“O sacred Banquet! in which Christ is consumed, the memorial of His passion is recalled, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, hymn O Sacrum
Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium §47
The Mystery of the Eucharist is the greatest gift Jesus Christ has given to His Church. It is that perfect farewell present that allows Him to truly remain with us until the end of the world. It is the most perfect expression of God's love and mercy we could imagine.
All time is somehow contained in the Eucharist. The past, present, and future come together in Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega. The loving sacrifice of our Savior on Calvary's Cross almost 2000 years ago is made present to us; we are united with Christ and one another to truly become His living Body here and now; and we receive a pledge of future life and
glory with Him in heaven.
The great richness of this sacrament is reflected in the variety of names by which it is known:
• Eucharist, meaning “thanksgiving”;
• the Lord’s Supper, in remembrance of its institution the night before Jesus’ death (I Corinthians 11:20) and in anticipation of the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 19:9);
• the Breaking of Bread, a term that is connected with the Jewish Passover meal; with the miracles of the multiplication of the loaves which foreshadow the overflowing richness of the Eucharist; with the recognition of the Risen Christ by His disciples; and with the early Christian term designating their Eucharistic assemblies in which they were united as one
Body with the Lord;
• the Holy Sacrifice, used since it makes present the one, eternal sacrifice of the Lord on the Cross and also includes the Church’s self-offering to the Father;
• the Sacred Mysteries, along with similar terms, remind us that the Eucharist is the central act of the Church’s supernatural life and worship;
• the Most Blessed Sacrament, which again highlights the central place of the Eucharist among all the sacraments and works of the Church;
• Holy Communion, because we are united as one Body in Christ through our reception of the Eucharist;
• Holy Mass (Missa), because as Christ was sent by His Father, so are we sent forth (“missa est”) to continue the mission of Christ in our daily lives.
The Eucharist is the greatest of the sacraments. All seven of these visible signs of grace were instituted by Jesus to share the grace of redemption with us. It is Christ Himself Who shares His divine life with us in Baptism. It is Christ Who sends His Spirit in Confirmation. It is Christ Who forgives in Penance and heals in the Anointing of the Sick. It is Christ in Whom a woman and a man become one in love in the life-long bond of Christian Marriage as an image of His love for the Church. It is Christ Who conforms those He chooses to His own public ministry of salvation in Holy Orders.
All the other sacraments, like all the works of the Church’s apostolate and ministries, are actions that Christ does.
They are living signs of His grace among us, and as such have their own dignity. But the Eucharist is Christ Himself, His own Body and Blood. He is truly and personally
present in the Eucharistic species.
The celebration of the Eucharist makes present to us the one sacrifice of the Cross. This sacrifice is the source of the redemptive grace shared in the other sacraments, in the sacramentals, and in the Church’s ministry. For these reasons, the Church calls the Eucharist “the most eminent sacrament.”
By Christ’s own action, the miracle of “transubstantiation” occurs. In this miracle, the substance of bread and wine are truly and wholly changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. Only the appearances (sometimes called the “accidents,” those aspects that are accessible to our bodily senses) of bread and wine remain.