Carolyn Zimmer – Blog Post 5

by Apr 6, 2024Students

How is the Eucharist an invitation to deeper union with Christ?

               The Church makes no secret about the importance of the Eucharist. In Lumen Gentium, the eucharist is described as “the source and summit of Christian life”.[1] But why? Why is, what appears to be bread and wine, the most important part of living life as a Christian? How does it draw us into a deeper union with Christ? A blog post is hardly sufficient for a thorough answer to this question, but I would like to discuss three ways in which the Eucharist draws us into deeper union: in his bodily presence, the Eucharistic sacrifice, and in the other sacraments.

               Jesus’ humanity is what opens a way for us to the Father. In his humanity, Jesus created the Pattern of being perfectly conformed to the Father’s will, “The unique reproduction of the pattern of trinitarian harmony in Christ’s humanity is established as the master-form which will be used to repeat the Pattern in the rest of mankind.”[2] In his sacrifice on Calvary, Jesus became the perfect love-transformed human being, and because of that, humanity can participate in divine life. If we are united to his body, we are brought into that divine life. O’Neill explains that “…God enters into every man in the sense that the humanity of Christ is definitively united to the Word as the instrument through which all men will be sanctified if they are brought into contact with it.”[3] God’s love is sent out through creation, and man’s response to that love is perfected in Christ.

               We are drawn deeper into union with Christ through the Eucharist through his bodily presence. In my experience of Catholicism, this is the aspect that is most popular when attempting to explain the importance of the Eucharist. Through transubstantiation, the bread and the wine become Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity. In consuming the Eucharist, we are brought into actual communion with Christ’s material body: “…the primary function of the Eucharist is to bring the body of Christ into contact with men so that they may be sanctified by it.”[4] With Christ as the Head, we are brought into his perfect humanity, through which we gain access to divine life, because the Eucharist is the “created source of all grace.”[5] We are ever more perfectly conformed to his Pattern of obedience and charity, if only we accept the graces offered. Not only are we united with Christ, we are also united with the rest of the mystical body. O’Neill explains that, “The unity of the mystical body in charity is the ultimate reality (res tantum) signified and effected by the physical body of Christ contained in the Eucharist.”[6] We are drawn deeper into union with Christ when we are drawn deeper into union with the people he loves – the other members of his mystical body.

               Another way that we are drawn into deeper union with Christ in the Eucharist is through the Eucharistic sacrifice. The Pattern of Christ’s perfect humanity included his obedience to the Father regarding his sacrifice on Calvary. Through the Eucharist, we are invited to offer our own sacrifice of love. We are invited to respond to God’s gift of love with our own gift of love: “When grace is given to Christ’s members, to those who by grace itself are associated with Christ’s sacrifice, they too must respond to God’s love; they must, that is, in their turn translate the gift of grace into free, meritorious action by which they advance towards final union with God.”[7] The gift of love that we offer back to God, however, is Christ’s own body. “The sacrificed body and blood constitute the supreme visible expression of mankind’s response to the divine gift of grace; all mankind’s surrender to God is summed up in the immolation of this Victim.”[8] Christ crucified is given to the Church in the Eucharist so that Christians have a material sign of their fellowship with Christ.[9]

               The Eucharist invites us to a deeper union with Christ through the other sacraments of the Church. The Incarnation was not a blip in salvation history that is now over; instead, it established how God, going forward, will act in the created order.[10] All of the sacraments are a union with his material body – a point of insertion into Christ’s body.[11] They extend the logic of the Incarnation. God communicates with us through materiality because we are material. “The materiality of the Blessed Eucharist reminds us that we are not disembodied spirits and no longer children of innocence, that we can find union with God only in the physical conditions of our earthly life.”[12] Because the Eucharist offers Christ’s actual body and blood, “when the whole sacramental system is seen as the means through which salvation is brought to men, communion is primary.”[13] The Eucharist is the supreme sacrament because all of the other sacraments derive their power from it; it is the perfection of the sacraments in grace and friendship with God.[14] The Eucharist is the source for how the other sacraments conform us into the Pattern of Christ.

               Despite the common understanding that our union with Christ is strictly spiritual, the Eucharist offers us a way for bodily communion with Christ. Through the mystical body, we are united more closely with him, as well as with our fellow man. If eternal life is complete union with God and union with man, then the Eucharist gives us the opportunity to experience earth “as it is in heaven”.

[1] Lumen Gentium, 11

[2] O’Neill, Meeting Christ in the Sacraments, 14

[3] O’Neill, Meeting Christ in the Sacraments, 171

[4] O’Neill, Meeting Christ in the Sacraments, 167

[5] O’Neill, Meeting Christ in the Sacraments, 170

[6] O’Neill, Meeting Christ in the Sacraments, 173

[7] O’Neill, Meeting Christ in the Sacraments, 188

[8] O’Neill, Meeting Christ in the Sacraments, 193

[9] Ibid.

[10] O’Neill, Meeting Christ in the Sacraments, 24

[11] Ibid.

[12] O’Neill, Meeting Christ in the Sacraments, 165

[13] O’Neill, Meeting Christ in the Sacraments, 169-170

[14] O’Neill, Meeting Christ in the Sacraments, 171