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May: The Month of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist

You have perhaps seen devotional artwork showing Mary contemplating the Eucharist as we might today in Eucharistic adoration, such as the work Madonna of the Host, by Jean- Auguste Ingres. This image is of course not intended as a historical depiction of what Mary actually did in her own prayer life, but a theological statement about the kind of Presence we discover in the Eucharist.

To understand this, start with Easter. In Jesus of Nazareth, volume II, Pope Benedict wrote about the Resurrection in words that struggle to capture the infinite: What actually happened? Clearly, for the witnesses who encountered the risen Lord, it was not easy to say. They were confronted with what for them was an entirely new reality, far beyond the limits of their experience … utterly unlike anything they had previously known.… Jesus’ Resurrection was about breaking out into an entirely new form of life that is no longer subject to the law of dying and becoming, but lies beyond it. [It is a resurrection] into definitive otherness in the midst of the same continuing world. … [Yet] it is truly he. He is alive; he has spoken to us; he has allowed us to touch him, even if he no longer belongs to the tangible in the normal way.… While no longer belonging in a limited way to our physical world, he is truly present there, he himself. It was an utterly unique experience, which burst open the normal boundaries of experience and yet for the disciples was quite beyond doubt. (see pp. 242-246)

Now read that again, but with the Eucharist in mind – for on the altar, in the tabernacle, and most of all, in ourselves through Communion, this is the risen and glorified Body and Blood of the same Jesus. Only because of the Resurrection does the Real Presence of the risen Jesus under the “old world” appearances of bread and wine make sense. This is Jesus as he makes himself present “utterly unlike anything previously known,” the “definitive otherness in the midst of the same continuing world” of the One who “no longer belongs to the tangible in the normal way.”

In this Eucharistic Revival year, we can ponder Mary among other ways as the Mother of the Eucharist. St. John Paul II wrote about this beautifully in 2003 in his encylical Ecclesia de Eucharistiae not long before he died: Mary can guide us towards this most holy sacrament, because she herself has aprofound relationship with it. At first glance, the Gospel is silent on this subject. The account of the institution of the Eucharist on the night of Holy Thursday makes no mention of Mary. Yet we know that she was present among the Apostles who prayed “with one accord” (cf. Acts 1:14) in the first community … Mary must have been present at the Eucharistic celebrations of the first generation of Christians, who were devoted to “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42).

In a certain sense Mary lived her Eucharistic faith even before the institution of the Eucharist, by the very fact that she offered her virginal womb for the Incarnation of God’s Word.

… At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord’s body and blood.

As a result, there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord. Mary was asked to believe that the One whom she conceived “through the Holy Spirit” was “the Son of God” (Lk 1:30-35). In continuity with the Virgin’s faith, in the Eucharistic mystery we are asked to believe that the same Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, becomes present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine. … What must Mary have felt as she heard from the mouth of Peter, John, James and the other Apostles the words spoken at the Last Supper: “This is my body which is given for you” (Lk 22:19)? … For Mary, receiving the Eucharist must have somehow meant welcoming once more into herself that heart which had beat in unison with hers.

Some time this month, pray the Rosary with your family, a friend or two, or even alone in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, remembering that “the fruit of your womb” is the same Person whom we receive at each Mass. And be mindful of your next “Amen” at Communion as an echo of Mary’s own courageous words: “Let it be done according to your word.”

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