear alone most safely is believed:
I believe all the Son of God has spoken:
Than Truth’s own word there is no truer token.”5CCC 1381 & St. Thomas Aquinas (attr.), 1913, Adoro te devote; tr. Gerald Manley Hopkins translation.
I speak, of course, from experience. I, like others around me, sometimes have doubt in that expression of deepest love and forgiveness. I am the Thomas needing to place my hands in the wounds – something that causes me great spiritual distress. I should be willing to see and feel without hesitation, the love and forgiveness offered me in the Eucharist. I should be willing to see beyond the obvious into the depths of love and unconditional acceptance as he presents himself to us daily in the sacrifice on the altar. I pray that my moments of weakness may be forgiven through the same sacred meal I am humbled to bring others, so that I too may continue to walk forward into our roles as living examples of our Christ; they have been through our Lord’s self-sacrifice.
“My mind is full of awe and wonder for things I can never understand. My soul cannot separate from mysteries better left to those who understand such matters; I wander in anticipation of my beloved fool who returns in every celebration. Through the invisible pain, I celebrate it – the pain deepens and I am satisfied, until again my soul is filled with awe and wonder for things I can never understand.”6Fr. Mateo, Awe and Wonder, 2016
For me, the Eucharist is deeply transformative. I walked away from my calling as a priest in the Catholic Church under the Bishop of Rome not once, but twice – once as a young man in seminary high school, and then again when I was in seminary studying for the Diocese of Salt Lake City. I convinced myself I could not abide the abuses seen and unseen, and that I could not allow myself to participate fully in something when there was so much destruction wrought on innocent and poor alike. I walked away from all I held sacred thinking I would be forever lost from the presence of my God. So I hid my celebration as I tried desperately to come to terms with the world around me and the truest meaning of transformation – not in the host on the altar, but in my heart where it truly matters. I returned to my calling because of my love of the Eucharist; because of my love for my Lord.
As the ultimate expression of our faith, the Eucharist should be a strong motivator for a want of change towards a healthier expression of our faith; of the teachings of our God in human form walking a sacred path of love and compassion for all people regardless of their faults.
It is our opportunity to let go of our own ideals and judgments and give in to the full teachings of our Lord – to follow utterly and completely in his footsteps and to be guided by his continued living example. He didn’t just speak the words of love and joy, forgiveness and compassion – he LIVED them and showed us that we too can be like him.
Our Christ paid the ultimate price for our sins; for our forgiveness, but we continue to hold on to not only our own sins, but also that of those around us – and even of those we do not know. We do so by elevating ourselves and saying that we are doing it for a higher good – that we are being altruistic and rising above the din. The truth is that in the Eucharist all people are treated with the same love and opportunity for forgiveness and growth, and if I deny even one person from coming to the table of compassion and forgiveness, I may be the one person who has permanently turned them away from the transformative process our God invites us to share.
You see, for me there is even more of a deeper reason for my love of the Eucharist. Long ago I asked to be so totally transformed that I bear within me the reminders that my fellow beings are just as worthy of forgiveness and love as I am. I desired a permanent and lasting awareness of how I used to be one who would bash other and condemn those I thought unworthy of the presence of our Lord. I used to keep people away from the Eucharist because I thought their hearts were impure and their deeds disgusting and shallow.
One day one of those I turned away walked back into my life and forgave me for turning them away from God. They found someone else who would treat them with love and respect, compassion and understanding – and they received healing through the very Eucharist I prevented them from taking into themselves.
Soon after, another person entered my life who later threated me by stating he wanted to shove the Eucharist down my throat so that I would choke and die on the very thing I held dear. That day I changed. I turned away from my dismissive nature. I allowed myself to become fully immersed in the sacrifice of the altar and took into myself a lasting memory of why I became a priest – not to condemn, but to restore and heal. Not to call out as I have been recently doing, yet again, but to remind myself to withdraw into prayer and allow others to find healing through the saving grace of the Eucharist.
“The thorn in my side deepens with every breath and has become a knife; deftly wielded by an invisible hand, it prods me on to continue my journey”7Fr. Mateo, Awe and Wonder, 2016.
I took on a challenge that will hopefully continue to remind me I am first and foremost a person of forgiveness and love, not a person of name-calling and derision.
Sisters and Brothers, we come to the Eucharist ever Sunday, sometimes every day, with the hopes that we might receive the grace and love of our Lord Jesus, the Christ. We journey towards something we one day hope to attain ourselves – peace. In-so-doing we become vessels of love, compassion, and forgiveness; the very things our Lord commanded us to do in every aspect of our lives – not just the convenient aspects, but all; even the painful ones. The Eucharist is a process of transformation that we take with us when we leave the church and our faith community, as we come toe to toe with the world around us. By taking the Eucharist, our Lord Jesus, into ourselves, we BECOME the life and body of our Lord.
How are you portraying the example of our Christ through your reception of the Eucharist? How are you becoming a living example of Jesus, the Christ? Do you become a living example? Or do you instead justify yourself by convincing others of your altruistic intentions?
I would rather BE a living example than ACT like one. I would rather BE the Eucharist I celebrate day after day, week after week, lifetime after lifetime. Let us return to the core teachings offered to us in the Eucharist of love, compassion, understanding, forgiveness – and most important of all: the possible total transformation of our lives.
May almighty God bless+ us and give us the strength to continue the celebration of love and forgiveness through our most sacred institution of grace – the Eucharistic sacrifice and presence of our Lord.
The Rev. Father Kenneth Nelan is the pastor of the Sacred Wandering Pastoral Center in Milwaukee Wisconsin. He is also the celebrant of the Sunday Mass broadcast on Facebook.