“I am with you always” – Matthew 28:20
Babies are fascinating! And while they have much to learn, I can’t help but think that perhaps they are the ones who have much to teach us; at least in regards to things that truly matter.
My sister and her husband recently welcomed their second child. What has struck me most about my nephew, is precisely what first struck me about his older sister – and that is the way he gazes. Not the way he gazes at just anything, but the way he loses himself gazing at his own mother. Transfixed and intrigued. Almost as if he sees some mystery that we do not; something memorising, enthralling, overwhelmingly inspiring and fulfilling (not to say my beautiful sister isn’t all these things!) Yet most of all what he sees is clearly someone who really is… enough.
While beautiful, in a sense it’s no real astonishing phenomenon and perhaps it’s even obvious. He’s looking upon the one who makes sense of his existence, not merely a symbol or representation of what he wants. His mother is everything. Food, comfort, joy. She gives him identity and meaning; his whole world at this point is that woman cradling him in her arms.
I can’t help but think that what we Catholics do every Sunday resembles what babies and small children do very beautifully every day. The Eucharist as the ineffable source and summit of the Christian life is the place where we encounter not a symbol or metaphor but literally gaze upon God Himself, exposed and truly present. We see beyond visible appearances to Who is made present in our midst and to the one saving Mystery that unfolds. The Mass manifests the whole Paschal Mystery; Jesus’ death, Resurrection and glorious Ascension. The saving Mystery of Jesus is therefore not ‘locked in the past’, but persistently made new every time we celebrate the one single Mystery “offered once for sins” which, ‘…transcends all times while being made present in them all’. The more I reflect the more I realise that I couldn’t and wouldn’t be a priest if this were not true. But it is!
When the priest acting in the Person of Christ, calls down the Holy Spirit (the Epiklesis) upon the gifts of bread and wine, and then utters the words spoken by Christ, what was once the substance of bread and of wine, through the words and action of the priest become the substance of Jesus’ own Body and Blood. This is what the Church means when She speaks of the Real Presence. This doesn’t dismiss the other ways in which Jesus is present in His Church and world but faithfully highlights that in this ‘Sacrament of sacraments’ He is present in a total, substantial and unique way. Jesus is present here in a way that ultimately surpasses human comprehension, unable to be apprehended by the senses, but only by faith and love.
This mystery is known as transubstantiation, a term formally decreed by the Council of Trent in 1551AD. The mystery of the Eucharist sees a changing of substance occur; that while the gifts retain the appearance of bread and wine, their substance has become that of Jesus’ own Body and Blood. In this same moment, Jesus’ Soul and Divinity also become present and therefore the whole of Christ is present. Nothing is held back from us in this Sacrament.
Jesus promised His disciples that He would be with them always, even to the end of the age. In the Eucharist, Jesus fulfils this promise, not symbolically but actually. Here Christ calls all the baptised to Himself, but never without reassuring them that He remains with them on the journey.
As Catholics, we regularly gaze upon and are fed by the One who not only makes sense of our life – but continues to give us life. By gazing upon Truth Itself, only then are we able to give life to others. We have every reason to be proud to be Catholic! For to us belongs the promise, not a mere sign or symbol, but the very flesh and saving mystery of God.
As I see my nephew and niece gaze at their mother, I must admit, I often ask myself do I gaze at Him in the same way. Do we? Do we stare with the same devotion, love, trust and wonder? Do we gaze with the grounded and mature realisation that here in this Sacrament at the heart of this glorious body the Church, is everything, the whole mystery we long for? For just as a mother is her baby’s joy, food, meaning, and identity… so too is the Eucharist for the Christian, and not only these things but salvation and hope secure. God with us.
We regularly touch God, literally… and in faith, our lives cannot be left unchanged. The reality and doctrine of the Eucharist when contemplated can be overwhelming. As a mother feeds her own child with her own life, so too our God feeds us with His.
It is believed that St. Thomas, having ended his writings on the Eucharist heard Jesus’ delight and was asked what reward he now sought, to which he swiftly replied, Non nisi te. “None but you!” May this be our prayer too in this life, and in the life to come!
Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape, and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.
 Lumen gentium, 11.
 See Sacrosanctum Concilium 47 & Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1085.
 Matt. 26:26-28; Luke 22:19-20; Mark 14:22-24.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1374 & Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7.
 Mt 28:20.
 1 Cor 11:23ff.
 St. Thomas Aquinas, Adoro te devote; translation: G.M. Hopkins. S.J.