Eucharist: The Real Presence
Year for All
issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
by John Gallen, S.J.
John Paul II has asked that we make this first year of the new millennium
an "intensely eucharistic year." When we Catholics hear this call, there
are many among us who remember that even the word Eucharist has
come to mean so much more than when we were growing up. We remember
that the Second Vatican Council was able to sponsor a renewal of liturgy
that communicated the eucharistic experience in ways that opened up
the richness of Eucharist even beyond what we already reverenced so
for example, that our own active participation in this community prayer
really counted. We were not meant to be passive spectators at Mass.
At the same time, younger Catholics are extremely alert to issues like
participation, and get turned off very quickly if they feel their involvement
Jesus: alive and present
So many different
kinds of Catholicsdifferent in age and culture, education and
backgroundcelebrate Eucharist every Sunday and bring their own
ways of talking about their eucharistic experience. For all of us Eucharist
is profoundly important. For all of us there is a very real sense of
Christ's presence at Mass, alive and touching us, nourishing our deep
hungers. We have different ways of describing that reality, but our
faith is persistent.
it mean to say that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist?
What words can we use to describe the real presence of Jesus at Mass?
The related question of how the real presence of Jesus at Mass is accomplished
will be addressed in the next issue of Millennium Monthly. In
this issue we will explore the meaning of Jesus' real presence through
a two-part reflection: 1) What was Jesus doing during his public ministry
as he shared meals with so many different people, as we see recounted
in the pages of the New Testament? 2) What is Jesus doing now at Mass
as he continues to share this sacred meal with us?
Sharing food, life
all, we cannot fail to remember how Jesus exercised during his public
life what biblical scholars describe as his ministry of table-fellowship.
The Gospels recount the ways that Jesus continually shared meals with
all kinds of people. Stranger or friend, sinner or saint, they were
invited to the table because, in addition to the physical nourishment
that food provides, more than food is shared at meals together. Meal-sharing
is a way of sharing life. When we bring people to our table, we are
inviting them into our life.
What we are
saying on a deeper level is, "Here, take of my life." And when our guests
accept the invitation to our table and eat our food with us, they are
accepting more than food. They are also accepting us, accepting our
invitation to share life with us. To accept the food is to accept the
person. In a similar way, to pass the food is to pass the person. Meal-sharing
his public ministry we find Jesus continually at table with people to
share life with them. He constantly was able to draw people to this
sharing of himself as he sat with them at table. That he ate with moral
outcasts, of course, did not find welcome reception among those who
searched for ways to attack him. "This man," they complained, "welcomes
sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2). The moral outrage was based
on the reasoning that if Jesus ate with sinners, then he shared life
with them! His detractors were exactly right, but they did not grasp
the true implications of the event. Sinners, and everybody else, were
drawn into life with Jesus by sharing meals with him. Meal-sharing is
Journey from death to life
At the Last
Supper Jesus gathered his friends in the terrible moment when it seemed
everything was lost. They come to this last meal and, in full awareness
of what is to come in the morning, Jesus embraces them all and does
it again. He shares the bread and says, "Here, this is my Body for you."
He shares the cup, telling them, "Here, this is the cup of my Blood
poured out for you." Then he tells them, "Do this in memory of me."
This supper took place "on the night he was handed over" (1 Corinthians
11:23), before his arrest. Jesus is linking the events of his imminent
passion and death to the meal that is being shared. So when he gathers
his disciples into the shared meal he gathers them likewise into the
journey of suffering and death which then unfolds into his rising in
glory. All who share the meal with Jesus share in the paschal journey
of death and rising.
St. Paul described the event by referring to their meal not as the Last
Supper but as the Lord's Supper. In doing so Paul was pointing
to the link between their meal, the suffering and death, and also the
resurrection because the word Lord was the title of the risen
Christ. According to Paul, the disciples came to "the table of the Lord"
in order "to eat the Lord's supper" (1 Corinthians 10:21; 11:20). Already
at the Last Supper the full meaning of sharing the meal with Jesus includes
sharing his Passover journey through death to risen life.
