Sancta Missa - Rituale Romanum (Roman Ritual) - Holy Eucharist - Introduction



"The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread."[1] These words of St. Paul show how their author penetrates the heart of the eucharistic sacrament, by perceiving its essential function as the "aedificatio," the building up of the mystery which is Christ and His Church. All seven sacraments have this same purpose, but it is true of the sacrament of the altar in the most eminent degree. Following our initiation into the mystic Christ through baptism and the intensified consolidation resulting from confirmation, it remains for the Eucharist to deepen, in fact, to consummate our identification with the divine head and our union with one another in the body of the faithful. "O sacrament of God's love, O sign of unity, O bond of charity"[2]--so exclaims St. Augustine as he considers that the real purpose of the sacrament is to further and complete the bond existing between Christ and His Church, between Him and the individual, and between all members in loving reciprocity. The Eucharist continues and perfects the purpose of the incarnation--to bring all things to a head in Christ--"Through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, making peace through the blood of His cross, both as to the things that are on earth and the things that are in heaven."[3] Guitmand of Aversa (1095) sees the incarnation's extension in the Eucharist symbolized in one of its elements, bread. "Like the eucharistic bread which is compounded of many grains, so the Church, comprised of many people and nations, is ground by the mill-stones of the Old Covenant and the New, and kneaded by the water of baptism and forged by the fire of the Holy Spirit in an indissoluble unity."[4]

Scheeben, when he considers the Eucharist's function of bringing us into the most intimate union possible in this life with the mystic Christ, maintains that by comparison all other means of union, be it the general union inaugurated between the God-man and human beings by the incarnation or the union of faith and baptism, "almost seem to be no more than a preparation for it."[5] And he adds: "The true body of Christ is reproduced at the consecration, that He may unite Himself with individual men in communion and become one body with them, so that the Logos may, as it were, become man anew in each man, by taking the human nature of each into union with His own."[6] According to the generality of Fathers and Scholastics, it is certainly true that baptism is the foundation of ontological union with Christ and consequent embodiment in the Church, even though some of them appear to attribute the whole work exclusively to the Eucharist. Nevertheless, they are practically unanimous in regarding the incorporation brought about by baptism as something imperfect or at least incomplete, and insisting that the Eucharist is required to make incorporation perfect. To support their view, they find an analogy in the Old Testament, in that they liken baptism to the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea, whereby they secured their deliverance from Egyptian bondage, and became once more free to pursue their mission as God's chosen people. Yet while they were making their course to the Promised Land, they would have died of hunger and left the desert strewn with rotting skeletons, had not Yahweh in provident largesse supplied them with food for the journey. Hence the Eucharist is compared to the miraculous manna which fell from the heavens each day, providing sustenance and strength until they would reach the destined country flowing with milk and honey.

Our Lord, during His public ministry, had spoken to the apostles about the Eucharist and had made references to a vital and real union of Himself with them; but it is at the Last Supper that He ties the two facts together in their unmistakable relationship. On the night before He died, having anticipated in sacramental manner the sacrifice of redemption and having communicated the apostles with His "body broken" and His "blood shed," He goes on to address them in the famous farewell discourse: "I am the vine, you the branches; he that abides in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for without me you can do nothing.... As the Father has loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love."[7] Despite their lack of erudition, they must have grasped the point that the Eucharist in which they had just participated was the consummating bond between the Master and themselves and the linking with one another. A few moments later, when Jesus lifted His eyes to heaven in prayer for His disciples, they were to hear a truth equally marvelous--that not only had they been united to His own Person, but owing to His substantial relationship to God, they had been made one with the Father. "I pray for them, I pray not for the world, but for them whom you have given me, because they are yours.... Holy Father, keep them in your name whom you have given me, that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfected in unity...that the love wherewith you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."[8] Vivification had come to them from the communion of the body and blood of the Mediator, Jesus Christ. What was theirs is ours as well. Baptism has made us sons of God, brethren of Jesus, and temples of the Holy Spirit. But when the sacrament of water and the Holy Spirit is followed by the most august sacrament of the body and the blood, then are verified in all excellence, the words of the psalmist: "You have made man a little less than God, crowning him with glory and honor."[9] And how does the Eucharist effect our unity in the Father and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit? The principle of operation is the Holy Spirit Himself, who brought about the hypostatic unity of the two natures in Christ at the incarnation, and who, in His role of sanctifier, vivifier, and unifier within the mystical body, causes us to be one body and one heart in the Holy Trinity. It is the Spirit of Christ working in the body of Christ. "There are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; and there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who works in all."[10]

