“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on Earth: the Blessed Sacrament...there you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death.”
These are words that author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his son in a letter. Tolkien was a man who had seen and experienced a lot in his life: both great joys and tragic losses. And, as is evident from his words, he was also someone whose Catholic faith was central to his life. And I think these words of Tolkien beautifully capture the gift that, our next Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist, is for us.
While Tolkien’s closing sentiment may seem morbid, his words remind us that all of the earthly things that we love are subject to death... they either eventually leave us or we eventually leave them. And while this reminder may sound depressing or discouraging, Tolkien points out that the Eucharist, the Sacrament which makes the real Body and Blood of Jesus truly present to us, contains, in a way, God’s remedy for death.
And we can say this because the Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Jesus, our Savior who has freely “entered into” death precisely to save us from it. In other words, where the Eucharist is, there Jesus is present with us....and where Jesus is present with us, we too share in His victory over death.
Contained “in” the Eucharist is the entire reality of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. And, while this is true of each of the Sacraments, the Eucharist is a Sacrament that remains “with us”. This great Sacrament is made present for us upon the altar at Mass through the words and actions of the priest, but it is also a Sacrament that remains with us in every Catholic Church throughout the world where the Eucharist is reserved.
With Baptism and Confirmation, we learned that these Sacraments give us particular graces. (In Baptism we’re adopted as God’s children; in Confirmation we’re strengthened and commissioned to be public witnesses of Christ). So too, in the Eucharist God bestows particular graces for us. In the Eucharist we are given strength to be sustained throughout our lives as Catholic Christians... the Eucharist is spiritual nourishment for us during our pilgrimage on this Earth. This is one of the reasons why the Eucharist is one of the Sacraments that can be received more than once...because we all need to be fed repeatedly if we are to stay alive.
We have begun to discuss the Eucharist as the third Sacrament after Baptism and Confirmation because the Eucharist is the third and last of the Sacraments of Initiation. The Sacraments of Initiation are those first Sacraments that are traditionally received when a person wishes to become Catholic. By being baptized, confirmed and receiving First Holy Communion, the person is “initiated” into the Catholic Church.
Next month we’ll look a little bit at the form and matter that are required for the Eucharist before moving into the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
By Father Michael Bovino