Canon 897 of 1983 code of Canon Law was not mincing words when it described the Eucharist as ‘the most August Sacrament… in which Christ the Lord himself is contained, offered and received and grows.” This August description of the Holy Eucharist is predicted on the fact that it is the pre-eminent sacrament of the Church, being the sacrament of the body and blood Jesus Christ who Himself institutes other sacraments. In other words, it is called the Sacrament of sacraments, because almost all other sacraments of the church are virtually administered in the contest of the Eucharistic celebration. By implication, it could be deduced that all the life of the church revolves around it. No wonder the Second Vatican Council Fathers described it as ‘the source and summit of the Christian life. (Vat II, Dogmatic constitution on the church, Lumen Gentium n. II; of Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 10). In fact, is it the heart of Catholic spirituality.
Evidently, it is a sacred meat in which Christ is consumed, and the soul is filled with grace; it is a sacrifice in which the sacrifice of the cross is continually renewed and perpetuated; it is a memorial in which the death and resurrection of Christ are commemorated.
Far more significantly, in and through the Eucharist, Christian initiation is brought to its completion. As in the words of Tertulian of the Late 2nd century AD, ‘The flesh is washed that the soul may be sinless (Baptism), the flesh is overshadowed by the imposition of hands that the soul may be illumined by the spirit (confirmation), finally the flesh is fed by the body and blood of Christ that the soul may be fattened of God (Holy Eucharist). This implies that those who have been raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood by Baptism and configured more deeply to Christ by confirmation participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist.
The divine effects of the Eucharist are unfathomable. It integrates one more concretely and comprehensively into Christ and the Church. For with the active participation in, and reception of the Eucharist, one becomes true bearer of Christ and enjoys a wonderful consortium with him who said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, lives in me and I in him” (Jn. 6:56).
The incorporation into Christ, which every communicant enjoys, means at the same time con-corporation in the same body since all the communicants form one body in Christ. Paul understood this mystery of unity and made it clear: ‘Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (I Cor. 10:17).
Commenting on this Pauline text, St. Augustine in a sermon rendered around 415 AD said; ‘Remember that the blood is not made from one grain but from many. Many grapes hang on the cluster, but the juice of the grape is gathered together in unity. So also the Lord Christ signified us, wished us to belong to him, consecrated on his table the mystery of our peace and unity.” By partaking of the one bread and cup, we belong to Christ and to one another. The Second Vatican Council acknowledges this unity when it describes the Eucharist as “a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity.
Following from the above, our sacramental union challenges us from two perspectives; on the one hand, should lead us to ever greater holiness. Christ has, as it were, divinized us through the Eucharist. We should reflect the same perfection that was found in Christ since we have become one with him. We may not find a place in Christ if we do not strive towards this perfection. On the other hand, our sacramental union should galvanize us to work against every form of division and discrimination, and foster fraternal sharing and conviviality among us. These two precepts of the Holy Eucharist were established by Christ at the event of the Last Super as we shall discuss by next edition.