Dr. Chris Thompson is a Professor with the
Catholic Studies Department
The Holy Father has declared this year a “Year of the Eucharist,” and has asked all of us to give deeper consideration of this gift and mystery in our lives. It is an invitation well worth accepting.
For many of us the celebration of the Eucharist typically occupies our Sunday mornings and marks the beginning of our week as members of the living body of Christ. It orders our spiritual lives and provides the necessary means of communion and common worship among the people of God.
But it might be also helpful to consider how much more its significance can be: beyond the present moment, beyond the present community. While the Eucharist draws us closer in communion with one another and Christ, the Eucharist is at the same time a drama of "galactic" significance. It is a proclamation about all times and places, all gatherings and peoples.
In the Eucharist, the "divine strategy" for all of history is perfectly disclosed and our own personal role as living members of that plan is affirmed: we are to become living members of his body, to become one spirit in Christ, to become an everlasting gift to the Father.
The "galactic"--if you will-- significance
of the Eucharistic sacrifice of praise is affirmed in the various
prayers of the mass itself as the priest proclaims before the
Father that, "From age to age you gather a people to yourself
so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the
glory of your name."
There is, therefore, a kind of divine strategy to all of this: the desire for God, the coming of Christ, our Eucharistic celebration, the Church. It is a strategy to conquer the world through love, to redeem the world through the actions of Christ, "at whose command we celebrate this Eucharist." As living members of His body, we now extend His presence throughout history and culture. His life having begun in us through Baptism, His same spirit lives in us in every time and place, our actions are becoming His deeds in the world, our love becoming His presence.
We would do well, this year, to meditate on this
mystery of God's action in the Eucharist, in its larger or smaller
aspects, its universal or personal dimensions.
But it is not merely on the historic scale that the Eucharist makes its mark. We do not simply recall, as in a museum exhibit or historical re-enactment, the great moments of the past. Rather, in the Eucharist the world's story is played out in the quiet recesses of one's own heart, one's own soul: what was then becomes now. As a living member of the body of Christ, as one who dwells in his Spirit given in Baptism, I am now intimately drawn into the drama of grace and redemption. I become now a living member of this sacrifice of praise.
In other words, unlike a historic event which is simply recalled and remembered, the Eucharist provides the occasion to enter personally into the dramatic significance of it all! Living in his Spirit, Baptized in to his very life, you and I, together with Him, now offer our own lives in our common sacrifice of praise. While Christ remains the eternal High Priest and victim we nonetheless share in his life--allowing us, then, to become united personally in his sacrifice. Together with Christ we are reconciled with God, and are made "ready to greet him when he comes again." (Eucharistic Prayer III).
In this "Year of the Eucharist," all of us would do well to direct our minds and hearts to this awesome mystery of love, to bring to mind the universal and personal dimensions of this sacred offering of praise.
One of the constant themes of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is this presence in our lives of “the thrice-holy God”: lovingly sustaining us in existence, lovingly reaching out to us with His promise of mercy and salvation, lovingly filling us with Himself, sanctifying and divinizing our very being.
For the Catechism, also, God’s presence is manifold and always “real.” When the Catechism states that “the mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique” and that this “presence is called ‘real’,” it is quick to declare that the use of the word “real” of Christ’s substantial presence in the Eucharist is not to be taken “to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too” (1374).
We live therefore in God’s presence. There is simply nowhere else for us to live. God is always and unfailingly present to us, and this presence manifests itself in myriad ways. Thus the life of prayer is “the habit of being in the presence of and in communion with Him” (2565): the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; a living presence that surrounds and embraces us, “coming from all directions” (690) and that “never ceases” (732).
And yet for Dorothy Day two modes of God’s presence were paramount and each enriched and sustained the other: the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and His real presence in others – both presences veiled (1404), both experienced only in faith, the latter through the living of the Sermon on the Mount and in particular of the Beatitudes. Dorothy understood well the Catechism’s poignant claim that “the Beatitudes depict the countenance of Jesus Christ and portray his charity” (1717).
Present in word and sacrament, God was also present to Dorothy Day in her encountering other persons, first within the community of believers, for she knew well the splendid statement of St. Augustine (cited in the Catechism, 795): “We have become not only Christians, but Christ himself...marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ”; secondly in the face of “the poor.” “Christ,” she once wrote, “is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.”
To “see” in faith “the countenance of Jesus Christ” in others, to experience His presence in all whom she met, is perhaps the great lesson to us of Dorothy’s life and work. “The mystery of the poor is this,” she wrote: “that they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for Him.” And she delighted in repeating the words of Peter Claver to someone who was fleeing the presence of a leper: “You mustn’t go. You mustn’t leave him- it is Christ.”