It is remarkable
that the same pattern of table-fellowship appears in the New Testament
accounts of meal-sharing with the risen Jesus. In his risen appearances
Jesus invites his startled disciples to share food with him, and the
meaning of this extraordinary invitation is not lost on them. They are
being drawn into a sharing of life that is astounding, a life that is
not undone by the experience of death. Life triumphs over death! So
when the disciples are out fishing on the Sea of Tiberias and recognize
Jesus on the shore, they come to the beach and find him cooking breakfast
for them. He shares the meal with them, and when they are finished gives
them the mandate to continue this sharing of risen life: "Feed my lambs"
day that Jesus' disciples discovered his tomb empty, Jesus came to meet
two of them on the road to Emmaus. Although they did not at first recognize
him, he explained the Scriptures to them about his death and rising
and finally, "while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the
blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened
and they recognized him" (Luke 24:30-31). When Jesus did what they knew
to be typical of him, that is, meal-sharing, that is when they recognized
him and knew him to be the Lord.
of risen life'
was doing at the meal in those instances is precisely what Jesus continues
to do with us now and throughout history. In fidelity to the mandate
which Jesus gave, "Do this in memory of me," Christians continue to
gather at the table of the Lord to share the gift of risen life. There
is more at stake here than simply the memory of what Jesus once did
many centuries ago. There is more at issue here than the pious and grateful
recall of the heroic love that Jesus expressed in his earthly ministry,
as though we were saying to one another, "Well, it was certainly great
and wonderful what Jesus did in those days, and what we are doing here
is reminding each other of those events of long ago and how wonderful
they were then."
of sentiment, however well meant, really amounts to this: It was wonderful
then, when it happened, but it isn't happening now. We have a rosy memory
of how fine Jesus was. We can always remember him, we will never forget
him; but he isn't here now, with us, sharing the meal.
But of course
he is! What Jesus did then, Jesus is doing now. Jesus continues his
ministry of table-fellowship with us in this moment of history, inviting
us to share the meal with him so that we may share life with him. Present
with us, Jesus identifies himself with the food and drink that are being
shared in the meal. And so Jesus shares life, risen life, in the sharing
Jesus is truly present in the community, the Church that gathers for
celebration of the Eucharist, and is truly present in the bread and
wine that are passed. We have here more than bread and wine. In the
eucharistic meal we have bread and wine that Jesus, through the hands
of his living community, takes as the food and drink that carries his
risen self to us. Jesus continues to identify himself with the bread
and the wine that he gives, much as men and women have always identified
themselves with the food and drink they share. To pass the food, to
pass the cup, is to pass oneself. In this case the identification with
the food and drink is total. It has the appearance of bread and wine,
but it is more than that. It is totally identified with the Jesus who
gives, who shares, so its very heart and stuff is more than bread and
wine. It is the living Christ! The body and blood, soul and divinity
of Christ is truly present!
Sharing in sacrifice
of the Lord in which we share has always been called a sharingnot
only in Christ's life but also in Christ's sacrifice. Eucharist is sacrifice.
How can we come to understand what this means? Sacrifice can be a difficult
word. We think of people abandoning themselves and everything dear to
them, giving themselves up for a cause. Jesus gave himself on the cross
for us, making sacrifice of himself. How does Eucharist as meal-sharing
embrace the notion of sacrifice?
have helped us to understand what the earliest Church understood by
the word sacrifice. In the first centuries of Church history the meaning
attached to the word was "doing what is holy." Sacrifice was a holy
gesture. Furthermore, the Church has always proclaimed that God is the
Holy One, just as we sing in our hymn at Mass: "You alone are the Holy
One." Therefore, sacrifice, holy action, was what God did. Every divine
action was the doing of what is holy and, in this Church sense, the
making of sacrifice. So God's creating the world, all the events of
God's action in the world, all of the wonderful things that God has
done, the mirabilia Dei, are all God's action of sacrifice.
important act of sacrifice is the sending of Jesus into human history.
