I’ve been looking forward to the RCIA class on the Eucharist for some time, and was not disappointed. It was good stuff all around and I found my faith being built up. It’s easy to let your eyes shape your idea of things, like the Eucharist, rather than your faith, and I confess I fall into that.
We had an excellent speaker, who walked us through John chapter 6 in a humorous (yes, it’s possible) story-telling way and went through the Eucharistic prayers, emphasizing all the right points and bunny-trailing on essentials only. Like when he segued to explain that the only time Peter got anything right, Christ responded by saying it was from the Father (Matt 16:15-17). This showed that when Christ then gave the keys of heaven to Peter, it was based on the fact that God is able to reveal wisdom and work through Peter, who was by himself powerless. Which of course is an essential point when people ask, “How do you know for sure that the words written by the Apostles in the gospels were the ones Christ actually said and so base your idea that it’s literal on what he said?” The answer of course is that the Church, headed by the Pope in the seat of Peter, gave us the gospels and ensures that they were inspired, written to convey a truth they were already preaching and describing the Eucharist they were already celebrating. Christ’s authority in the Church is our guaranteer through the Holy Spirit which preserves her from error.
My favorite part was about the mystical aspect of the Eucharist. Two RCIA speakers have quoted Saint Augustine when he said “Be what you see; receive what you are.” (I think this is from sermon 272, but can’t verify it.) This saying is the disputed origin of the phrase “you are what you eat.” How fantastic is that? We are the Body of Christ. Be what you see. We consume the Body of Christ. Receive what you are. It’s beautiful and so strange. It is Christ abiding in us, and we in Him.
The Protestant world I came from had the bare bones of this when we used the phrase “the body of Christ” to refer to the church. I was taught we were supposed to imitate Christ. Although admittedly it was a great epiphany for me in college when I realized my goal in life was to be like Christ. How sad that it came so late. I was also taught that we were to be adopted sons and daughters of God. But this was all so vague and disconnected. Christ’s sacrifice was applied to forgive us our sins, we were “saved”, and that was it — straight to heaven, do not pass go. Being like Christ didn’t mean much except that it was a nice goal. Once we died, God would zap us and make us good like Him. I know there may be Protestants who have a much better understanding of unity with Christ than I did, but this is the non-descript non-denominational vagueness I lived with.
Oh boy, the Catholics take it deeper. When we are baptized, we are brought into the Body of Christ. It is then no longer us that lives, but Christ that lives in us. Then the good work we do is Christ working in us. The people we love and serve are Christ to us. The pain we suffer in perfect surrender to God’s will is the same redeemed pain that Christ suffered in His passion to save the world. Our daily death is Christ’s death on the cross. And our hope is His Resurrection and Life. Since “catholic” means “universal”, I really shouldn’t be so surprised when the Catholic Faith keeps making all these connections so that everything makes sense and fits together, but it still gets me.
Gosh, I never even used to understand why it was so important that Christ was raised from the dead, because I thought we only needed the perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins! Now, I see it. Without the Firstborn, there would be no other children. We live because we live in Christ and He lives! It’s beautiful. It’s poetic. It’s the work of the master, and I am in awe of it.
Christ offers us a deeper dimension to this unity with Him in the Eucharist. He has chosen to give me His life in the most intimate manner physically possible. He has given me His very Body and Blood to consume, to nourish me, to be spread throughout my own body giving me life. Be what you see. Receive what you are. This is the mystery of the Eucharist and I’m so very looking forward to it!
The class even brought to my attention a facet of the mass I never really thought about before — the mass as a sacrifice. In answer to the Protestant objection that Christ’s one sacrifice is enough, Catholics will agree, and explain that at mass we do not sacrifice Christ again and again, we make His sacrifice present again outside of time. But the Protestant in me was still demanding justification for this belief. “Well, where did that come from anyway?” Why do we believe the mass was a sacrifice? Why do we offer the mass up to the Lord instead of just eating and drinking in remembrance, even if it is the real Body and Blood? Why do we see the Body of Christ on the cross and not just the Body of Christ? I found some rather interesting links on the subject and one good one from Catholic Answers.
Why is the mass a sacrifice? First of all, it always has been. This isn’t some strange doctrinal development coming from philosophical obscurities. The Catholic Answers post gives a good rundown of the earliest testimonies that it was indeed always a sacrifice. This would almost be good enough for me, but I still had to press the question of why. The words of Christ, “Do this is remembrance of me”, do not seem to imply a sacrifice to me. But, it seems these exact words did imply that rather strongly to the Apostles and the Early Fathers as the post explains. It says the phrase is better translated as “Offer this as my memorial offering”, because that’s how the early Christians understood it. When Christ said “This is my Body”, he followed up with “which will be offered up for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins”. He was talking about a sacrifice. Furthermore, the Eucharist was seen as a fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi 1:10-11, that the Gentiles will everywhere would make a pure offering to the Lord. That satisfied me a little more than just knowing that the mass is fitting as a sacrifice.
I’ll leave you with a sermon from the Rev. Abernethy-Deppe with quotes from Saint Augustine about the beloved sign and reality, the Blessed Sacrament.