The Holy Eucharist: a mystery of light

One of the final gifts that Pope John Paul gave to the Church was his reflection upon the mystery of the Rosary and in particular his invitation to the Church to broaden the scope of our meditation. For Dominicans, who have a history of special devotion to the Rosary, the pope’s words have been embraced with enthusiasm, including the five new luminous mysteries.

Pope John Paul rightly called the last of these, the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, a mystery of light. For light reveals and makes known, and in the celebration of the Eucharist, not only do we come to know Christ present in the sacrament, we come to know the Father and the Holy Spirit. At the same time we come to a deeper understanding of who we are as members of the Body of Christ and what our vocation as Christians calls us to.

In the course of our novena in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, we have come to see that the communion we celebrate in the Eucharist flows from the perfect communion and utter sharing of life that exists in the very being of God among the three divine persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We saw also that it is the very essence or heart of God to give himself away, and this divine giving away of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit finds perfect expression in the Eucharist where the Father sends his Son so that the Son might give his Body and Blood to us as real food and drink through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because this sacrament is about our eating and drinking, we recognize in it our deepest hunger, our deepest longing, and desire for God. Unlike the rich young man who went away sad, we leave this table satisfied and full, and yet yearning to eat and drink even more completely at this banquet. We are drawn to the Eucharist because in our celebration of this sacrifice and meal we find that Christ has kept his promise to be with us always, in a way not altogether different from what the followers of St. Dominic found at the time of his translation. In a way that is mysterious and unique, Christ is truly present in the Word proclaimed, in the assembly gathered, in the person of the ordained minister, and most perfectly in the bread and cup transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit into Christ’s very Body and his very Blood. This gift of his real presence to us, this offering of himself to the Father and to us, is what makes the Eucharist into a perfect sacrifice. In Christ’s offering of himself in an act of perfect obedience and utter fidelity to his father’s justice, compassion, mercy, and peace, he undid all of the injustice, indifference, hatred, and violence that are so much a part of our lives and so much a part of our history. His perfect obedience that he offered to the father then, reconciled us to the father and restored us to his friendship. Because of this reconciliation with the Father, because of our friendship with him, and because of the communion we enjoy with Christ present in the Eucharist, we find that like St. Philip Neri we have attained our heart’s desire. Like that cheerful saint, like the blind Bartimaeus, our encounter with Christ fills us with abundant hope, overflowing kindness, and extravagant joy. But our recognition of Christ present in the Eucharist also helps us to see the presence of Christ outside the doors of our churches among the poor, the abandoned, the most vulnerable and helpless victims of our society. Just as Jesus cleansed the temple of his father’s house by restoring justice and holiness, so we his disciples are called to do the same. Because we eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood, we remain in him and he in us. In this sacrament we attain the deepest communion possible with Jesus, the Son of God, with all three persons of the Trinity, and with one another. In this communion we attain that unity with our Lord and God for which each of us so desperately longs.

This mystery of the Eucharist then truly is light. May we leave this chapel not only illumined with the light of the Eucharist, but may we leave here shining with the light of Christ so that we may illuminate others. For as St. Thomas Aquinas was fond of saying, this saint whose hymns and antiphons for the Feast of Corpus Christi reflects his passionate love for Christ present in the Eucharist, how much better it is to illuminate others with the light of Christ than to allow that light to illuminate you.