The Institution of the Eucharist - by JOOS van Wassenhove - from Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino
|My Soul, if you wish to Penetrate the Depths of this Mystery, your Gaze must be Illumined by Love! You need to See
and Understand! Contemplate the Last Supper: see Jesus Who knows that He will soon be Separated-from the Body of His Humanity, and yet Wishing
to be United to us Forever; Contemplate the Love by which He Institutes this Sacrament which Permits Him to be Corporeally and Forever United to
Mankind. O Inextinguishable Love! O Love of Christ! O Love of the Human Race! What a True Furnace of Love! O Jesus, You already saw the Death
which awaited You; the Sorrows and Atrocious Tortures of the Passion were already Breaking Your Heart, and yet You Offered Yourself to Your
Executioners, and Permitted them, by means of this Sacrament, to Possess You Forever as an Eternal Gift, O You, Whose Delights are to be with
the Children of Men!
O my Soul, how can you Refrain from plunging yourself ever Deeper and Deeper into the Love of Christ, Who did not forget you in Life or in Death, but Who Willed to give Himself Wholly to you, and to Unite you to Himself Forever?
- St. Angela Foligno
The Eucharistic Meal
In our Previous Issue, we looked at the Eucharist as the Ritual Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, that He Instituted the Night before He Died. Our Aim in these Reflections is to Consider the Eucharist as the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, and the Wonderful Fruits enjoyed by those who Receive it Worthily. We will see some of the Fruits of Holy Communion, for those who Receive it with the Proper Dispositions, and what is needful in order to have those Dispositions.
1) It Nourishes and Causes Growth:
The Sacrament of Holy Eucharist was Instituted as 'Food' ... Spiritual Food. "My Flesh is Real Food, and My Blood is Real Drink" (John 6:55). That is why Jesus Instituted this Sacrament under the Signs of Bread and Wine.
As in Baptism, the Outward Sign (a Washing with Water) confers Grace that Cleanses the Soul, so in the Eucharist, the Outward Sign (Bread and Wine) confers Grace that Nourishes the Soul, thereby Fortifying and Causing Spiritual Growth. We see, then, the Meaning of the Expression that the Sacraments Effect what they Signify, namely, that Holy Communion, Rightly Received, does for the Soul, what Material Food does for the Bodily Life.
There is a Notable Difference in this, however; for the Food that we Eat is Assimilated by the Body, and Changed into our Own Substance, i.e. into Tissue, Muscle, Bone, etc. that make up the Body. Yet, when we Consume the Host in Holy Communion, the Lord we Receive is not Transformed into us, but rather, we are Transformed into Him. That is, through the Grace we Receive, we more Intimately Share in His Divine Life, making us more Christ-like, more Submissive-to His Will, more Open-to His Truth.
Consequently, when we Receive Holy Communion, this brings about not merely a Physical Union or Nearness between Ourselves and Jesus in the Sacred Host, which Nearness is only Temporary, lasting only as-long-as the Species of Bread and Wine lasts. It brings about a Deeper and Enduring Spiritual Union between the Soul and Jesus, through Divine Grace.
To use an Expression of Theology, this Sacrament produces Grace in the Soul "Ex Opere Operato", that is, by the very Sacrament itself, Independently of any Effort on Our Part; and it Produces Grace in the Measure that we do not place Obstacles in the Way. Our part in this is Removing the Obstacles, i.e. Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Sloth, etc., which are Sources of Attachments or Aversions that Close the Soul in on itself.
An Example might help to Understand this. When I Lift-up the Shade to allow the Sunlight to Come-in through the Window, I do not Cause the Light, the Sun does. I merely, Remove an Obstacle. Yet my Action is necessary to Increase Light in the Room.
In a similar way, in the Reception of Holy Communion, I do not cause the Increase of Grace, God does; yet my Action will have much to do with the Amount-of Grace Received. My Remote Preparation-for Holy Communion will include a Striving to Remove the Obstacles which Enslave the Heart, and keep it from Surrendering-to God. It is in this Sense, that the Sacraments give Grace "Ex Opera Operantis", i.e. according-to the Sincerity and Generosity of Heart in making the Sacrifices, and Applying the Discipline needed to bring about that Detachment.
Since in this Sacrament, we not merely Receive Grace, but Him Who is the very Source of all Grace, there is no-Limit to the Amount-of Grace that One (1) Holy Communion can bring, i.e. no-Limit on the Part of God. It is Ourselves, who Place the Limits by our Selfishness and Worldly Attachments, that keep the Heart from Opening-up and Surrendering-to the Divine Person we have Received.
