I am taking a class this semester on Ecclesiology and Ecumenism, which thus far has been quite thought-provoking, to say the least. Our instructor is Fr. Guy Mansini, O.S.B., and we have begun by reading some works by Jean-Marie-Roger Tillard, O.P., St. Augustine, Pope John Paul II (his 2003 encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia), Charles Cardinal Journet, and also Lumen Gentium, one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council. For each reading, we are given a couple questions to answer in a short essay. Below is my most recent submission. It is no masterpiece, but I thought it might be worth sharing (and if I turn out to be totally off-base on the subject, I promise to either correct or retract as the case warrants).
-- Br. Francis
Why is there no Church without the Eucharist? So to speak, what is the “ecclesiological accomplishment” of the celebration of the Eucharist?
Holding the key to this question, it seems, is 1Corinthians 11:23-26, the oldest written account we’re aware of that describes the institution of the Lord’s Supper. The passage explains the practice of the Early Church as received from Christ and handed on to us through the Apostles. The paschal mystery—the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ—is the central and sustaining event in the faith of the People of God and life of the Church. The gift and mystery of the bread and cup was entrusted by Christ to the Church, through the Apostles, at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday of the Triduum, as He told them: “Do this in remembrance of me.” As John Paul II points out in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the Last Supper foreshadows what follows over the next three days.
The Eucharist, then, signifies and makes fully present this singular event, uniting it with all eternity. This ultimate sacrament of the unity of the People of God expresses what it is and what is achieved by it—the salvation of mankind through Christ’s gift of self on the cross. As we sing during the celebration of the Eucharist, “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.”
If, as St. Augustine says, we become what we receive in the Eucharist, then we offer ourselves with, in, and through Christ as His Body for the salvation of the world. As the Church, we pray as Christ through the Holy Spirit that all may become one body, and one spirit in Him as a total offering to God the Father.
So, it is through the Eucharist that the Church becomes a sign and sacrament of the salvation of mankind as obtained by Christ through the paschal mystery we celebrate. As the Body of Christ, we are a living sacrifice of praise through that Whom we receive and that Whom we are.