Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


Thoughts on the Eucharist

1.“But our opinion is in accord with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion.” So said St. Irenaeus in his wonderful tome Against Heresies, in response to Gnostic heresy that denied the good of creation, and the true “infleshing” of the Son of God, on the grounds that creation was inherently evil, the ethereal spirit realm being the only residence of truth and life and salvation. Against this St. Irenaeus countered with the Eucharist, using the venerable argument of lex orandi, lex credendi. Later Fathers would make great use of the Baptismal Formula against deniers of the Trinity; St. Irenaeus worked from the Incarnation-affirming doctrine of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the communion of the body and blood of Christ, and it comes to us through the physical elements of bread and wine. Thus the affirmation of creation’s goodness and Christ’s true Incarnation is really two-fold in it: not only does Christ’s true body and blood truly nourish us, body and soul, but we receive it through things that come from the earth: bread and wine. The Eucharist is vividly Incarnational: it is received by the whole man through the Spirit, who deigns to dwell in physical man and make use of physical things. Christ uses the common elements of bread and wine, the fruit of the soil, to make manifest to us Himself. The Eucharist is thus a manifestation of the Eschaton, and God’s embrace of all things, the liberation of all creation. We also see, through our reception of Christ’s body and blood, for our own bodies and souls, that God intends for the whole man to be saved, not merely some immortal but disembodied soul. As St. Irenaeus says, why would God give us His body and blood if both things in us were meant to be dissolved and done away with:

“When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which flesh is nourished from the body and the blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?- even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that, ‘we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.’”

2. When we speak of the Eucharist, it is necessary that we affirm the Real Presence in the fullest manner. It is not enough to speak of a Presence in which His body and blood are not presented to the whole man. He offers Himself to us, to all of us. Our body and soul is nourished by Him: not the soul only, but the body also. Thus the phrase ‘spiritual presence’ is potentially dangerous. If by it one denies that Christ’s body and blood are ‘true food and true drink,’ and that we are somehow only recipients of His spiritual presence, divorced of His Incarnation, then it is a fall from right doctrine. In the Eucharist Christ truly presents His flesh and blood for the life of the world, for us, in our whole person. For in receiving the Eucharist of His body and blood, we receive the whole of Him, for the whole of us. The Eucharist really is His body and blood: as St. Irenaeus says, when the elements of bread and wine recieve the Word and Spirit, they are transformed, and truly become the body and blood of Christ for us (I must note, however, that despite this affirmation, I find it highly doubtful that St. Irenaeus would consider 'adoration' of the elements, for the Eucharist is intended for eating and drinking- but this is a topic for another post).

3. But on the other hand, we may freely speak of the spiritual presence, if we capitalize the term: Spiritual Presence, that is, a Eucharist through the Holy Spirit. “It is the Spirit Who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.” This is not a denial of the physical, a stripping of body from soul: no, instead, we find in the Holy Spirit the true affirmation of the body, of creation. He is the Spirit Who indwells human beings, body and soul. St. Paul says that our bodies are His temples- He indwells the whole of us. In the Eucharist it is the Spirit Who makes us present to Christ’s body and blood. He does not negate the flesh-and-blood aspect; rather, He consummates it, gives life to the mortal body.

4. The Eucharist is movement and gathering. The Holy Spirit raises us to Christ, gathering us- the many- into One. He is ascended, and we are ascended in Him through the Spirit, in His ascended humanity. Therefore, we can be made present to the One Sacrifice, to His body and blood: our remembrance is one in which we are made present to that which is remembered. Time is ‘opened up,’ and creation is embraced by the movement and action of the Economy of the Incarnation. Christ, in His humanity, gives Himself to the many, in many places and times, thus gathering them together in Himself. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

5. In the Eucharist we are presented with the reality of Christ’s full embrace of our world. We cannot exclude Him from the ‘secular’; we cannot divide the world into ‘spiritual’ and ‘material’ and then speak of God only in relation to the ‘spiritual’: for in fact, the spiritual is defined by the Holy Spirit, Who indwells us, making our bodies His temple, and Who transfigures the elements of bread and wine, Who gives us our Lord’s true body and blood for our nourishment and life. The Eucharist confronts us with the reality of the Incarnation.


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