Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Eucharist (Holy Communion) – Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

In 1263 something unusual happened in a Church in Bolsena, Italy. A visiting German Priest, Fr. Peter of Prague was celebrating Mass in the Church of St. Christina when the host started to bleed blood during the consecration. The Pope at the time, Urban IV, was living in the nearby city of Orvieto due to the civil war in Rome. Following the direction of the Pope, the consecrated host and the soaked alter covering were moved to the Cathedral Church in Orvieto, where they are to date.

During the following year, 1264, Pope Urban IV instituted the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ to honor the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist through the Papal Bull (public decree) “Transiturus de hoc mundo.” He also encouraged St. Thomas Aquinas to compose the famous and timeless song “Pange lingua…Tantum Ergo” at that period, which venerates our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

Understanding “Holy Communion”

If you pay closer attention to the speech syllabification of the word “communion,” you will discover that it appears to be a combination of two words, “come” and “union” the same way “community” would sound like the combination of the words, “come” and “unity.”

One of the “other names” (aliases) of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is, “Holy Communion.” Though widely used by many Catholics and other Christians, there would be the need to explore the transforming meaning, power, and effect of  Holy Communion the leveraging St. Paul’s instruction on the One Bread and One Cup in the Second Reading today (1 Cor. 10:16-17). 

We receive Holy Communion during the Eucharistic celebration, but beyond that, what we gather to do during the ceremony is also “Holy Communion.” We can, therefore, say that in the Holy Eucharist, what we eat, and drink is the same thing we do when we gather, that is, Holy Communion.

Our Lord Jesus Christ laid the foundation of Holy Communion when among other things in the Gospel Reading today, he said: “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:56). The reality of Holy Communion becomes clearer here as we get united with the Lord when we partake in the Holy Eucharist.

We could also recall that Jesus said that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink (John 6:55). The idea of real food and real drink supports our belief in transubstantiation, which is the change of the substance of the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ while retaining the appearances of bread and wine during the celebration. We have here, a mystery and a miracle!

United with Christ and Others in the One Bread and One Cup

Nutritionists and dietitians tell us that we become what we eat when they advise people to eat healthy food to live healthy lives. This idea has relevance in our participation in the Holy Eucharist. When we eat the body of Jesus Christ and drink his blood, we become one with him in the same way natural food is assimilated into our bodies after ingestion.

Furthermore, we understand that the Eucharistic celebration is not a private affair, even when a priest celebrates Mass by himself. It is a gathering of the community of God’s people sharing from one Table, one Bread, and One Cup at the instance of one Lord. At every celebration of the Holy Eucharist, there is a spiritual interaction between heaven and earth, and this brings about the Holy Communion.

One of the ways you can justify the closeness between two individuals or more is when they eat from the plate (eating and dining together); it becomes even closer when they drink from the same cup.

Moving Forward: Giving the Lord “A Resident Permit”

The Holy Eucharist we receive can only produce the deserving effects in our lives if we open our hearts to the Lord, giving him what I would call “a deserving resident permit,” as he has promised to reside in those who eat his body and drink his blood.

We could recall that when Judas received the Lord, the presence of evil in his mind could not allow him to provide this resident permit. Consequently, a contrary thing happened to him: he excluded himself from the Lord and the Eucharistic community.

How Judas ended his life tells us that it is not all about receiving the Lord in the Eucharist than it is to be united with Him and with others after receiving. In the Gospel of John (15:5), our Lord Jesus Christ said, “cut off from me, you can do nothing.” He thus challenges us to be open to union with him and others, as we intentionally participate in the One Bread and One Cup

As we eat and dine with and from the Lord in the Holy Communion, let us continue to form bonds of unity despite our beautiful diversity. As we go through the gruesome period in our history with the coronavirus pandemic, let us not sacrifice our Holy Communion with one another on the altar of social distancing. May we also have a renewed approach to the Lord in the Holy Eucharist as most of us have missed this Holy Communion with the Lord and with one another for the period of the quarantine. God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.  

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