The Eucharist, the Very Foundation of the Church

O Sacred Banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is recalled, the soul is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given us.” (Antiphon for Corpus Christi, attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas)

 The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood, Corpus Christi, is celebrated on June 16, Thursday this year or, in the USA and Canada, on Sunday June 19. The feast that has a long and varied history dating back to the early Middle Ages, is commonly used as an opportunity for public Eucharist processions, Benediction and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

“If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war – not missiles, but microbes,” warned Bill Gates during a 2015 TED Talk. His major desperate cry is that the world must focus on preparing for pandemics, whether or not a disease is circulating. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is drafting a global pandemic treaty on pandemic preparedness that would grant the agency unprecedented power over global biosecurity. As stated by Polish Ordo Iuris Institute, “it may infringe the competences of sovereign states.”  Therefore, I have reason to fear that one day under the guise of a worldwide health crisis countless of Catholics will be denied access to the Eucharist.

It seems like it was yesterday, when hundreds of millions of Catholics were not able to attend Mass and receive Jesus in Holy Communion all over the World, due to various, sometimes insane, pandemic restrictions. There has been a great deal of spiritual damage done to countless souls. It has only been exacerbated by endless lockdowns and further pastoral dispensations from Sunday obligation. All in all, the Church has significantly been weakened, and in some countries, looks in a very dire state. One might even say that the Church is dying.

There has never been in the history of the Church a time when the sacrament of the Eucharist has been abused and outraged to such an alarming extent.  For a large group of Catholics these abuses were facilitated, even aggravated, by enforcing widespread practice of the Holy Communion in the hand, once an indult, now the norm. Sadly, in many dioceses around the world the clergy denied the faithful the possibility to receive the Lord kneeling and on the tongue. Moreover, in some places the Body of Christ was distributed by priests and received by the faithful with disposable gloves. This results, above all, from the lack of faith in the Lord of which I have alluded in Those Trusting in the Lord are like Mt. Zion.

Despite the passing of time, the words of Auxiliary Bishop, Athanasius Schneider who has always the courage to speak out, still resounds “Many faithful of the Eastern churches are scandalized, when they see the lack of faith of bishops and priests of the Latin Rite, as they introduce the ban on receiving Communion in the mouth, a ban made ultimately for lack of faith in the sacred and Divine character of the Body and Blood of the Eucharistic Christ.”

When we receive our Lord in holy Communion, it should be the way we encounter a loved one: with reverence, care, gentleness and humility. Our attitude towards this issue should be as when God asked Moses: “God said: Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) in this way demanding deep respect from his servant. It is not a coincidence that the First Temple, constructed during the reign of David’s son, Solomon consisted of three rooms: the vestibule; the main room of religious service, and the Holy of the Holies room, only available to the High Priest where the Ark of the Covenant rested.

What Christ did on the Cross affects profoundly the human race from the first man Adam until the last man conceived on earth during the Parousia. “Christ died so that you can live. Christ lives so that we will not die” said Fr. dr Jerzy Szyran OFM CONV.  “It is absolutely unacceptable that Jesus is sometimes treated like a cookie or a leper harboring germs; this deprives Him of sacredness”,  added the Franciscan. I wonder whether the cause of current world suffering, to some degree, is that Jesus in the Eucharist is not given due respect.

The fundamental point, however, is — and this is emphatically stressed: that the Eucharist is not one of the prayers that you may or may not say by yourself. “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church.” (from the Introduction of Ecclesia de Eucharistia written by Pope Saint John Paul II).

According to Sacrosanctum Concilium, one of the constitutions of Vatican II, the sacred liturgy is the “summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; and the same time, it is the fountain from which all her powers flow.” (SC 10) That is why no spiritual communion can ever replace the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in which one receives the body and blood of God.

The Second Vatican Council rightly indicated that the Eucharistic sacrifice is “the source and summit of the Christian life”. “For the most holy Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself, our Passover and living Bread. Through his own flesh, now made living and life-giving by the Holy Spirit, he offers life to men”

Perhaps one way forward would be to celebrate the Eucharist by means of an online platform” suggested the omniscient Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

In a Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences, Cardinal Robert Sarah clearly points out that “This physical contact with the Lord is vital, indispensable, irreplaceable.” He argues by saying “liturgies in which the faithful participate only virtually “risk distancing us from a personal and intimate encounter with the incarnate God” whose presence among His people was not virtual but Real, as He said: ”He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in him” (John 6:56).

