The Eucharist as the Self of Christ. What does this mean to me? Can I celebrate this Mystery every day and yet comprehend so little? Do I understand it at all?
Recently, I have been reading Adrienne von Speyr's work "The Passion from within" where she shares her profound and unique insights on the suffering, loneliness and loss Christ endured for love of us during His Passion. I have been most struck by her meditations on Christ's mysterious presence in the Eucharist. They have made me think of the Eucharist as never before, but more than that; shown me that we must allow ourselves to be taken hold of by a Truth greater than ourselves and to be led into a mystery that seeks to envelope us completely. Few are willing to be led in such a way, to let go of their narrow conception of things and to be guided by the Spirit.
Von Speyr is not a theologian but a mystic and her words will not immediately bring clarity but rather perhaps a confusion of the deepest sort. Yet consider if you will a few of her thoughts:
"It is a breathtaking moment, when the Word that was with God from the beginning and became flesh and incarnated into humanity suddenly becomes again only words, audible words standing by themselves alone. The words are 'This is my body.' The new and eternal covenant, the whole of Christianity, everything that has inaugurated it and everything that is still to come, all this recedes into the simple words: 'This is my body.'
. . . the words stand there completely isolated. And at the moment of their being spoken, they are completely accomplished. They sum up everything. They are spoken by the Lord who now stands 'beside' his body. On the right the Lord, on the left the bread, preceded by the Incarnation, followed by dying and death; in the center of it all these words."
Already, the mind begins to swirl as she leads us into what is often taken for granted. The Lord himself, she tells us, is startled and shudders at these simple words and how they sum up the whole of his mission and present it to the Father.
"The whole of the Passion is already anticipated in these words; all that was and is and will be is gathered into them and receives from this center its ultimate place; all the states of the Passion . . . The world receives a new center. The speaker of these words has to experience this incredible transition, which is a sacrifice. He had in the same way experienced the strangeness of the Incarnation. Having become flesh, he now becomes bread. Having become bread, he becomes Church.”
She quickly sweeps us into the implications of this mystery before we pause to think. Christ “gives the character of timeless duration to his earthly body. Lying beside him, but containing him totally, this bread has become his body, and the word uttered has been given to the Church, and in distributing the bread to her members, in multiplying his body, the Church will be formed into his body.”
With the institution of the Eucharist, Christ demands that our understanding rise beyond its limits toward his incomprehensibility. Questions with no clear answer about the nature Christ’s very self, the humanity he embraced, begin to arise at the moment of the meal.
“If he becomes bread that we can eat, does his life end with this meal? And since bread can be produced repeatedly: Does he come to an end when we eat his bread? Is it a symbolic death, or do we perhaps really kill him when we receive him into ourselves? Was all his human life ordered toward this ultimate reality of bread that is being eaten?”
Further still we are confronted with questions of how this bread is connected with the Passion and again what implications this has for us.
“Could it be that this goes so far that through this, his transformation, his whole divinity passes from him over into us? What manner of being is he taking on himself? The most ordinary one as pure bread, or the most extreme and absurd? . . . Is it perhaps very risky to eat of this bread? What are the consequences?"
Everything rest on this clear and simple statement, ‘This is my body” but if taken to mean what it says its surpassing extravagance leads us back into utter incomprehensibility - to the connection between the bread and the Passion.
Again, Von Speyr prompts us to ask:
“Where will he now suffer? In the body we see? In the bread? Will we cause him to suffer by eating him? "
Yet, as the questions still linger in our minds, it is as if a light penetrates the darkness and incomprehensibility of it all and provides Von Speyr with the necessary insight:
“The Church receives the body of Christ before he suffers the Passion; only afterward will he go and deliver his body up to death. The Church therefore can suffer together with him only because she has already received his body so that it lives already in her. Had she not received his body beforehand, she would not be able to suffer with him. And if the Lord had suffered first and then instituted the Eucharist, she would not be able to share in his Passion; she would be at once the triumphant Church with the Lord’s death lying behind her. The Eucharist would only be the risen body of Christ. But the Church is made up of sinners, so this is impossible. The Lord could institute this sacrament only during his life before the Cross . . .The Eucharistic body gives the Church access to participation in the Cross. The Cross, not as completed fact, but as something lying ahead of me.”
The personal implications of this reality are terrible as they are beautiful:
“If I reject this sacrifice, if I do not accept His Communion, I stand outside and cannot suffer for him. He has to institute the Eucharist also before he himself can suffer. He has placed his whole divinity into this bread, so to speak, in order to be able to suffer freely as man. It even looks as if this bread receives and retains his strength increasingly in direct proportion to his increasing impotency. The Church will continue to celebrate his supper after his death; his power is left in these words and outlives the Lord’s death. The bread disappears; the faithful have eaten it. But the words remain in their full divine power undiminished and outlast his death; out of this power the Church will be able to make the Lord’s body present at any time. It will be the same body, but inserted into the fruit of the Cross.”
The Self of Christ that we receive in the Eucharist is the Incarnate Love of God crucified for us and with whom we now are crucified. With the words, ‘This is my body’, the Lord gives a new mode of existence to humanity.