The outward signs of the Eucharist signify ecclesiastical unity. In the very elements employed, as many of the fathers like to dwell on, we have symbols which clearly demonstrate that the sacrament of the altar has the pre-eminent purpose of solidifying the organic oneness of Christ and the Church. First, the elements of bread and wine point to the inner content as possessing the quality of spiritual food. The Eucharist is our daily supersubstantial bread which we must eat, in order that we may be sated with its divine nourishment, and made to be of one heart in the affection of our heavenly Father. It bears analogy to ordinary food, with this exception--whereas the food of nature is assimilated into the being of the one that eats thereof, the food of the altar transforms the partaker into the likeness of itself, that we, "being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread." A second demonstrative sign is found in the many grains of wheat from which the bread is compounded and in the many grapes from which the wine is pressed. These signify the "res" of the sacrament, the special sacramental grace, whose function is to effect the unity of all communicants with the Person of Him who is received. We are like the many kernels ground into one loaf and the many grapes pressed into one chalice, divinized and unified in Christ when the Sanctifier, almighty and everlasting God, descends in consecratory operation upon the bread and wine under which we are represented. A final symbol, of which ecclesiastical writers never tire, is the admixture of a small quantity of water with the larger portion of wine in the chalice during the Sacrifice--the water being a symbol of our humanity commingled with and absorbed by the wine that represents Christ's divinity. In a similar way we are assimilated to Him when the wine is transubstantiated into Him, and later given to us as the communion of His blood--the price of reconciliation, the sign of unity, the bond of charity. The sacramental signs signify the unity of the mystic Christ, and the presence contained under the signs effects such unity, the incomparable exchange of supernatural love and fellowship between the incarnate God and us, as well as among ourselves From what has been said thus far, an impression may have been given that it is principally in holy communion by itself that we have the effectual symbol (signum efficax) for the upbuilding of the mystical body. But this would not be consonant with sound doctrine. And even though the Ritual is directly concerned with the aspect of the Eucharist as the Church's divine banquet (the Missal is the vehicle for dealing with the Holy Sacrifice), it is impossible to present a proper treatise on communion without placing it in its rightful setting within the structure of the eucharistic Sacrifice. Moreover, we must maintain that the marvel of union with God in the banquet is inseparably related to the still greater wonder of fellowship with Him in self- immolation. It is when He is lifted up, He said, that He draws all things to Himself. And holy communion is at best the climax of participation in His eucharistic oblation. The only-begotten Son's offering of Himself on Calvary, of which the Mass is at once the sacramental renewal and application, is a greater act of love than the gift of Himself as sacramental food considered alone. To regard communion simply as any kind of spiritual food is to lose sight of its essential dependence on the Sacrifice. It is more than a bread giving life to the soul; it is the body that was broken and the blood of the New Covenant that was shed; it is Christ our Pasch who was immolated. And right here is a good place to introduce parenthetically reference to a confusing distinction often made in treating of the Eucharist, for we observe in our reading that the fault persists, even in the latest works and textbooks on the subject. We refer to the unfortunate tendency to divide into two separate realities "the Sacrifice" and "the Sacrament," as though the former were something that lies outside of the concept of sacrament. There is perhaps no one who has done us a better service in clearing away the fog than Abbot Vonier, in his work: "Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist," and he is only restating the correct thought and terminology of St. Thomas. We quote: "

Even St.
Thomas, with his great hold of the oneness of the eucharistic sacrament, uses this duality of expression (i.e., 'sacrifice' and 'sacrament') when necessary, and distinguishes within the sacrament between sacrifice and sacrament. But let it be clear at once that this is merely a necessity of language, which has nothing in common with the much more drastic divisions of sacrifice and sacrament which were introduced at a later date. But it would be truly disastrous if at any time we came to look upon the Eucharist in its sacrificial aspect as something less sacramental or even non-sacramental, leaving the sacramental denomination exclusively to the reception of Christ's body and blood. This would at once remove the eucharistic sacrifice from the sacramental theory of the Church; it would make of it something for which there are no provisions in our general theology.... The sacrifice of the Church, Mass, is truly the sacrament at its best and fullest; and the sacrifice of the Mass, if it have any human explanation, must be explained in sacramental concepts."[11] To sum up the matter--the sacrament of Holy Eucharist is accomplished in the sacrificial oblation, and this is followed by the use of the sacrament through sacrificial communion.

