God Is Near Us

God Is Near Us
The Eucharist, the Heart of Life
by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, translated by Henry Taylor
(Ignatius Press, 2003)

This collection of Ratzinger’s sermons enlightens us about the Eucharist and explains how the Eucharist essentially means that God is not just near us but also with us – Emmanuel.

God comes to us and dwells with us
“… the immeasurable Word, the entire fullness of Holy Scripture, has contracted itself…”

God came “from eternity into time”, to dwell as man among men. How much nearer could He be? Thus, when we receive Holy Communion, we receive our God who “puts himself into our hands”, and so the result of this awesome direct contact should be a reverent and submissive spirit, and a heart open to His coming.

God’s Presence is real and abiding
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you… My flesh is food indeed.” (John 6:53, 55)

At the moment of Incarnation, Mother Mary gave Jesus His first earthly dwelling place. The overshadowing Holy Spirit created the new “place of meeting” between God and man, the Annunciation scene echoing the holy cloud resting over the Tent of Meeting, and our God who “cannot be contained within the world” came to “dwell in his entirety in one person”, as a real person. Jesus, as man, became the Paschal Lamb Who fulfilled what the Temple of Jerusalem stood for and henceforth dwells among man.

Thus, whenever and wherever we celebrate the Eucharist, we come together to worship God in the “holy tent”, with the Holy Spirit overshadowing us, and Jesus is truly and wholly there.

He Himself said in no uncertain terms that He is the Bread that we eat. When He explained that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood, He did not attempt to appease the agitated listeners by saying that His flesh merely “signifies” food. Instead, He said that His body is “food indeed”.

Adoration, then, becomes a natural and essential response to the Eucharist because “it is the majesty of the living God that comes to us with him”. The fourth century records of Cyril of Jerusalem tell us that candidates for baptism were taught to make a “throne” with their hands to receive Communion. The monks of Cluny (around 1000 AD) took off their shoes when they received Communion – because they were coming face to face with the “burning bush”, “the mystery before which Moses, in the desert, sank to his knees”.

Jesus gives Himself
“Jesus died praying, and in the abyss of death he upheld the First Commandment and held on to the presence of God. Out of such a death springs this sacrament, the Eucharist.”

The Eucharist arose out of Jesus’ giving of Himself in His actions from the Last Supper to the Resurrection – His sacrifice, death and saving work.

In washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus performed the work of the slave who washed the master’s or guests’ feet so that they would be ready to sit down for a meal together. At their shared meal after the washing of feet, He continued to give of Himself, not just in the words that after that come to us as the words of consecration but the entire sequence which we now celebrate as the Triduum, culminating in the Resurrection, is what the Eucharist means.

Thus, the Eucharist is “the act of self-sharing love” and “the presentation of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross”. By this, Jesus becomes “both the giver and the gift”, giving Himself to us “that we may give in turn”. Learning from His sacrificial attitude, we understand that “the sacrifice pleasing to God is a man pleasing to God.”

The Eucharist and the other sacraments
“… all sacramental acts have their origin in the Paschal Mystery of the Lord’s Cross and Resurrection.”

Jesus’ words at the Last Supper move us towards His death, and it is His word + death + Resurrection, the “mystery of Easter”, that completes the institution of the Eucharist, and also becomes the root of the sacrament of Baptism and gives birth to the Church.

The Eucharist is also closely related to the sacrament of reconciliation, which it “presupposes”. The early Church was keenly sensitive of the need for a person to to repent and confess before receiving Communion. In the 2nd century celebration of the Eucharist, the priest would say before Holy Communion, “Whoever is holy, let him approach – whoever is not, let him do penance.”

From Passover to Eucharistic celebration
“He gave himself to enter into the “fruit of the earth and the work of human hands”… It is the royal privilege of the Christian to share in paschal fellowship with the Lord, in the Paschal Mystery.”

The Mass grew out of the “heart” of Jewish worship, the Passover meal that intimately remembered, in the family setting, God’s saving action. Jesus transformed the Passover as the “true Paschal Lamb”. The Eucharistic celebration took shape from His final earthly Passover, following His command and centred on His redeeming sacrifice. Thus, His words are the “heart” of the Eucharist and the Mass is His gift to the whole Church for all time.

The Eucharist in the context of Church
“The celebration of the Eucharist is not just a meeting of heaven and earth; rather it is also a meeting of the Church then and now, a meeting of the Church here and there.”

The priest celebrates Mass not from a personal perspective but “represents the whole Church.” Thus, the Mass is not a private celebration for a priest or a particular group or congregation but at every Mass, it is the whole Church that celebrates and prays together. This is underlined by the specific naming of the bishop and Pope in the Eucharistic Prayer, showing that we celebrate the “one Eucharist of Jesus Christ, which we can receive only in the one Church”.

The entire Church lives because of the Eucharist, and this life must carry on outside of the Mass. Being in communion with the Lord requires us to be in communion with each other as well.

The Eucharist and our mission as Christians
“The Lord gives himself to us in bodily form. That is why we must likewise respond to him bodily. That means above all that the Eucharist must reach out beyond the limits of the church itself in the manifold forms of service to men and to the world.”

Receiving Christ, we have to carry Him in our daily lives and service to others. Holy Communion is a personal and spiritual communion with the Lord, and the words of the Liturgy change from “we” to “I” accordingly, yet we receive Him Who by His life and Resurrection leads us out into the world to “transform” it with our lives and actions. In Him we have the food that gives us strength to live our lives for others.

Daily, we move towards heaven, and we will get there if we remain with Him and walk “with Him Who came among us as bread and Word”.

♫ Makes me think of  O Bread of Heaven