The Eucharist: Christ at the Center

The Eucharist: Christ at the Center February 20, 2024

The Eucharist has always been at the center of the faith in the Catholic Church. Some theologians like to think that the sacraments were made up later, which is why I like looking to St. Justin Martyr. He is one of the earliest Christians and shows us that Catholic teaching on the Eucharist was present from the beginning.

No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ. (St. Justin Martyr)

Here, we can tell that he is not speaking about some symbolic meal, but about a heavenly reality that has been entrusted to the Church.

We do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Savior became a man of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilates for its nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving. (St. Justin Martyr)

His words paint a picture of the early Church in a masterful manner. Each brushstroke reveals another facet of the way that they lived. It is obvious that the Eucharist was at the center of their Christian life. This is something that we still live today.

Source and Summit of Ecclesial Life

Numbers 1324-1327 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church describe the Eucharist as the “source and summit of ecclesial life.” This term “source and summit” is one of my favorite phrases from the Second Vatican Council in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, describing the sacrament of the Eucharist as having a privileged place within the theology of the Church.

“The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’ ‘The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324)

When we say that the Eucharist is the ‘source and summit’, we mean that it is the cause of all holiness in the Church because it is Christ himself. It is also the highest gift we can receive because the whole purpose of the Church is to get us to Jesus. For this reason, we call the Church the “sacrament of salvation” (Lumen Gentium, 48). When somebody reduces the Eucharist to merely a symbol, they are doing the equivalent of reducing this sacrament to the same status of a logo for a sports team. They think that the Eucharist reminds us of Jesus in the way that the Patriot logo reminds us of an extremely successful football team: a comparison that fails miserably. The Eucharist does not motivate and move Catholics merely in the same way as a logo or a national flag, because it is so much more.

Monstrance Shows the Eucharist
The Eucharist is the Source and Summit of the Church | Courtesy:

Entire Spiritual Good of the Church

The Eucharist contains “the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1325). The Eucharist really is Jesus, and the Church could not possibly offer us anything greater. The true treasure of the Church is Jesus, so being able to “package” it so neatly looks like quite an impressive trick. Jesus is present in the Church in innumerable ways, and He is also present to some extent among other denominations of the Christian faith. However, nowhere is he present to the same degree and level of excellence as he is in the Eucharist, making this sacrament the source and summit of ecclesial life. This is the greatest tragedy that many Christians are not even aware of suffering: the tragedy of losing the most precious element of their own faith.

When the Presbyterian minister Scott Hahn discovered the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, he did not believe it. At the same time, however, he recognized that if it were true, he would spend as much time as he possibly could in front of the Eucharist. As St. Josemaria Escriva said, “when you approach the tabernacle remember that he has been waiting for you for twenty centuries.” This led him down the path from Presbyterian minister to Catholic apologist and theologian. When we become aware of the awesomeness of the reality of the Real Presence, we recognize that there is no better place to be than in front of Jesus. This is the theological foundation of the pious practice of Eucharistic adoration.

We Come to Adore Him

We adore him who is the origin and goal of our faith, him without whom we would not be here this evening, without whom we would not be at all, without whom there would be nothing, absolutely nothing! Him through whom “all things were made” (Jn 1:3), him in whom we were created, for all eternity, him who gave us his own body and blood – he is here, this evening, in our midst, for us to gaze upon (Pope Benedict XVI, Blessed Sacrament Procession in Lourdes, 2008).

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About Fr. Nicholas Sheehy, LC
Fr. Nicholas Sheehy was ordained a Catholic priest in 2013 for the Legionaries of Christ. He has been involved in youth work including missions, retreats and apostolic outreach in Germany, Italy, the United States and Central America. He is passionate about the New Evangelization and formation for young adults and married couples. He is a spiritual director and retreat director, offering marriage preparation and marriage counseling through the Divine Mercy Clinic and Family Center. He is currently Executive Director and Chaplain of the Newman Center at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Pasadena, California. You can read more about the author here.
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