A friend had a question: what do I say to a person, who is soon to be accepted into full communion with the Catholic Church, who keeps asking if the Eucharist is really a form of cannibalism?
If I were you I’d be honest. You’d better tell him that it is cannibalism, in a sense. It is eating a human Body. It’s horrifying in its way. That’s why the Jews were so shocked when Christ brought it up; that’s why so many people left Him when He insisted.
So many people left Him. And He loved those people, more than His own life. He came that none of them should be lost. But He didn’t call them back and explain the metaphor, because it wasn’t one. When He said “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world,” He meant it. You have to eat His flesh and drink His blood.
Everyone who receives Holy Communion, receives the flesh and blood of Christ.
We receive the flesh and blood of Christ. Not a little piece, but the whole flesh and blood of Christ. Christ cannot be divided. Christ cannot be broken down into parts. Christ is God and God is One. Everyone who receives Holy Communion receives all the flesh and blood of Christ. Everyone who receives Holy Communion receives the whole Body, all of it, all the Blood, the whole Soul and Divinity as well. Everything that is Christ is in every wafer or crumb of the Precious Body and every drop of the Precious Blood. Everyone who receives Communion, receives all of Christ.
We receive Christ, the Wisdom that played upon the waters before the earth was formed. We receive Christ who took flesh as a microscopic zygote in the body of a young woman two thousand years ago. We receive Christ as He was born in the stable; Christ as He was carried helpless, a fugitive, into Egypt. We receive Christ in His hidden childhood in Nazareth, Christ baptized in the Jordan, Christ the healer, the teacher, the king entering Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt. We receive Christ before the Sanhedrin, Christ before Pilate, Christ scourged, Christ mocked, Christ crucified, Christ dead and sealed in the tomb. We receive the Risen Christ. We receive Christ who is coming to judge the living and the dead. Each of us receives all of Christ.
When we receive Holy Communion, we do not each receive a different Christ. We do not each receive a bite of Christ. It’s not that you receive one piece of Christ and I another; it’s not that Saint Catherine six hundred years ago received one Christ and I received a different one. Everyone who receives Holy Communion receives the exact same Christ. Every sip of the chalice and every wafer or cube of the Host is all of Christ. You and I, Saint Patrick and the Pope, every Catholic who has ever received Holy Communion has received the exact same Christ.And when we receive all of Christ, Christ receives all of us. Christ takes all of you to Himself, and in the same way you take all of Him into you. The eternal Bridegroom and the bride– that’s you, whether you’re male or female, every human being is the Bride– become one flesh. Your body, your soul, your personality, your history, become one with Christ’s. While you live, you will live the life of Christ. When you are happy, you share the joy of Christ. When you suffer and die, you will suffer and die with Christ– and you will rise with Him as well. He does this for each communicant individually, and He does it for all of us who have received Holy Communion.
What a terrible, wonderful, inconvenient mystery. I have swallowed God and you, the new communicant, are about to swallow the same God. Not one or another piece of God, because God is One. All of us individually are about to eat the same God, and when we do, He will eat us. This will happen whether we who receive Him believed it or not, whether we know it or not, whether we feel it or not. You and I will eat the same Christ and He will eat us. You and I became one flesh with the same Bridegroom. There is only Christ. Without losing the individual selves the Father created, we will become one, just as the Father and Christ are One. Everyone in the Church– not just this church at this liturgy but at all churches in all liturgies that ever have or ever will be celebrated– is one. I am one with Saint Catherine, Saint Nicholas, Saint Paul, Saint Peter, with my ancestors in Ireland and in West Virginia, with the priest who baptized me and who has been dead for years, and with everyone else who receives Communion, because we are all one in Christ.
And when you receive Him, you will be one with us.
It’s infinitely stranger than cannibalism. And infinitely better as well.
(image via Pixabay)