At the end of the 17th century Our Lord appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) and asked her to spread devotion to His Most Sacred Heart. The devotion involved receiving Holy Communion on nine consecutive first Fridays with the intention of making reparation to “the Heart that has loved men so and is loved so little in return.” Therefore, there is no doubt, at least in this case, a virtual communion must be ruled out, unless Jesus was unable to predict the invention of the Internet.

In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI gave the homily in St. Stephen’s Cathedral Vienna in which he  highlighted the strong bond between the Eucharist and Christian life. “At the beginning of the fourth century, Christian worship was still forbidden by the imperial authorities. Some Christians in North Africa, who felt bound to celebrate the Lord’s Day, defied the prohibition. They were martyred after declaring that it was not possible for them to live without the Eucharist, the food of the Lord: sine dominico non possumus.”

In no way Eucharistic miracles, such as those of Lanciano (750), Orvietto (1263) Siena (1730), Los Teques (1991), Sokolka (2008), Legnica (2013) and in many other places, are handsome rewards for faith among the people of God, on the contrary, they should be deemed as the plaintive cry of God when faith of the clergy and lay people in the Real Presence of Christ in his Eucharist dies away.

Once again, the Eucharist—what the Church Fathers called “the medicine of immortality” gives man spiritual power to live solely on the bread of angels.

St Catherine of Siena (†1380) nourished herself with one consecrated Host a day for the last few years of her life. Other saints include St Catherine of Genoa (†1510) who came through the fasting times of Lent and Advent on the Eucharist only. St Joseph Cupertino (†1663) lived on the Eucharist for 5 years. But the most well known and most scientifically documented cases have to be these of Bl Alexandrina da Costa (†1955) who was sustained only through the Eucharist for 13 years and of St. Marthe Robin (†1981), the uncontested record-holder, who ate and drank nothing but the Eucharist for 53 years!

There are other mystics and stigmatics whose life was maintained by the Eucharist: St Angela of Foligno (†1310), St Ludwina of Holland (†1433), St Nicolas Flue (†1487), Bl Columba Rieti (†1501), Sg Therese Neumann(†1962).  This Eucharistic phenomenon represents a considerable challenge for all manner of contemporary atheists and doubters.

Meaningfully, Judas’ betrayal was badly marked by challenging the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Assuming that Judas received Holy Communion, he would have done so unworthily. His interior disposition reflected anything but a sharing of communion with Our Lord, only aggravating his condition. As a result of his treachery, he ate and drank judgment upon himself. “So he took the morsel and left at once. And it was night.” (John 13:30).

The Holy Eucharist gives me the necessary supernatural grace I need to endure the every day human trials. I rely on the Eucharist as my “fuel” to function. The same applies to daily adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. They have allowed me to entirely overcome the fear of death. It has been the worst time of my life when I had to self-isolate because of coronavirus. I felt like a plant that withers away, not having much nutrients. Australia’s harsh border policies and strict lockdowns aimed at containing the spread of the virus, vividly reminded me of the difficult times of martial law in Poland, though there people never had had any trouble with receiving Holy Communion.

To end this reflection on the Eucharist, one must not overlook the prophetic vision of St John Bosco of the Two Columns.

“Breaking through all resistance, the new Pope steers his ship safely between the two columns and moors it to the two columns; first to the one surmounted by the Host, and then to the other, topped by the statue of the Virgin. At this point something unexpected happens. The enemy ships panic and disperse, colliding with and scuttling each other. Some auxiliary ships which had gallantly fought alongside their flagship are the first to tie up at the two columns.

“Many others, which had fearfully kept far away from the fight, stand still, cautiously waiting until the wrecked enemy ships vanish under the waves. Then, they too head for the two columns, tie up at the swinging hooks, and ride safe and tranquil beside their flagship. A great calm now covers the sea.”

Many interpret John Bosco’s vision as regarding the trials the Church has already endured, but if we refer it to the great trial of the Church which is yet to come or has just started, then we can discern these pillars, namely of the power of the Holy Eucharist, and of the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, as the Divine means which will finally overcome the forces of evil. I am looking forward to starting a 54-day Rosary novena for Bill Gates to turn away from persecuting Jesus. That  would truly upset the apple cart. “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” The Blessed Virgin Mary appears to be our shining hope, the ray of light, that penetrates the clouds of darkness hovering over the earth.