“How can you see Christ in people?” Dorothy was asked, “And we can only say: It is an act of faith, constantly repeated. It is an act of love, resulting from an act of faith. It is an act of hope, that we can awaken these same acts in their hearts too, with the help of God.”
There were those of course who accused Dorothy of an unrealistic and sentimental view of the poor, and to this she could only respond: “let those who talk of softness, of sentimentality, come to live with us in cold, unheated houses in the slums. Let them come to live with the criminal, the unbalanced, the drunken, the degraded, the perverted. (It is not the decent poor, it is not the decent sinner, who was the recipient of Christ’s love). Let them live with rats, with vermin, bedbugs, roaches, lice...then, when they have lived with these comrades, with these sights and sounds, let our critics talk of our sentimentality. As we have often quoted Dostoyevsky’s Father Zosima, ‘Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.’”
This, then, was Dorothy Day’s daily practice of the presence of God, rooted in the conviction that “It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us...And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks us for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ...For He said that a glass of water given to a beggar was given to Him. He made heaven hinge on the way we act toward Him in His disguise of commonplace, frail, ordinary humanity...”
Dorothy Day’s life was thus transformed by love in practice, “a harsh and dreadful thing,” often disheartening, often seemingly unrewarding: serving the poor, seeing in them “the countenance of Jesus Christ.” How then was such a life sustained? Through the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. There too He was really present. There also, however veiled, was He to be “seen.” And this is why Dorothy Day was a daily communicant, experiencing in the celebration of Mass the manifold presences of Christ of which the Catechism speaks (1373): “Christ Jesus...is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church’s prayer...in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments...in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But ‘He is present...most especially in the Eucharistic species.’”
“To me the Mass, high or low, is glorious,” wrote Dorothy, “and I feel that though we know we are but dust, at the same time we know too, and most surely through the Mass, that we are little less than angels, that indeed it is not I but Christ in me worshipping, and in Him I can do all things, though without Him I am nothing. I would not dare write or speak or try to follow the vocation God has given me, to work for the poor and for peace, if I did not have this constant reassurance of the Mass.” Or in another place: “I think daily Mass and Communion is essential, absolutely essential. I don’t think I could continue to live without that. I think when people go to daily Mass and receive Communion daily they’re happier, they’re readier and more alive to what God wants of them.”
These, then, are “the Real Presence(s) of Christ in the Life and Thought of Dorothy Day”. She is a guide and exemplar, an inspiration and a teacher: in her passionate love of Christ, present always, but especially in the Eucharist and, fed by that Bread of Life, recognized in the face of humanity.
by Fr. Sharbel Maroun
“You have united
These words that are used in the Maronite Liturgy at the time of the mingling of the precious Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus summarize the whole Maronite Theology. They define the Divine Liturgy as the action where God touches, transforms, makes us sharers in the Divine nature and perfects us. In His birth, life, death and resurrection, Jesus, the God-Made-Man transforms, and completes humanity.
The Maronite spirituality teaches that the “image of Adam” was not destroyed but deformed by sin, and is recreated in a new splendor by Jesus the Savior.
Baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity begins the process, Chrismation (Confirmation) perfects it, and the Holy Eucharist fulfills it.
The Antiochene Syriac Maronite Church sees the Holy
Eucharist as a sharing in the divine nature divinization and transformation.
It is clear through the Divine Liturgy that the Eucharist is given
as a Medicine for Life. The priest gives the Eucharist to those
receiving it saying, “The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus
Christ are given to you for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal
The Christian who eats the heavenly food is forgiven and made to become more like God. Jesus said, “He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” Therefore, through this reception God dwells in our hearts, rather, we dwell in the heart of God and become united with Him just as a drop of water looses itself and becomes one with the great ocean. Saint Cyril said, “He who receives Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, is so united to him that they are like two pieces of melted wax, which end by becoming one piece.”
“God became human so that we might be made God,” said Saint Athanasius. (On the Incarnation of the Logos 54).
While Baptism, which is received only once, begins the process, it is the Holy Eucharist that we receive daily and weekly that fulfills this process. The more that we receive worthily this heavenly food, the more that we are changed and become like it. Yes, we become what we eat. We become the Eucharist that we receive, which is the flesh of Jesus-God. He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” To live forever is to be with God and like God who is spirit. Flesh begets flesh, said Jesus, and spirit begets spirit. We are the children of God and heirs of His kingdom which is a spiritual realm, where we will be united with Him forever.