This Truth can be Expressed-by another Example: If I walk to the edge of an Immense Lake, to Carry-away Water, the Amount-of Water I bring away, does not Depend-on the Lake, but on the Capacity-of the Container I have. So with each Communion, the amount of Grace we Receive doesnít Depend-on the Lord, Who wants to give His Gifts Infinitely (∞) more than we want to Receive them. It Depends-on the extent that we Strive to Lessen those Worldly Attachments, that Lessen the Capacity of the Soul to Receive Godís Gifts. Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalen, O.C.D., speaking of the Increase-of Grace and Charity in Receiving Holy Communion, states:
"This Increase will be in Proportion to my Capacity for Receiving it. If my Heart is Closed by Selfishness and Pride, if it is Bound by Attachments to Creatures, or too much Engrossed by Worldly Affections and Affairs, it will be Unable to make Room for an Increase of Divine Love, and Jesus will be, so to speak, Forced to Lessen the Outpourings of His Charity, and to Diminish His Gifts" (Divine Intimacy p.620).
Yet, as we saw in a Previous Issue (Vol. 42, n.2), "The Detachment of the Heart of Man from Created Goods, is Primarily the Work of Divine Grace . . . yet God Demands a Definite Cooperation on our part". So, if we Continually Strive to Remove these Attachments, Holy Communion (Regularly and Devoutly Received) will Invariably - though Gradually - bring an Increase of those Cleansing and Strengthening Graces, effecting a Closer Union with Christ . . . a Greater Sharing in that Divine Life of Love and Truth that He is.
2) It Restores Our Daily Losses:
Both in the Natural Order and in the Supernatural Order, there is Need to Repair and Replenish Body and Soul for the Losses and Setbacks of various kinds.
For example, in the Natural Order, the Human Body is in a Continual Process of Expending and Replenishing its Supply of Energy. After a Hard Day's Work, the Body experiences Fatigue, Lack of Pep, etc. Something has been Used-up, Burned-up (as Fuel in a Car). This has to be Restored, otherwise Strength and Efficiency is Lessened, Discomfort and Irritability often Increase, and Resistance is Lowered as regards certain Sicknesses.
What has been Used-up, has to be Restored by Food, by Proper Nourishment. The Body has a Wonderful Capacity of Assimilating Food, so that the Fuel Supply Burned-up by Labor and Activity, is now Replenished. After a Period of Rest, One is Ready to go Anew.
There is a Certain Parallel-to this in the Supernatural Order. There can be a Gradual Growth in Grace, in spite of the Little Losses each day, due to Human Frailty. For example, there can be Moments of Jealousy, Greed, Vanity, Impatience, Laziness, Unhealthy Curiosity, etc. Each of these can have a Detrimental Effect on Spiritual Growth, for each of them can come, under the Category of Venial Sin.
Because of Human Frailty and the Manifold Inclinations of Self-Love, along with the Fatigue and Pressures of Daily Life, and the Enticements of the World, it is almost Inevitable that, in spite of Oneís Spiritual Struggle, he will be Guilty of some of these Failings in his Daily Routine.
Yet, when in Holy Communion, One Receives with Fervent Love the Body and Blood of Christ, the Divine Victim, Immolated for the Remission of Sin, that 'Encounter' can Remit the Guilt of those Venial Sins, for which he has True Sorrow, and even the Punishment due for them - in the Measure-of the Fervor of Oneís Love at the Time of Communion. That is why the Council-of-Trent stated, referring to the Eucharist, "Its Salutary Strength is Applied to the Remission of the Sins that we Daily Commit" (n.747) (Cf.St.Thomaís,III,79, a.2 & 3)
This is not to say that Venial Sins need not be Confessed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, for added Sacramental Graces are given therein that are a further Aid in Overcoming those Weaknesses. Too, the more One Neglects Sacramental Confession (e.g. many Months), the more Insensitive he becomes to the little Failings of each Day, and therefore Less Concerned about them, the Less becomes the Fervor of Charity, and the Less Fruitful the Reception of Holy Communion.
As Father M. M. Philipon, O.P. states in his Work "The Sacraments in the Christian Life",
"Daily Communion is a most Excellent Antidote to the Spiritual Dissipation to which we may be exposed. In performing our Daily Round of Duties, there is always the Danger that God will be Shoved Aside and Cease to be the Focal Point in our Thoughts and Desires; but if we Begin our Day with a Fervent Communion, we shall be Ready to meet the Challenge ... Through Union with Christ, we can always Regain the Strength to Free ourselves from any-and-all Entanglements of Venial Sin, that may be Hampering our Spiritual Advance" (p.103).
This Sacrament does not, however, Remit Mortal Sin; nor should One in that State, ever Receive Holy Communion. You do not give Food to a Dead Person; and One in Mortal Sin is Spiritually Dead. The Reception of this Sacrament in such a State, not only does not Cleanse and Strengthen, but further Aggravates Oneís Guilt and Debt of Punishment before God.
