Summary: The Middle Ages gave us an understanding of the Real Presence of the personal Christ in Eucharist that demands a special place.
Memorial of St. John Bosco
January 31, 2011
Spirit of the Liturgy
What could be better than being approved by God for our faith, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews says about our spiritual ancestors? Yet he says that God sees something better for us. It is something so great that we cannot see it for ourselves without the eyes of faith. The Gerasenes, in this almost comic story of the madman Jesus exorcized, couldn’t see beyond the economic loss of their pigs. (By the way, there is clearly a problem here with the transmission of the original text, because pigs can’t congregate in herds this large without turning on each other.) They told Jesus to leave them. Recall, in Luke’s Gospel, Peter, on seeing a great miracle of Jesus, told him “depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”
What God has seen for us, that is better for us, is happening right here and right now. God wants us to be transformed into images of His Son, Jesus, into sons and daughters of Mary and of God. God wants us to be so united with Jesus that we are one in heart and mind with each other. This is God’s vision for humans. That is why the Son of God became human, so that we humans could become like God.
The Holy Father continues his reflection on the Real Presence in this same vein: “the early Church was already well aware that the bread once changed remains changed. That is why they reserved it for the sick, and that is why they showed it such reverence.” In the Middle Ages, however, the Church’s awareness of the Presence developed and deepened: “the gift is changed. The Lord has definitively drawn this piece of matter to himself. It does not contain just a matter-of-fact kind of gift. No, the Lord himself is present, the Indivisible One, the risen Lord, with Flesh and Blood, with Body and Soul, with Divinity and Humanity. The whole Church is there.”
So it is misleading to speak of the Eucharistic element in any but personal language. “What is it?” is not even the proper question to ask. “How is the Body of Christ supposed to become a ‘thing’? The only presence is the presence of the whole Christ. . .there is a person-to-person exchange, a coming of the one into the other. The living Lord gives himself to me, enters into me, and invites me to surrender myself to him.” Thus St. Paul’s words can more and more apply to me and you–I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me. (Gal 2:20) “Only thus is the reception of Holy Communion an act that elevates and transforms” the human person.
A new realization of the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic reality is one of the many elevations of the human that we owe to the High Middle Ages, specifically the Franciscan and Dominican revivals of the 13th century. The experience of the founding saints, and of theologians and teachers like Albertus Magnus and his disciple, Thomas Aquinas, was of the reality of Christ’s presence. “This deepened awareness of faith is impelled by the knowledge that in the consecrated species he is there and remains there. When a man experiences this with every fiber of his heart and mind and senses, the consequence is inescapable: ‘We must make a proper place for this Presence.’ And so little by little the tabernacle. . .takes the place previously occupied by the now disappeared ‘Ark of the Covenant’. . .the tabernacle is the complete fulfillment of what the Ark of the Covenant represented. It is the place of the ‘Holy of Holies’. It is the tent of God, his throne.”