God reaches out to gather all human history to his divine heart by the
sending of Jesus and his divine mission to bring the world to God. What
Jesus did was gather up everything of our world and history, all of
its beauty and tragedy, all of its tears and joys, and bring it to the
Father. Even suffering and death were gathered up, as we remember in
our eucharistic prayer: "For our sake he opened his arms on the cross."
The cross is the sign not only of suffering and death but also of resurrection
and new creation. The cross is the place where death was transformed.
The sacrifice of the cross is, in reality, God's holy action in which
death is made into risen life.
the meal with us Jesus is making sacrifice. Jesus is reaching out to
us and our world to gather it to himself to make our world and ourselves
holy. We become holy because God makes us holy. The more we surrender
to this holy action of God in Jesus Christ, the more we share in God's
holy action and so join in the sacrifice of Christ. "Lord," we pray
in our eucharistic prayer, "you are holy indeed, the fountain of all
holiness." The eucharistic meal is the sacrifice of Jesus and the sacrifice
of us, the community of Church, gathered up with him in response to
the Father of love.*
Father John Gallen is founder of the North American Academy of Liturgy.
He holds a doctorate from the University of Trier in Germany.
When Lucas Benitez, 24, sits down for a meal,
he makes a point of thanking God and thinking of the farmworkers
who helped bring food to the table. When you yourself labor
by day in the fields, gratitude for food comes naturally.
When he immigrated from Mexico as a teen to begin
the life of a farmworker in Florida, Mr. Benitez was grateful
for the opportunity to work and help his parents and siblings
back home. But he wasn't prepared for what he encountered: verbal
and physical abuse, denial of basics such as fresh drinking
water, shockingly low wages.
Nor was he prepared to accept such oppression
without a challenge. In 1995 he helped organize a general strike
in Immokalee, Florida, in a successful effort to turn back a
wage cut that had been planned by local growers. Other actions
followed, including a 30-day hunger strike that brought about
the first raise for tomato pickers in decades.
Although he continues to labor in the fields,
particularly during the summer months, Mr. Benitez also works
full-time for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida.
His official title is community organizer, but he prefers the
word animator. Speaking to Millennium Monthly
through an interpreter, he explained that his goal is to encourage
farmworkers to work together to achieve their goals of respect
for their work and their dignity as human beings.
In recognition of his success and his commitment
to putting Church social teaching into action, the Catholic
Campaign for Human Development honored Mr. Benitez with its
first Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award. "Do Something,"
the national youth leadership organization, and Rolling Stone
Magazine named him America's Best Young Community Leader
for his commitment to worker rights and higher wages for farmworkers
in South Florida.
"These awards are not for me only or for me personally,"
Mr. Benitez says softly. "They show that there are people who
are seeing that we are doing good work, and this encourages
us to keep going forward."
Some days he needs that encouragement. "This is
a field of work that is often very controversial," says Mr.
Benitez, who attends Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee.
Personal attacks and name-calling are common, "but we cannot
be overcome by the negative. If Jesus' enemies spoke that way
about him, what more can we expect?"*
by Judy Ball
Year for All
Jubilee Year pilgrims fill the churches, streets and restaurants
of Rome, the city's poor are not forgotten. They, too, are part
of the Holy Year celebrations.
2000, the Vatican is providing 500 meals of Italian pasta each
day. "Without charity the Jubilee would not be the Jubilee,
but a dead thing without spirit," said Archbishop Crescenzio
Sepe, secretary of the Vatican's Jubilee committee, when the
effort was initiated. Meals are being served at St. Peter's,
St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls.
The hot tortellini is being contributed by Giovanni Rana, a
pasta king in Rome. The daily menu also includes a sandwich,
a snack and mineral waterall served by volunteers from
Circolo San Pietro, a Rome-based organization that supports
members of the Catholic lay group San Egidio have prepared a
"yellow pages" for the poor. It offers listings of soup kitchens,
homeless shelters, hospitals and public bathrooms as well as
information about Holy Year events. "If Rome is the universal
city, then it must be so for the poor as well," Mario Marazziti
of San Egidio told Catholic News Service.*