Eucharist: miracle or mystery?
Sure on some level the creator of the Universe can of course do this or that – but than again why literally create miracles out of something utterly invisible – please oh Lord have mercy with us poor souls and have the Holy Spirit inspire somebody to cry that the emporer is utterly naked. Sure we can spin all kinds of air castles as trappings for our thoughts – in the end for me these are all vehicles to give some formal expression to some deep human desire to be godlike.
In light of such sentiments I think it is important to point out the historical issues involved in the development of the theology of the Eucharist. In his extraordinarily thorough historical account of the of usage of “mystical body of Christ” in his book Corpus Mysticum De Lubac shows that the early Christians never doubted the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. When Jesus said “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” and “This is my body,” he meant it. Thus they took his “real presence” for granted, and in discussions on the Eucharist generally skipped right over the change that occurs in the bread and moved to the Church. As De Lubac shows, “the Eucharist makes the Church.” For the early Fathers, in each local catholic church the whole Christ was present when the community gathered around their bishops for the Eucharist. In a homily Augustine tells his flock of the Eucharist, “be what you see; receive what you are.” It never occurred to him to affirm that what they receive is really Jesus.
However, all this changed when Berengar and others began to doubt the present of Christ in the sacrament. Consequently the Church and theologians, especially in the west, moved the emphasis from the church-forming powers of the Eucharist to the association of the Eucharist with the Body of Christ. Over time this emphasis required explanation and further defense and eventually developed into the concept of transubstantiation. And, according to De Lubac the Eucharist changed from “the mystery to be understood” to “the miracle to be believed.”
Therefore, if we want to take Augustine and other fathers as our lead, in theory, transubstantiation, or its equivalent, need not be discussed in relation to the Eucharist. However, because we have inherited Berengar’s doubt and the Church’s response, a response which cannot be ignored, our catechesis must take this response seriously. However, catechesis on the Eucharist ought not to focus on this response. Our Eucharistic understanding should not be centered around the this miracle, but should address the miracle only in light of the entire mystery. We must recover the Eucharist’s Church-shaping end and incorporate into our Eucharistic theology the cosmic/ecclesiological and missionary aspects of this most central sacrament. The only way to do this properly is to remind ourselves of the liturgical nature of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is not an isolated miracle, but as the “source of summit of the Church’s life,” it encompasses the entire liturgy, forms the Church, makes us present to the eschatalogical Wedding Feast of the Lamb, and calls us to bring this communion and life to the world. Any robust catechetical or ecumenical treatment of the Eucharist should not forget this.