Christianity is a way of life based on the way of life of Jesus as testified by the Apostles who lived with him and as reported in the New Testament. By his teachings and by his deeds, by his life and by his death, Jesus revealed a new way of life. Each holy mystery makes present, in its own manner, this new way of life. Each holy mystery makes Baptism, we are given a new being. By Chrismation, we are given the power of the Holy Spirit to act according to this new being. By the Eucharist, the mystery of our transformation and of the transformation of the world is made present.
Christianity is the continuation through history of what Jesus did during his life. In Holy Scripture, we read the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ, in the holy mysteries we celebrate the presence of the same Jesus Christ. And in both ways, the Christian becomes more and more united with the living Christ and through him with the living God.
In the mystery of the Eucharist, we celebrate five transformations: the transformation of violence into love achieved by Jesus on the cross, the transformation of death into eternal life fulfilled by Jesus, Resurrection from the dead, the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the transformation of the faithful from individuals separated from each other into one Church which is the Body of Christ, and finally we celebrate by anticipation the transformation of this world into a world of glory.
1. “Do this in remembrance of me”
The first transformation is the transformation of violence into love achieved by Jesus on the cross. The mystery of the Eucharist is the renewal of what Jesus did at the Mystical Supper, according to the Tradition transmitted to us by the Apostles. St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, reports in the following terms the same tradition reported by the Evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luck:
“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘this is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper saying, ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (11: 23-25).
“On the night when he was betrayed” says St. Paul. What Jesus did at the Mystical Supper was to give is death its profound significance. The bread is his body which will be given for us, as sign of his love, the cup is his blood of the new covenant, “which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). The new covenant refers to the old covenant between God and his people on Mount Sinai, as we read in the Book of Exodus: “Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, ‘See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (24:8). Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). We read in the Second Vatican Council:
“At the Last Supper, on the night when he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved spouse the Church a memorial of his death and Resurrection, a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mid is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.”
As a sacrament, the Eucharist is “a visible sign”, rather he said: “This is my body that is for you”, and according to the Gospel of St. Luke, “This is my body, which is given for you” (22:19). On the cup also he did not simply say: “This is my blood”, rather he said: “this is my blood, which is poured out for many.” Jesus transformed the bread into his given body and the cup of wine into his poured out blood. By giving his body and pouring out his blood, Jesus manifested his love and the love of God the Father and at the same time he forgave his murderers: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
On the cross Jesus did not counter violence with violence, neither did he counter hatred with hatred, rather he countered violence with forgiveness, and hatred with love. In this way he redeemed the world, by putting an end to the violence that killed him. Only love can redeem the world. The Eucharist is the sacrament of our Redemption. By celebrating this mystery, the Church celebrates the redemption of the world by the love Jesus manifested on the cross, she celebrates the victory of forgiveness over violence and the victory of love over hatred.
2. The Eucharist: sacrament of Jesus’s Resurrection
The second transformation is the transformation of death into life. In all the liturgies not only Jesus death is remembered but also his Resurrection. The mystery of Redemption cannot be restricted to Jesus death. The mystery of death was his victory over violence, and Jesus Resurrection was his victory over death. Love is stronger than hatred and is also stronger than death.
By participating in the Eucharist, the faithful participate in the life of the risen Lord, and anticipate their own resurrection. That is the meaning of what Jesus says in the Gospel of St. John: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (6:51).
3. The Eucharist: mystery of the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ
The third transformation is the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. In the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, after remembering the words of the institution and “everything that was done for our sake, the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection, the Ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand, the second and glorious coming again,” the priest asks God the Father to send the Holy Spirit on the gifts: “Moreover, we offer you this spiritual and unbloody worship, and we ask and pray and entreat: send down your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered. And make this bread the precious Body of your Christ, and that which in this Chalice the precious Blood of your Christ, changing them by your Holy Spirit. So that to those who partake of them, they may be for the cleansing of the soul, for the remission of sins, for the communion of the Holy Spirit, for the fullness of the Kingdom of heaven, for intimate confidence in you, and not for judgment or condemnation.”
In the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit transforms the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and at the same time transforms those who partake of them into spiritual beings.
