“While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many”
Thursday, 10 June 2021
In terms of Scripture, this is not the first reference to what is sometimes called the ‘eucharistic words of Jesus’; that privilege belongs to St Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27 (written about 15 or so years before). It is also a source of debate among Christians about what Jesus meant. Did he mean it literally? Did he mean it figuratively?
Whatever your understanding of it, whatever your particular Christian tradition teaches, I think we can try to find a few points of common ground. First, by our sharing in the Eucharist today, we are sharing in the very same meal Jesus had with his disciples back then. We are not in some way repeating it. Because, second, the meal prefigures Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, an event that happened ‘once, for all’. Third, when the words are said, when the bread and wine is shared, Christ is truly present. How, of course, is debated – here I like to echo the position of the Eastern Church: it is a mystery.
And by mystery, I mean it in the original Greek sense – mysterion. This is probably the original meaning of the word sacrament, a sign that somehow participates in the meaning it signifies.
Am I glossing over a lot of theology? Yes, I am. There is too much historical debate in medieval Catholicism to explore here: the present position in western Catholicism is its product, as are the various Protestant understandings. All of them are distinctly influenced by church politics and debates over language.
Let us rather think of the Eucharist as the mystery of Christ’s real presence to us today. And let the theologians fight it out by themselves.
Ask yourself: how is Christ present to me in the Eucharist? More importantly, how does that presence change my life?