The feast of the “Body and Blood of Christ” is the best time to share very briefly with you a few essential points in the encyclical of our Holy Father John Paul II’s, “Eucharist in its relationship to the Church.” In latin it is entitled Ecclesia de Eucharistia. You are encouraged to read, reflect upon and pray over this rich and beautiful encyclical.
The Pope begins his encyclical by saying, “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist.” This means that the very existence and growth of the Church come from Christ giving us his body and blood as food in the Eucharist. This is why St. Paul calls the Church as the “body of Christ.” When we feed on the life of Christ – His body and bleed – we are assimilated and changed into the Body of Christ, His Church. (Colossians 1:28) Too often we think of receiving Christ into us in the Eucharist. In fact, as the Holy Father points out (no. 22), it is Jesus Christ who receives us and makes us a part of His Body, His Church. This is a very important point because this way of looking at participation in the Eucharist has an impact on the way we live our lives as Catholics.
If we think of Eucharist as we receiving Jesus Christ into us then, the emphasis is on our private devotion for our own sanctification. There is nothing wrong with this way of thinking. But, what is much more important is knowing that in the Eucharist, it is Christ who receives us into his Body; it is a community experience of communion with Christ and with one another as Church. The Pope quotes St. Paul: “The bread which we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we, who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor 10: 16-17) Because of this communitarian aspect of the Eucharist, everyone who receives Jesus Christ shares in the apostolic character of the Church. Apostolic because it is founded on the apostles. The celebration of the Eucharist is, therefore, in “conformity with the faith of the apostles.” It is apostolic because the Church “continues to be taught, sanctified and guided by the successors of the apostles: “the college of bishops assisted by the priests, in union through the successor of St. Peter.,” says the Pope.
Fed with Christ’s life, we then have the energy to share also the mission of the Church which is to proclaim, to live and to spread the saving power of Christ’s unlimited love. Proclamation without acts of love for others is like a man who walks on one leg. Acts of love without proclamation is like a beautiful girl with only one eye.
We cannot stop being amazed and filled with wonder at the marvelous gift of God’s very life for us in the Eucharist. If you die for someone, it is already tremendous. But, to give your body and blood, the last bit that you have, as food to strengthen someone is the ultimate manifestation of love. No one does this except Jesus Christ the Son of God.
Let me draw an analogy. You love your dog so much that in trying to save your dog, you die saving it. But knowing that your dog is weak, you give your very flesh to feed your dog so that it can walk straight and tall. In fact, this was the intention of an old lady in England who, in her will, gave everything to the dog and willed to give her body to her dog as food. She was not mad or irrational. When her body is assimilated and becomes part of her beloved dog, she actually shares in the life of her dog. It is impossible for us human beings to give our dead body to someone we love so that we can live in our beloved. But to God nothing is impossible because He is all powerful. (Lk 1:37; 18:27; Mk 10:27; Mt 17:20; 19:26) Our Holy Father, therefore, tells us to be continuously grateful to God and be continuously filled with wonder for HIS infinite love for us expressed concretely in the Eucharist.