by Elizabeth Ficocelli
There is a miracle occurring continually on Catholic altars around the world. Somewhere at this very moment a priest is holding an unleavened piece of bread in his hands and intoning the power of the Holy Spirit with the sacred words of Jesus, “Take and eat. This is my body.”
The miracle of the Eucharist, an extraordinary and mysterious gift of love in which God himself becomes present — Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – is without question the greatest treasure in the Catholic Church, the most important truth of our faith. Through this supernatural gift, we are united to our Creator in a relationship more intimate than that between a mother and the child growing in her womb.
The Eucharistic moment brings us to the foot of the Cross at Calvary to be present in Christ’s eternal and redemptive sacrifice. It bonds us as a community with special graces to strengthen us spiritually to face our trials and temptations, increase our virtues and live better lives as Christ’s followers. In essence, the Eucharist literally defines us as Catholics. Unlike other Christian faiths that imitate Christ’s Last Supper as a solemn but symbolic gesture, we take to heart our Savior’s words from scripture:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink…Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” (John 6:53-57)
Truly, we as a people and a Church are blessed to have in our midst the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In gratitude for this undeserved promise of eternal life there is no other response but to give glory and praise to our Creator with heartfelt thanksgiving, which is what the word Eucharist means.
The unfortunate reality however, is that the meaning and importance of the Eucharist to a great extent has been lost on the faithful today. Current polls indicate there is a serious disparity of belief and understanding regarding the Real Presence. Some Catholics reject the concept entirely. Others are willing to accept it to a point. The truth of Body and Blood — for which a multitude has willingly sacrificed their own — does not seem to be a critical issue to many people anymore.
Even Catholics who accept the Eucharist as divine truth can easily slip into a lax attitude. Many no longer take seriously the state of readiness required to receive the Blessed Sacrament. Preparation of the soul through Confession and the body through fasting has practically been forgotten. Lack of education and unworthy reception run rampant. While it’s true the Eucharist is an inexhaustible mystery which no human can fully comprehend, it is our responsibility to pray for God’s help in deepening our belief and appreciation for this life-giving sacrament each time we partake in it.