The “both/and” of the Eucharist
I have been a part of a variety of different Catholic communities in my lifetime, and each of them has placed a slightly different emphasis on the Eucharist. For some, the emphasis is on the true presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine and the reverence that is due to such an incredible miracle. For others, the emphasis is on the communal element of receiving the Eucharist in Mass, and how it spiritually sustains us in the interconnected, loving relationships we are called to as Christians.
Often, these emphases are presented as “either/or” – suggesting that we can only focus on either the divinity of Christ in the Eucharist or our connection with each other through receiving it. But today’s readings offer insights into both of these points of emphasis in the Eucharist, and I’d suggest that they need to coexist for us to truly embrace the sacrament.
In the Gospel, the Jews ask themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”, pointing out how hard it is to fathom what we believe about the Eucharist. Jesus responds, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”
We become desensitized to how radical this is when we are raised Catholic. Jesus is suggesting not just a spiritual union with him through the Eucharist, but a physical one. We are ingesting Jesus as a means of connecting with Him, which takes the reality of the Incarnation to a new level.
In the second reading, Paul writes, “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body.” His emphasis is on our connection with one another by each consuming the same “loaf”.
This theme of interconnectedness is a deep truth about what it means to be not just Christian, but human. It is a tenant of many of the world’s religions, and a sense of the interconnectedness of all people is a common theme reported across cultures for people who have near death experiences. Receiving the Eucharist alongside others who are ingesting the same bread is a reminder of this reality of being deeply connected to each other (even if the imagery of one physical loaf being broken into many pieces has been lost in many of our churches).
But even if we recognize the spiritual reality of interconnectedness amongst people, we know we are far away from living in a harmonious world. Living alongside each other in true communion is difficult and messy, which is why we need to recognize and accept the grace of God to do so. In the Eucharist, we have the opportunity to “participate”, as Paul says, in Christ’s body and blood, not only during the Mass, but also when we return to the world. We “participate” by working to make the communities we are a part of a little bit more reflective of our interconnectedness, but we do not do it alone. We do it by the grace of the one whose body and blood we received, to whom we are also intimately connected.
Kelly is a freelance writer and editor based in Toledo, Ohio, who is particularly focused on projects that support women in the Church. You can connect with her on Instagram at @ksankowski.writing.