3) It Diminishes Concupiscence:
The Eucharist is not only a Food that Nourishes and Strengthens, it is a Medicine that Cures and Heals the Wounds of our Fallen Nature. Since Holy Communion, Worthily and Regularly Received, brings an Increase of Grace and Charity, it not only Remits Venial Sin, as we saw; it is also a Safeguard against Falling into Mortal Sin, for it Lessens the Drive of Concupiscence, resulting from Original Sin. It thus Allays the Drive of the Flesh toward Evil, due to Disordered Passions, and the Rebellion of the Will due to Pride. It Helps to Restore Harmony in Fallen Nature, for it Diminishes the Dominion of the Flesh over the Spirit. When Our Blessed Lord comes to us, He Who Calmed the Storms of the Sea, can give us Strength to Calm the Storms that Flare-up in our Lower Nature. As Saint Cyril of Alexandria stated:
"The Chaste Flesh of Jesus, Checks the Insubordination of ours; by Dwelling in us, Christ effectively Overcomes the Law of the Flesh, which Rages in our Members".
This Increase of Grace and Charity Strengthens the Spirit. By Increasing Oneís Desires for the things of God, it Correspondingly Lessens the Desire (rooted in Concupiscence) for the things Offensive to God. In line with this, Saint Augustine declares: "The Increase of Charity is the Decrease of Passion, and the Perfection of Charity is the Absence of Passion".
This Transformation takes place, not only because One becomes Stronger, but also because Sin begins to Lose its Attractiveness. One begins to Recognize the Emptiness, of what Yesterday seemed so Desirable. This is a Gradual Process, and while our Cooperation is Essential, it is Effected more by Godís Grace, Drawing to Himself the Hearts of those who Sincerely and Perseveringly seek Him.
Preparation for Holy Communion
Although we all Receive the same Lord in Holy Communion, His Physical Presence within us does not Produce the same Effect in each Soul. As we saw, while the Sacraments produce Grace of themselves, this must not be Misunderstood; we can place Obstacles to the Action of the Holy Spirit. The Efficacy of this Sacrament, therefore, is Proportional-to the Dispositions of Mind and Heart - the Fervor of Faith, Hope and Charity - with which it is Received. This Fervor is not so much something we Feel, as it is a Readiness of Will for Godís Service, a Willingness to make the Sacrifices required to Observe Godís Commandments, to Fulfill Works of Mercy, and to Bear the Crosses that are Part of Daily Life.
Father R. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. states that an Important Disposition of Soul for Fruitful Communions is "a Spirit of Sacrifice" and to that End, he Recommends "at least One Act of Mortification a Day" in order to "put to Death our Egoism, Self-Love and Pride"," that constitute Obstacles to Grace. ("Love of God and the Cross of Jesus", 1, p. 396).
All this should make Clear, what we have been Stressing, namely, the Close Relationship between the Eucharist as a Sacrament, and as a Sacrifice. An Important Remote Preparation for Holy Communion is to Strive to Live that "Spirit of Sacrifice", for there will always be a Certain Proportion between the Extent that Christ gives Himself to us (shares His Graces with us) in Holy Communion, and our Giving of Our Self to Him, through Surrender to His Will - not merely at Mass Time, but throughout the Week. Father M.M. Philipon, O.P. stresses this in the Work quoted above:
"Many Christians complain that their Communions leave them Lukewarm, that they seem to derive Small Fruit from this Sacramental Contact with Christ. Could it be that they have Forgotten what it is that really Truly Constitutes Preparation for Communion? Our Preparation leaves much to be desired, if it consists in nothing more than the Attempt to Elicit, often in Haste and Unsuccessfully, a few Simple Acts of Love just before we are about to Approach the Communion Rail. The Way to find Admittance into the Mystery of Christ, is by Actual Participation in His Sufferings. This is the Secret Formula, so to speak, for Living a Life of Love, in Communion with Christ: namely, to be a Victim with the Victim, each Morning to bring to the Chalice of Redemption a Drop of our Own Blood"
That "Drop of our Own Blood" is the Sacrifices we must make to keep Godís Commandments, to Fulfill the Duties of our State in Life, to Help those in Need, in a Word, "to Deny ourself, and Take up our Cross Daily and Follow Him" (Luke 9:23).
A Pledge of Future Glory
The Material Food we Eat, Nourishes us for our Temporary Existence in this World; whereas the Eucharist Nourishes us for a Life that is without End. As Jesus said: "He that Eats My Flesh and Drinks My Blood, has Life Everlasting, and I will Raise him up, on the Last Day" (John 6:55).
Commenting on this, Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalen, O.C.D. remarks: "Notice that He said Ďhas Life Everlasting', and not 'will have', because the Eucharist, by giving us an Increase of Grace - the Seed of Glory - becomes the Pledge of Eternal Life for us, Life not only for the Soul, but also of the Body" (ibid. p.611). This is Beautifully Expressed in an Antiphon of the Divine Office for the Feast of Corpus Christi, written by Saint Thomas Aquinas:
"O Sacred Banquet in which Christ is Received, the Memory of His Passion Renewed, the Soul filled with Grace, and a Pledge of Future Glory given to us"