THE EUCHARIST is the outstanding gift of Christ. It is the offering of Himself to us. Here He communicates his life and love to us, and admits us to his friendship and intimacy.
Today, faith in the Eucharist is vibrant and strong and growing numbers are eager to receive Christ.
Pope John Paul writes, "Our union with Christ in the Eucharist must be expressed in the truth of our lives today — in our actions, in our behaviour, in our life-style, and in our relationship with others. For each of us the Eucharist is a call to ever greater effort, so that we live as true followers of Jesus, truthful in our speech, generous in our deeds, respectful of the dignity and rights of others whatever their rank or income, selfsacrificing, fair and just, looking to the well-being of our families, our young people, our country, Europe, and the world."
The Eucharist is a holy banquet. It was at his last supper with his friends that Jesus took bread and gave it to them saying, "Take, this is my body" and similarly, after the supper he took a cup and gave it to them saying, "This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many."
The people nearest to Christ that night knew exactly what he meant. The Eucharist is the mysterious means by which the atoning work of Christ is made present to us and effective for us.
This real presence is set within the whole worship of the Mass. Vatican II says, "The liturgy is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows. For the goal of all her apostolic work is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in his sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper."
When we eat ordinary food it is taken into our substance and becomes part of us. Similarly in the Eucharist we are nourished by the body and blood of Christ, we are taken into the very life of Christ, we become more completely members of his body, the Church.
This heavenly food satisfies our craving, for our hearts are restless until they rest in Christ. We are especially conscious of His presence.
"Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Mass, not only in the person of his minister but especially under the eucharistic appearance. He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church . . . He is present when the Church prays or sings, for he promised 'When two or three are gathered together for my sake there am I in the midst of them'."
It is out of sheer love for us that Christ is present in the Eucharist. He is hidden as totally as he was in his mother's womb.
It is notable that all the shrines of Mary throughout the world have become centres of Eucharistic life. At each spot Mary requested that a church be built.
Here, hearts broken in despair discover a new world.
As at Emmaus, Christ draws us forward through the breaking of bread to a new world, creating within us desire for eternal joy in the heavenly kingdom.
We should not distract ourselves from the reality of Christ's presence by bothering about explanations. There are no explanations. We are face to face with a supremely mysterious happening, not with some process that we can investigate.
The Body we adore, the Body we receive in Holy Communion is the Risen Body of Christ. Because risen, Christ is no longer subject to the limitations of space and time.
Christ's present way of existing is totally different from ours. When he came on earth he limited himself, as we are limited, to being in only one place at a time.
His Real Presence then means his effective, powerful total presence. He comes to us in the fulness of his divine power and of his human sympathy.
What that means we can, however dimly, apprehend. It is all that matters. The divine love and power are put at our disposal.
We have, however, to respond to Christ's presence, We have to assimilate the divine food. If a friend of mine is present in my room and I totally ignore him, not looking at him, not speaking to him, not listening to him, he might just as well be outside the door.
In the same way we can make Christ more really present, that is, more effectively present, the more I respond to his appeal, the more I lay myself open to his influence.
In the stirring words of St Thomas Aquinas, "0 holy banquet in which Christ is received, the memory of his passion is recalled, our hearts are filled with grace, and we are given a pledge of our future glory."