By: Atty. Aurora A. Santiago
The institution of the Eucharist started during the Last Supper. It was on the night when our Lord Jesus Christ shared one last meal with his disciples, the night before he was humiliated to suffer on the Cross. It was also during this meal that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Orders to perpetuate this sacrifice of his Body and Blood; to keep alive the Paschal Mystery - sacrifice of the Cross, his death and resurrection. The institution of the Eucharist, the First Mass, is the 5th in the Luminous Mystery of the Holy Rosary.
As the Gospel of Matthew tells us, Jesus eagerly desired to eat this Passover before he suffers: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:26-28).
When the Eucharist is celebrated, Christ is truly present body, blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine. In the act of consecration during the Eucharist, the bread and wine are changed into Body and Blood of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. The change is called "transubstantiation." According to our Catholic faith, we can speak of “the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist because transubstantiation has occurred.”
For Jesus said: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” (John 6:54-56). This is what the Church means when she speaks of the "Real Presence" of Christ in the Eucharist. The risen Christ is present to his Church in many ways, but most especially through the sacrament of his Body and Blood.
Some of the bread consecrated and were not consumed during the Mass are kept in the tabernacle, which is usually placed in a conspicuous place inside the Church, particularly the Altar or beside it. Called the Blessed Sacrament, it is used for distribution to the dying, the sick, and those who legitimately cannot be present for the celebration of the Eucharist. It may also be exposed in the Rite of Eucharistic Exposition and Benediction, carried in Eucharistic processions, or when it is simply placed in the tabernacle; the people pray privately before it since Christ himself is present under the appearance of bread.
As Catholics are doing, one should genuflect in the presence of the tabernacle containing the reserved sacrament; to make the sign of the cross and to bow with adoration, reverence and respect. It is not appropriate to speak in loud or boisterous tones in the Church because of the presence of Christ in the tabernacle. As a sign of reverence, it is required to fast at least one hour before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ (unless illness prevents one from doing so).
“The Eucharist is a sacrifice for it is offered. The Eucharist is a sacrament for it is received. In the Mass we offer ourselves to God, and God gives himself to us. The Mass will be fruitful in the measure of our surrender to the Father.”
As food nourishes the body, the Eucharistic food nourishes the spirit. Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist as spiritual nourishment because he loves us. God's whole plan for our salvation is directed to our participation in the life of the Trinity, the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The sharing of an ordinary meal, especially by all the members of the family, creates a union and solidarity among them who share together the foods. Similarly, in the Eucharist, the People of God share a meal that brings them into communio not only with each other but more so with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Before we receive the Holy Communion, we must be in a in a state of grace, free of all mortal sin, mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, an act of sorrow for sins accompanied by the firm intention of making a sacramental confession as soon as possible.
During the celebration of the Eucharist, Christ is in Real Presence not only in the Blessed Sacrament but also in the person of the priest who presides in the Mass. Christ is present in his Word "since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church." He is also present in the people who prays and sing, "for he has promised ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them'". He is also present in other sacraments: baptism, in the celebration of the Eucharist, confirmation. This presence is called ‘real' because it is substantial and through it Christ becomes present as God and man.
[Author has a column Duc in Altum at CBCP Monitor; the article was printed in the CBCP Monitor Special Editions during the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC), January 2016, Cebu City).