How does the Eucharist help us become the Body of Christ?
We gather together in worship, not to "refuel" lives devoid of grace, but because we need to celebrate all the grace-filled moments of our lives, which are so easily overlooked or ignored. We gather at Eucharist to be challenged to deeper awareness of what God is doing in our lives, in this world, all week long. We have to keep remembering to ask the questions: "Who is at the table? Who is around the table?" as well as the question, "Who is on the table?"
The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes a moving passage in which St. Augustine relates the Body of Christ in the Eucharist (on the altar) to the Body of Christ that is the Church (at and around the altar). Says Augustine at the turn of the fifth century: "If you are the body and members of Christ, then it is your sacrament which is placed on the table of the Lord; it is your sacrament that you receive. To that which you are, you respond: 'Amen' ('Yes, it 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 that your Amen may be true" (#1396).
Is Jesus really present in the Eucharist? Recent years have seen a growing concern about Catholics' understanding of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Some surveys show that a number of practicing Catholics are not clear about the doctrine of real presence. Some think of consecrated bread and wine as only symbols of Jesus' presence rather than a genuine change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, the long-standing Catholic understanding. The Eucharist is, for Catholics, both a meal and a sacrifice. The Lord gave us the Eucharist at the Last Supper because he wanted us to share in the life of the Trinity, the loving communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We become united to God at our Baptism, and receive a further outpouring of the Holy Spirit at our Confirmation. In the Eucharist we are nourished spiritually, brought closer to God, again and again.
As Jesus says in John's Gospel: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (Jn 6:56). This meal of fellowship and unity, though, also is understood as a sacrifice. Why is that? Because Jesus died for our sins. Human sin was so great that we could never share fully in the life of God. Jesus came to reunite us. At the Eucharist, we re-present the outpouring of Christ's life so that our life can be restored. This gift of life is happening in eternity, always. We remember this in a special way when we sing the Holy, Holy, Holy at Mass, recalling the words of Isaiah 6:3, the hymn of the angels before God. We sing our praise before the "lamb of God," slain to take away the sin of the world, all that separates us from God (see Jn 1:29).