Out of the oblation of the Son of God on Calvary is born the Church, the mystic bride of the divine victim. For the sake of His Church--so that the Whole Christ can continue until the end of time to put itself in contact, not only with the fruits of Calvary but with the very action itself, the Eucharist has been instituted; or as the Council of Trent says: "in order that Christ might bequeath to His beloved bride, the Church, a visible sacrifice,"[12] that is, a sacrifice which would repeat in the mode of sacrament the one which could be offered up only once in the order of nature. Our Eucharist, therefore, is the unbloody renewal, or better, the sacramental making present of the sacrifice of the cross; at which we are not placed at a distance from what is transpiring upon the Christian altar, but in which we are actively participating in the highest degree of unity and supernatural charity as members of the Church. How is this stupendous thing made possible? Because the Son of God has likewise left behind for His Church the sacramental priesthood of holy orders, whose members are empowered to offer in His stead. Standing at the altar of the divine liturgy, the priest is sacrificant in a dual role, at one time acting in the Person of Christ, at another as the personification of the entire ecclesiastical body. Through him we have the sacrificial oblation of the Eucharist placed in our hands, so that we, united in the love of our Lord, may worship the Father with a sacrament which renders Him all honor and glory, and draws down upon us every grace and blessing-- nay more, it bears us aloft as one Christ to the altar on high, in the sight of the divine Majesty, dedicating and consecrating us to God, since we form one sacrificial victim with the Lamb that was slain.

In the general introduction to the sacraments and in the foreword to confirmation, we have touched on the question of how all the faithful are empowered to offer the Sacrifice along with Christ through the representation of the priest; and have seen that the power derives from our configuration to Christ as High Priest produced by the sacramental character of baptism and confirmation, so that every Mass is in all truth the offering of the entire ecclesiastical body with its High Priest. In what sense, however, can we speak of our self- immolation in the Mass? Or how are we offered along with the divine victim? It seems to us that the question has to be resolved by distinguishing between what is effected strictly by power of sacrament (vi sacramenti) and that which follows from concomitance. In the strict concept of sacrament, the victim offered is the body and blood of Christ in an immolated state, as signified by the words of consecration; not the Person of Christ as He is now the head of the mystic body in glory. Therefore, we cannot appeal to our incorporation as a basis for our being co-victims in the immolation signified and effected sacramentally by the consecration. But by concomitance the Person of Christ in His present state as head of the Church is present really, not in a mere moral sense, along with the body and the blood, and thus, in union with Christ we become a real sacrifice, and can speak of a real self-immolation on our part. In addition we are victims in a moral sense, dependent on the intensity of dispositions of faith, supernatural charity, the spirit of self-sacrifice, and the degree of our participation. It is clear and certain, consequently, that the Eucharist as sacrifice alone, prescinding from the communion which may or may not follow, is of immense benefit to all members of the Church, both living and dead (and indirectly to the generality of human society), and that it is an effectual sign of building up the mystery which is Christ and His Church. Yet there always would be something incomplete and unfulfilled if the sacrament of the altar accomplished in the sacrificial part were not followed by the use of the sacrament through holy communion. Partaking of the victim that has been offered is the apex of participation and the supreme realization of the life that the Eucharist is meant to impart. "Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him."[13] The sacred banquet is the consummation of what has preceded. Communion is for us the pledge that the eucharistic renewal of the cross sets forth continually our reconciliation and fellowship with God. "O taste and see that the Lord is our delight; happy is the man that builds on Him."[14] Nowhere in the Mass so much as at the festive table do we have the striking exemplification of our being the beloved of Christ and the elect of God.


1. 1 Cor 10.16-17.

2. Serm. de Tempore.

3. Col 1.20.

4. Translated from German text given in Holbock: "Der Eucharistische und der Mystische Leib Christi," p. 14.

5. The Mysteries of Christianity," p. 485.

6. Ibid., p. 486.

7. Jn 15.5-9.

8. Ibid., 17.9-26.

9. Ps 8.6.

10. Cor 12.4-6.

11. Op. cit., p. 57 f.

12. Sess. XXII, ch. 1.

13. Jn 6.54-57.

14. Ps 33.8.

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