The early Fathers of the Eastern Churches called this process deification and saw it as rooted in the Bible. From the beginning God created man in His image and Likeness (Gen. 1:26-27). Psalm 82:6 says, “You are gods, all of you sons of the Most High.” In John 17:11-23, Jesus speaks about His Unity with the Father and His prayer that we might be one with Him as He is with the Father. They also argued that deification not only restores the image of God that was lost in the Fall, but also enables mankind to transcend human nature so as to possess the attributes of God. "I may become God as far as he became man," declared Gregory of Nazianzus in the late fourth century (Orations 29.19).
Saint Paul speaks of our son-ship as an "adoption" (Rom. 8:15, 23). We become like God by the power of His Holy Spirit, through His Son Jesus who became one of us so that we might become one with him and like him. Saint Ephrem the Syrian, one of the great Patristic Fathers who influenced much the Maronite Church, described the Glorious Trinity in this way: “God the Father is like the Sun, God the Son is like the rays that shine from the Sun, and God the Holy Spirit is like the warmth that comes from the rays that shine from the Sun. The three are one in unity.” As believers who are united to and with Christ Jesus, who is fully and truly present in the Holy Eucharist, we become part of Christ who is the ray mysteriously united to God the Father (sun) and the Holy Spirit (warmth).
In receiving the Holy Eucharist, we become like Christ, divine and immortal. Just as God transforms and changes the bread and the wine into the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Christ, so Jesus in the Holy Eucharist changes and transforms our lives into glorified and divine lives affected by the power and grace of the Holy Eucharist. We can all become one in God and like God, divine, as our true potential is indicated in the Holy Scriptures.
The Mystery of Mysteries, or the Holy Eucharist, feeds us and gives us energy to live Christian lives while growing back to our original image and likeness. The end result is eternal life. It is divinity transforming humanity to live forever with God in blissful light.
“God has united His divinity with our humanity and our humanity with His divinity. His life with our mortality and our mortality with His life.” All in order to save us and allow us to be sharers in the divine nature.
When Mother Teresa first went to Calcutta, she described
her work not in terms of bringing Christ to the poor in Calcutta,
but opening her eyes to see that Christ was already there. Where
most people only saw despair, she saw Christ’s love reflected
in the poor, because she saw Christ in the Eucharist. In a similar
way, when we go to work whether in a police station, a school,
a small business, government office or a major corporation, we
do not bring God into work; rather, God is already in our work.
The question for us is whether we have the eyes to see God at
work in our work?
As Catholics we need to reconnect these divisions and one way to do this is to see more deeply what we are actually doing at mass. Take for example the “collection.” In our preparation for the Eucharistic prayer, we go through the rather mundane activity of passing the basket. But like every action in the mass, this is full of potential transformation in how we see our lives and our work. We are actually given the opportunity in the liturgy to affirm concretely God’s real presence in our work when we place our offering in the basket during the preparation of the gifts.
In the early church, the offertory gift was often
a procession of the actual products of one's work, usually agricultural
and craft products, where the whole community participated (this
still happens in Africa where the preparation of the gifts is
still a major event in the liturgy). The line of sight was clear
between work and offering. Today, we have tended to lose this
line of sight. Instead of bringing up the actual products of our
work, we bring to church a portion of our wages in the form of
a check in an envelope. The problem with this is that what we
place in the envelope does not clearly remind us of what we are
actually doing when we make this offering, namely, giving to God
from the fruits of our work. Electronic deposit makes this connection
even more difficult to see. While efficiency and convenience have
their place in life, they can prevent us from seeing the very
real and important connection between work and liturgy.
The Lord is not only concerned about the size of the check in the basket, but the Lord is also concerned with how the money you earned was acquired. Imagine placing in the basket the actual work you do whether it is carpentry, electrical, janitorial or house work, managerial, computer, legal, accounting or teaching services. The gifts we give at this point in the liturgical rite really are an extension of the work we have done. Furthermore, that we give from our salaries to God in the preparation rite should challenge us to ask the following question: Is the work we offer through these tokens pure, like the unblemished lamb offered at the temple?
This question, for most of us, if we are honest
will bring forth humility, not self-satisfied smugness. Do we
treat our subordinates, fellow workers and supervisors with dignity
and compassion? Do we make the extra effort to create conditions
in our workplace that foster the virtues of justice, prudent decision-making,
courage, and self-control, rather than the vices of pride, gossip,
laziness and greed? Do we over-emphasize our own individual status,
power and prestige at the cost of family relationships? These
questions should make us slightly nervous that maybe our rhetoric
does not quite match our actions. For we are not asking these
questions for public relations points, but intimately to the Lord,
who knows how to ask questions.