The Eucharist can be a major faith anchor for all Catholics. Saint Margaret of Antioch Parish is committed to teaching our parishioners about the real presence of the Eucharist so that it, too, can be a faith anchor in their lives. Each week this page will highlight a different element of the Eucharist by answering a common question on the Eucharist.
Why is the Eucharist not only a meal but also a sacrifice?
While our sins would have made it impossible for us to share in the life of God, Jesus Christ was sent to remove this obstacle. His death was a sacrifice for our sins. Christ is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). Through his death and resurrection, he conquered sin and death and reconciled us to God. The Eucharist is the memorial of this sacrifice. The Church gathers to remember and to re-present the sacrifice of Christ in which we share through the action of the priest and the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the celebration of the Eucharist, we are joined to Christ’s sacrifice and receive its inexhaustible benefits.
As the Letter to the Hebrews explains, Jesus is the one eternal high priest who always lives to make intercession for the people before the Father. In this way, he surpasses the many high priests who over centuries used to offer sacrifices for sin in the Jerusalem temple. The eternal high priest Jesus offers the perfect sacrifice which is his very self, not something else. “He entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12). Jesus’ act belongs to human history, for he is truly human and has entered into history. At the same time, however, Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; he is the eternal Son, who is not confined within time or history. His actions transcend time, which is part of creation. “Passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation” (Heb 9:11), Jesus the eternal Son of God made his act of sacrifice in the presence of his Father, who lives in eternity. Jesus’ one perfect sacrifice is thus eternally present before the Father, who eternally accepts it. This means that in the Eucharist, Jesus does not sacrifice himself again and again. Rather, by the power of the Holy Spirit his one eternal sacrifice is made present once again, re-presented, so that we may share in it. Christ does not have to leave where he is in heaven to be with us. Rather, we partake of the heavenly liturgy where Christ eternally intercedes for us and presents his sacrifice to the Father and where the angels and saints constantly glorify God and give thanks for all his gifts: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever” (Rev 5:13).
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “By the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all” (no. 1326). The Sanctus proclamation, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord . . . ,” is the song of the angels who are in the presence of God (Is 6:3). When in the Eucharist we proclaim the Sanctus we echo on earth the song of angels as they worship God in heaven. In the eucharistic celebration we do not simply remember an event in history. Rather, through the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit in the eucharistic celebration the Lord’s Paschal Mystery is made present and contemporaneous to his Spouse the Church. Furthermore, in the eucharistic re-presentation of Christ’s eternal sacrifice before the Father, we are not simply spectators. The priest and the worshiping community are in different ways active in the eucharistic sacrifice. The ordained priest standing at the altar represents Christ as head of the Church. All the baptized, as members of Christ’s Body, share in his priesthood, as both priest and victim. The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. The Church, which is the Body and Bride of Christ, participates in the sacrificial offering of her Head and Spouse. In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ becomes the sacrifice of the members of his Body who united to Christ form one sacrificial offering (cf. Catechism, no. 1368). As Christ’s sacrifice is made sacramentally present, united with Christ, we offer ourselves as a sacrifice to the Father. “The whole Church exercises the role of priest and victim along with Christ, offering the Sacrifice of the Mass and itself completely offered in it” ( Mysterium Fidei, no. 31; cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 11).
Other Common Questions on the Eucharist
Why does Jesus give us himself as food and drink?
When the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, why do they still look and taste like bread and wine?
Does the bread cease to be bread and the wine cease to be wine?
Is it fitting that Christ’s Body and Blood become present in the Eucharist under the appearances of bread and wine?
Are the consecrated bread and wine “merely symbols”?
Do the consecrated bread and wine cease to be the Body and Blood of Christ when the Mass is over?
Why are some of the consecrated hosts reserved after the Mass?
What are appropriate signs of reverence with respect to the Body and Blood of Christ?
If someone without faith eats and drinks the consecrated bread and wine, does he or she still receive the Body and Blood of Christ?
If a believer who is conscious of having committed a mortal sin eats and drinks the consecrated bread and wine, does he or she still receive the Body and Blood of Christ?
Does one receive the whole Christ if one receives Holy Communion under a single form?
Is Christ present during the celebration of the Eucharist in other ways in addition to his Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament?
Why do we speak of the “Body of Christ” in more than one sense?
Why do we call the presence of Christ in the Eucharist a “mystery”?
Questions and answers provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Available on their website at usccb.org
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