The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. Yet many Catholics do not fully understand the richness of this most important sacrament. Consequently, Theology 101 this year is exploring both what it means to view the world through Catholic eyes, and the different facets of the Eucharist, in the hope of fostering a deeper appreciation of the Eucharist’s place in the lives of Catholics.
Who are you? Think for a moment about how you would answer this most basic of questions. Perhaps you would begin with what you do for a living, with a list of your academic degrees or with a list of adjectives to describe your personality. Others stand ready to offer you answers to this question. For example, some will say you are nothing but matter, while others will say you are pure spirit. Yet, none of these answers truly captures who you are. Why?
THE GREATEST OF MYSTERIES
The reality is that each of us is ultimately a mystery. We are not reducible to our epoch, job, social standing, education — or anything else. Who we really are transcends all these categories. What’s more, no one, including ourselves, can truly exhaust the knowledge of our full identity.
Sacred Scripture explains that, “We are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed” (1 John 3:2). In another passage we read, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face-to-face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
These two passages (and there are several others) illustrate that questions of identity lay beyond our direct grasp. Our identity rests with God, in God. Now, this has serious implications for the multitude of “isms” that seek to reduce humanity to one thing or another. It also has serious implications for attempts to define Catholic identity. But here’s the thing: Catholicism never seeks to escape from such realities. It lives in the tension and mystery of life with a humility that the grasping ego disdains. Of course, all this means that we must know God if we have any hope of knowing ourselves. So who is this God who holds the key to our own identity?
THREE IN ONE
St. John Paul II, in his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America, wrote the following:
“Faced with a divided world which is in search of unity, we must proclaim with joy and firm faith that God is communion, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, unity in distinction, and that he calls all people to share in that same Trinitarian communion. We must proclaim that this communion is the magnificent plan of God the Father; that Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Lord, is the heart of this communion, and that the Holy Spirit works ceaselessly to create communion and to restore it when it is broken. We must proclaim that the Church is the sign and instrument of the communion willed by God, begun in time and destined for completion in the fullness of the Kingdom. The Church is the sign of communion because her members, like branches, share the life of Christ, the true vine (cf. John 15:5). Through communion with Christ, Head of the Mystical Body, we enter into living communion with all believers.”
This power-packed passage has much to say in terms of what it means to be Catholic. However, for now, the importance of it remains its description of God as communion. Now, if you were asked to describe the meaning of “communion” in one word, what would you say? Perhaps, you would say “one,” “unity” or some other related word — and you would be right. However, the best, most complete definition for communion can be found in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (2:1-2):
“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.”
To be of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing — that is a state of communion. And if we look at the Trinity, that greatest of mysteries, we see one God and three Persons in perfect communion.
If this is who our God is, then what does it mean for us and our identity?
‘IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING’ (ACTS 17:28)
Since our identity rests in this God who is communion, then it means that we, too, must be made for communion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states as much in the first paragraph of the prologue when it answers questions as to our source and destiny. It asserts that we were created freely and out of love by God for eternal life in communion with God. God is both our source and destiny. Consequently, any attempt to understand ourselves apart from God will result only in error.
Communion is our source; and communion is the destiny planned for humanity. If we are to truly live and be most fully alive, it only makes sense that we need to live in harmony with that for which we are made. Communion with God, i.e., being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing with God, then becomes the goal and foundation of Christian life.
THE EUCHARIST AND THE MYSTERY OF OUR IDENTITY
The Eucharist is sometimes called holy Communion because it is the sacrament by which we are united to Christ to form his body, the Church. This underscores that communion with God, wherein lies our fullest identity, is inseparable from communion with our neighbors.
Here are St. Augustine’s profound thoughts (Sermon 272) on the relationship between the Eucharist and the mystery of our deepest identity:
So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: “You are the body of Christ, member for member” (1 Corinthians 12.27). If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ,” you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true!
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
Consider the following passage …
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3: 1-4).
1. What does this passage have to say about our deepest identity? What are the implications of this passage for your life?
2. What is the significance of this passage in terms of your understanding of the Eucharist and its place in your life?
Doug Culp is the CAO and secretary for pastoral life for the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky.