Winter 2012

The Eucharist as the Form of Christian Life

Nicholas J. Healy Jr.

Christ’s Resurrection is the final word that confirms the essential unity between the words of institution and the death on the Cross: “The death would remain empty of meaning, and would also render the words meaningless, if the Resurrection had not come about, whereby it is made clear that these words were spoken with divine authority, that this love is indeed strong enough to reach out beyond death.” In the Resurrection, the body of Christ that has been given up for us and given to the Church is definitively included within the exchange of love between Father, Son, and Spirit. The Resurrection seals the whole event of the Paschal Mystery as a communication of divine love and a promise of eternal blessedness for those who partake of Christ’s life.

We can summarize Ratzinger’s teaching as follows: it is precisely the institution of the Eucharist before the Passion that allows us to understand in faith that Jesus’ suffering and his violent death are, at the deepest level, a loving self-surrender or gift of self. As the Gospel of John says, “he loves us to the end” (13:1). At the same time, his death on the Cross reveals that what we receive in the sacrament of the Eucharist is nothing less than the very Person of Jesus Christ. The fruit of this giving and receiving is a communion or covenant with God. God’s incarnate love is “strong enough to reach out beyond death.” Christ’s flesh and blood contain and mediate a personal communication or gift of self.

Here we have an initial key to understanding why the Church has always affirmed the “real” or “substantial” presence of Christ in the sacrament: the gift communicated is nothing less than Christ himself.

The next point to consider can be framed as a question: What is included in this gift? The answer, of course, is everything. To give one’s self is precisely to give the totality of one’s life. The language of transubstantiation signifies that Christ’s being or substance, and thus the entirety of his life, is present in this sacrament and communicated to the faithful. The presupposition undergirding the Church’s confession that Christ is “wholly and entirely present” in the sacrament is that Christ’s entire historical life was, in some sense, already eucharistic. It would make no sense to say that the totality of his life is communicated in the Eucharist if the form of his daily life were unrelated to the bestowal of this gift.

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