4. The mystery of the Eucharist makes the Church
The fourth transformation is the transformation of the faithful from individuals separated from each other into one body, into one Church. By transforming the faithful who participate in the Eucharist, this mystery makes the Church. “Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. Through it Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body – the Church. Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism. In Baptism we have been called to form but one body. The Eucharist fulfills this call. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the Blood of Christ? The bread that we break is it not a sharing in the Body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
“If you are the body and members of Christ,” says St. Augustine, “then it is your sacrament that is placed on the table of the Lord, it is your sacrament that you receive. To that which you are you respond ‘Amen’ (we believe that this is true) and by responding to it you assent to it. For you hear the words, ‘the body of Christ’ and respond ‘Amen’. Be then a member of the Body of Christ, so that your Amen may be true.”
The Eucharis makes the Church, the Body of Christ. And since Christ has by this body, achieved the reconciliation of humankind with God, and the reconciliation between all human beings, the Eucharist becomes a sign and an instrument of this reconciliation with God and between peoples and nations. “By her relationship with Christ,” says the Second Vatican Council, “the Church is a kind of sacrament or sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all humankind.” The Eucharist is the precious sign, instituted by Jesus himself, of this intimate union with God and of the unity of all humankind.
5. The Eucharist: sacrament of the heavenly Kingdom
The Eucharist is the pledge of the eternal life. The whole discourse on the Eucharist in the chapter 6 of the Gospel of St. John is centered on this idea: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh… Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them on the last day.” (John 6:51, 54). The fifth transformation of the Eucharist is the transformation of this earthly world in the heavenly and eternal world. By the Incarnation, God entered our world to sanctify it and fill it with God’s glory. The Eucharist perpetuates the presence of this divine glory, and as sacrament, it is a sign and an anticipation of the heavenly Kingdom of God, which will come in all its glory at the end of times. The Kingdom of God has already come in Jesus’ life and deeds. But it came as a seed, which will grow to reach the fullness of its stature.
Bye the Eucharist we celebrate the coming of God’s Kingdom, as we say in the beginning of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit…” And at the same time we pray for the transformation of the whole creation so that it becomes a “new Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:2), a holy place shining with God’s glory, where there is no more death, no mourning, no crying, no pain. In the Eucharist, and during its celebration, we live the mystery of the unity between the past, the present ad the future of our life and of the creation. In this sense, the remembrance of the past becomes also the remembrance of the future. Because of the presence on the altar of the Body and Blood of the risen Lord, we live in the present moment what will be achieved at the end of times. That is why in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, after the words of the institution of the Eucharist, the priest remembers the Second coming:
“remembering therefore, this precept of salvation and everything that was done for our sake, the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Enthronement at the right hand, the second and glorious coming again, we offer you your own from what is your own, in all and for the sake of all.”
The Eucharist is the entrance of the eternal world into this world, so that that the Church which is this world could be filled with the glory of heaven.
6. From Baptism to Eucharist
These five transformations celebrated in the mystery of the Eucharist are the accomplishment along with life of the Christian of the initial transformation realized in him by the mystery of Baptism. By his baptism, the Christian participates in the death and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that he might rise with Christ and “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4-5). In every Eucharist, is celebrated the mystery of the death and Resurrection of Christ, and at the same time the mystery of the death and resurrection of the Christian who participates in the Eucharist and partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Christian life is a life of following Christ in his death on the cross, to be able to participate to his Resurrection: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). To take up the cross means enduring the suffering that befalls us in our everyday life, in our daily obligations. It is impossible completely to refuse suffering without refusing to accept life as a whole, without ceasing to enter into any relationships. Pains, losses, amputations exist even in the smoothest-running life which can be conceived: separation from parents, fading of youthful friendship, the death of relatives and friends, finally our own death. And here everyone can add his own crosses. What is our attitude in face of the cross? It can be attitude of revolt against these sufferings, and our life will be filled with bitterness and anger. But we can also unite our suffering to the suffering of Christ on the Cross. Our life will then acquire a new personal quality: through suffering we become more mature, more experienced, more modest, more genuinely humble, more open for others – in a word, more Christian.
In every Eucharist, the Christian renews his baptismal commitment, dies to the sin, unites his cross to the Cross of Jesus, and rises with him to a new life of faith, hope, love, and sanctification. This is what we ask after the Eucharistic communion in the Liturgy of St. Joh Chrysostom: “Let our mouth be filled with your praise, O Lord, for you have counted us worthy to share your holy, immortal and spotless mysteries. Keep us in sanctification, that we may sing your glory, meditating on your holiness all the day. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia