Eucharist and Prayer
Dr. Rudolf V. D’ Souza OCD
The Eucharist, which the Dogmatic Constitution “Lumen Gentium” defines as “the source and summit of Christian Life” (LG 11), makes us “really share in the body of the Lord”: in it “we are taken up into communion with him” (LG 7). That is where we realize Eucharist is prayer. There is no doubt about it. When we participate in the Eucharist, we experience the total essence of prayer and praise. One can term without hesitation that Eucharist is the best form of prayer, which carries a direct impact on us and in our relationship with God. It’s a sacrifice that enables us to go beyond every imperfect way of our daily prayer and praise because we commune with God through the best channel of grace.
There are no definite definitions for prayer. All the mystics and saints admit this fact. Prayer cannot be just limited to certain acts or words or gestures alone. Whoever may give an explanation or define prayer, it will fall short in its content and essence. We know that prayer is our efforts at being with God, conversing with him in order to comply with his will. Through our own experience we know that prayer can always help us live better, learn things well, relate with God and neighbour at a deeper level and do our work pretty completely.
Regarding our prayer, we have to be aware not to project our own judgment on God. God responds to each of us where we are, and takes into account what we are capable of. Everyone of good will who offers prayer of any kind is certainly going to be heard. We do not have to wait until we have reached deep interior silence in order to pray. We must do the best we can and hope for the mercy of God. It is precisely by praying we can be raised to a higher state of prayer. After all, the fundamental purpose of prayer, including the prayer of petition, is not to get something from God, or to change God, but to change ourselves. When we have changed, God can give us everything we want, because our will, will be one with his, and we will want only what he wants.
It has been clearly specified in documents and Encyclicals of Popes that Eucharist is the essence of Christian life and culmination of our worship. There is no argument against it. How can Eucharist be the essence, nourishment, and the centre of Christian life? We draw explanation from Jesus’ words: “Unless you eat his flesh and drink his blood you will not have life in you” John 6.53.
1. Eucharist is a Prayer of Blessing and Thanksgiving
The word “Eucharist” is made up of two roots Eu and Charistia, which come from the Jewish concept berakah, which means ‘blessing’. ‘Blessing’ the Latin word is “Bene-dictio” signifies “good word”, which literally means ‘a word of appreciation’. The first part of the word ‘Eucharist’ comes from Greek root ‘Eu‘ means Eulogia signifying ‘praise’, ‘good word’. The root Charis comes from Charism and Charismatic. Summarizing we can say that the word ‘Eucharist’ signifies ‘good word’, ‘good grace’, and ‘thanks’.
To elaborate the Hebrew word berakah in relationship with ‘Eucharist’ is ‘blessing’. Blessing is given and blessing obtained or taken. Ultimately ‘Blessing’ forms the integral essence of prayer. Eucharist is a blessing insofar it contains grace, thanks and praise. These elements certainly form the part of any type of prayer experience.
When we make efforts to understand these words, we begin to realize its essence as ‘comfortable atmosphere’, ‘pleasant surrounding’, ‘gracefulness’, and ‘thanksgiving’ and perhaps even to the extent of conveying a ‘word of appreciation’.
Through a blessing we obtain something and we are strengthened. That means blessing contains a power. Usually whatever the power experienced in the presence of the divine, we term it ‘grace’. We know that grace is not a part of God, but God himself descending in our life to strengthen us, to encourage us and to make us happy. God’s grace in our life is of three types: the presence by essence: presence by grace and presence by friendship. In the Holy Eucharist, precisely, all these three types of presence are clearly seen or experienced.
Thanksgiving is an act of gratitude and appreciation. Jesus’ Last Supper was an act of thanksgiving prayer to the Father for all his help and closeness during his earthly life. Every meal for that matter is an act of thanksgiving. Of course life itself is an act of thanksgiving. We see in the Gospels, Jesus thanking the Father for his disciples, for his teaching, and other things in his life.
2. Eucharist is a Prayer of Memorial
‘Do this in memory of me’. The work Zikkaron in Hebrew signifies ‘memorial’. In memory of something or someone helps us to recall the past. It’s a reminder to us; reminder of the past in the present and as miserable we are, on our part a reminder to God. Every prayer is a memorial of the one, who created us, sustains and sanctifies us and it is a memorial to the one who has created and continues to sustain us. All the Psalms are a reminder of God’s deeds and a reminder to God that we are still alive through his mercy.
Memory – memorial is to recall to mind the wonderful deeds of the Lord. In the Eucharist we remember the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord as we remember through paintings and photos our dear and near ones who are abroad, or dead and gone before us. Memorial brings out all that we want to recall about a person: we become nostalgic, sad, happy, serene, upset, are filled with emotion etc.
Sin is forgetfulness: Israelites forgot God’s deeds and they sinned. We forget and we sin. We forget many good things of life and we sin. Forgetfulness means amnesia. Anamnesis is remembrance. Eucharist is Anamnesis, which means remembrance = do this in memory of me.
3. Eucharist is Berith, a Covenantal Prayer
Covenant means a concentrated relationship at a deeper level. Whatever our relationship with God may be, he on his part will never fail to honour it. In the history salvation we see God making covenant with Noah; a covenant with Abraham; the covenantal fiery pot passing through the sacrifice; his covenant with Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 19.16-22); and new covenant with Jeremiah (31.31-33) and his renewal of that new covenant with Ezekiel (36.26ff).
Jesus opening a way to the new covenant says “The time is coming neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship God, but in spirit and in truth” (John 4.23-24); he affirms that the experience of the new covenantal kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17.21); and this reality is clearly spelled out by St. Paul who says that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit of God (I Cor 6.19; II Cor 6.16). The fruits of the Spirit of God Gal 5.22-23 are an indication of this covenant. Covenantal relationship always culminating in “LOVE” because in Jewish tradition there were three ways a covenant was made By Blood = to shed blood, to drink blood, to give blood = Blood was important; By Meal = sharing, speaking and then acting; By Marriage = sharing life; It’s a meal, its with the body and blood, and it’s a marriage with the participant; and all these pointed to a definite growth in love relationship.
To look at the celebration of the Eucharist in a realistic and beneficial way, for instance, if it begins with a few moments of silence and ended with silence, or if the readings were preceded and followed by silent pauses, the experience of the sacred words emerging out of silence would be much more powerful and effective. It would make the hymns of praise and the prayers of petition much more meaningful to the congregation. There is an essential relationship between silence and speech, because everything comes out of silence indicative of a real covenant-taking place in faith. When our life emerges from periods of silence, it is a more genuine life; and when we return to silence, our life receives its truest meaning. In the beginning, both cannot be done at the same time, but in time they will tend to merge. Then, interior silence does not have to be prolonged in order to produce its good effects.
One of the things that prayer, as it deepens, will affect is our intuition of the oneness of the human race, and, indeed, the oneness of all creation through Eucharistic covenantal mystery. As one moves into his own inmost being, he comes into contact with what is the inmost being of everyone else. Although each of us retains his own unique personhood, we are necessarily associated with the God-man, who has taken the whole human family to himself in such a way as to be the inmost reality of each individual member of it. And so, when one is praying in the spirit, in his inmost being, one is praying, so to speak, in everybody else’s spirit. This is the essence of the whole covenant God made with man.
In the Eucharist, we are not only joined to Christ, whom we believe is present with his whole being under the symbols of bread and wine, but we believe that we are joined with all other Christians, with every member of the human race, and with the whole of creation. Christ is in the hearts of all men and women and in the heart of all creation, sustaining everything in being. This mystery of oneness enables us to emerge from the Eucharist with a refined inward eye, and invites us to perceive the mystery of Christ everywhere and in everything. He who is hidden from our senses and intellect becomes more and more transparent to the eyes of faith–to the consciousness that is being transformed. The Spirit in us perceives the Spirit in others. The Eucharist is the celebration of life, the dance of the divine in human form. We are part of that dance. Each of us is a continuation of Christ’s incarnation; insofar as we are living Christ’s life in our own lives or rather, instead of our own lives. The Eucharist is the summary of all creation coming together in a single hymn of praise, surrender, and thanksgiving. In the Eucharist all creation is transformed into the body of Christ, transformed again into his divine person, and thrust into the depths of the Father forever and ever. Even material creation has become divine in him. “For the creation,” says Paul, “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19).
Prayer and interior silence deepen our appreciation of and receptivity to the Eucharist. The Eucharist also helps to develop and nourish prayer and interior silence. They are mutually reinforcing. Through deep prayer, one appreciates the meaning of the sacraments and increases their effectiveness.
It is not so much the length of time that one spends in interior silence, but the quality of it that is transforming, and that nourishes and refreshes at the deepest level. The most effective silence takes place when one is not even aware of being silent, when one has merged his own identity in the mystery of Christ. This union is the ultimate goal of the Eucharist. Interior union with Christ comes by assimilating the Eucharistic food into our own body and spirit. The bodily eating is the symbol of what is happening spiritually. It points to the interpenetration that is taking place between Christ and us. This interpenetration is designed to further our evolution into vertical time and our assimilation of the eternal values that Christ has brought into the world through his incarnation and communicated to us by his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. The purpose of our historical lifetime is to provide us with space to complete this inward journey. The whole of the Old and New Testament covenant becomes a reality through the Eucharistic celebration and assimilation.
4. The Three Parts that makes Eucharist a Prayer
a) Prayer of Purification
We all need purification. The first part of the Eucharist is a short act of purification. We know through tradition and through Gospel narratives that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples before he virtually celebrated the Eucharist. He knelt at the feet of the disciples and washed their feet. That was a prayer on the part of Jesus, a prayer of surrender in the presence of unworthy people, sinful people. That is the prayer of Jesus that had been a life for him, helping and cleansing all types of people in his life. He epitomised his life of service at the feet of his own disciples and invited all of them to imitate him so that people see them doing such service and recognized them as his disciples. Purification is necessary for every type of prayer without which true worship to God cannot be given. Hence, there is need for cleansing of our heart and mind before celebrating the core of prayer in the Eucharist.
i) Prayer of Repentance
Since all the various ways we give ourselves to God are directed to the Eucharist, this includes repentance and purification from sin. Consequently, if we would offer ourselves to God through the Eucharist and receive from Him the Bread of Life, we must pass through the door of purification and penance. To enter into communion with the all-holy God through the Eucharist, we must, following the general pattern of the spiritual life, undergo purgation. As Pope Pius XII wrote: “While we stand before the altar … it is our duty so to transform our hearts that every trace of sin may be completely blotted out, while whatever promotes supernatural life through Christ, may be zealously fostered and strengthened even to the extent that, in union with the Immaculate Victim, we become a victim acceptable to the Eternal Father” (Mediator dei, no. 100).
When Christ came proclaiming the kingdom of God, He preached conversion and faith. “Repent,” He said, “and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Not surprisingly, then, there exists a special link between the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist. Pope John Paul II has written of this: “The Eucharist and Penance thus become in a sense two closely connected dimensions of authentic life in accordance with the spirit of the gospel, of truly Christian life. The Christ who calls to the Eucharistic banquet is always the same Christ who exhorts us to penance and repeats his “Repent.” Without this constant ever renewed endeavor for conversion, partaking of the Eucharist would lack its full redeeming effectiveness and there would be a loss or at least a weakening of the special readiness to offer God the spiritual sacrifice in which our sharing in the priesthood of Christ is expressed in an essential and universal manner” (Redemptoris hominis, no. 20).
The Eucharist, then, is the high point of repentance and purification because it is the supreme sacrament of Calvary. All other acts of penance prepare for our participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, our supreme rejection of sin and turning toward Christ and communion with Him.
b) Eucharist is a Prayer of Illumination
Then we continue our prayer in hearing the word of God. Every act of prayer should precede an act of listening to the Word of God, which gives us true inspiration to be at the feet of the Lord. Hearing God’s word can help us to see our errors and know how we can change. Remembering that God’s word does what it says, we realize that hearing this message will not impose on us impossibly high standards of behaviour, but rather being open to God’s word will actually give us the ability to do what is right. The word of God is his wisdom, truth, and love for us, and when we open ourselves to the transforming power of the word, admitting that we cannot live successfully guided by our own self-developed principles, we open our lives to being guided by these attributes. The more we receive His word into our hearts without attempting to manipulate it to mean what we want it to mean or expect it to mean, the more we are formed in His wisdom, truth and love. Also the more His word becomes a part of our lives the less power will doubt, confusion, fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and insecurity will have in our lives. In both praising God and receiving His word at the Eucharist, God can also transform us in another way, to the degree to which we are open to it. We will be certainly illumined in our prayer through the Eucharist.
c) Eucharist is a Prayer of Union and Communion
True union with God is attained through the reception of the holy communion of the body and blood of Christ. No element of union can be accomplished without a total surrender on the part of both the parties. Here we find Jesus immolating himself on the altar for us and we surrender ourselves to his sacrifice and receive him with the promise of sacrificing ourselves to him through our daily activities. Our daily life and activities ought to be mediated through continual prayer. That is why Jesus inspired us to watch and pray, to be vigilant and attentive.
Union with the lord can be attained through the Eucharistic prayers fully lived. Every Eucharistic prayer is a sum and substance of our life.
Moreover, the celebration of the Eucharist brings to earth the power of the Resurrected Jesus. He is the master of the universe, Saviour of mankind and healer of our physical and inner selves. No wonder, then, that the custom of saving some of the Eucharistic bread began early in the history of the Church and is carried on by many Christian Churches today. Not only does this custom allow the Eucharist to be brought to the sick who cannot participate in the full celebration so that they, too, might benefit from its renewing and healing power, but this custom also allows us all to come before the Eucharist and pray, continuing to seek and find the life it brings to the world. We must never forget that when we pray before the Eucharist we are in the presence of God himself. When we come into prayer before God, so many of us are used to speaking more than receiving. To gaze upon the Eucharist in this way with spiritually enlightened eyes is a preparation for what heaven will be. There our defences will no longer be necessary, and we will be able to be filled completely with Him, merging our hearts with His, our minds and wills with His and our entire beings with His.
V. Prayer and Gospel Values
Our celebration ought to be a prayer of Gospel values. The Beatitudes and the other discourses of Jesus help us to grow in relationship with him through silence of our prayer.
The Values we need to cultivate are Gospel Values for participating in the Eucharist.
We ought to cultivate personal values that speak to us of our allegiance to Jesus: These values could be Love of self; Sonship; Childlikeness; Interiority through Jesus’ instruction to go to our room and pray to the Father in secret (Mt 6.6); trying to be holy (Mt 5.48); Courageous (Mt 10.26-30); Joyful, Peaceful, Persevering; Humble; Prudent; Righteous and Gentle.
Once we are aware of these personal values, Eucharist inspires us to cultivate Interpersonal Values such as: Love of neighbour (Lk 10.27); Brotherhood and Forgiveness (Lk 15.11ff); Justice (Mt 6.33); Kindness and Service (Mt 10.7-10) etc.
When we have grounded ourselves through personal and interpersonal values, Eucharist takes us to go beyond ourselves and our neighbour to be grounded in transpersonal values like Love of God “The one who sees me has seen the Father”; to have Abba consciousness as Jesus had; the Word of God leads us to listen “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him” and accomplish the Will of God “My food is to do the will of my Father” and to be concerned with the Kingdom of God (Mt 13.44-46).
Jesus always prayed; and gave witness to Evangelical Counsels: obedience, poverty and chastity in his personal life. His life of hope and (Mt 24.42-44) renunciation (Mt 16.24-25); and then he invites all to repentance; and helps us to accept our sufferings (Mt 10.16-18) in silence.
VI) Emmaus Prayer Experience
Emmaus experience is an experience of Eucharistic prayer. We find those two disciples depressed, disappointed and going back to their village. This experience of those two disciples signifies that life without a link with God is going to become sad, dark and without much hope for life itself. The coming of Christ in their conversation along the way is the salvific intervention of the Saviour who makes them understand God’s mysterious ways. Prayer in fact makes each and everyone of us conscious of God’s ways in our life. Often we are like foolish people who do not think as God thinks. We have our own worldly reason to calculate and conclude facts of life. Jesus enlightens us. We can boldly say that the intervention of Christ on the way to Emmaus is the grace provided to us on our way or journey. Jesus enlightens them through the Holy Scripture. The whole of the Holy Scripture is a preparation for the celebration of the Eucharist. Once they are close to the village, Jesus pretends as if to go ahead of them having to complete some other commitment. Well, at this point the disciples plead him to be with them that night. Those disciples aglow with the spirit cannot leave Christ. What happens thereafter is the solemn Eucharistic Celebration by which they are strengthened to get back to Jerusalem to proclaim the good news of the resurrection of Christ. They recognize him and they preach him.
VII) Eucharistic Spirituality
The Holy Eucharist, Vatican II tells us, is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen gentium, no. 11; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1324) that enriches us at every moment our life. Christian life is essentially a spiritual in nature, as it grows and culminates in and through prayer. Eucharist is the best form of prayer and the culmination of this prayer is experienced when one becomes one with Christ through his blood and body. That is why Eucharist is the index and culminating experience here on earth. This makes us understand that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of Christian spirituality” too.
Intuitively, we know that the spiritual life means using every means available to grow closer to Christ. And he knows that Christ Himself is present in the Eucharist in the most sublime manner. It makes sense, then, that the Eucharist should be central to the spiritual life of a Catholic.
But what the devout soul knows about the Eucharist intuitively should, where possible, become better known and more deeply experienced through systematic reflection on the Church’s Eucharistic doctrine. The better we understand the Eucharist’s role in Christian spirituality, the better we will be able to love Christ present in the Eucharist.
To say the Eucharist is the “source and summit of Christian spirituality” means at least two things. First, that Christian spirituality flows from the Eucharist as its source, the way light streams forth from the sun. And second, that Christian spirituality is supremely realized in and ordered to the Eucharist as its summit or highpoint – that to which all of our actions should ultimately be directed.
Christian spirituality, then, is a two-way street. It leads us from the Eucharist as our starting point out into the world of daily life and it takes us back home to the Eucharist after our sojourn in the world.
These two dimensions of the Eucharist – its being both the “source” and “summit” of Christian spirituality – reveal how the Eucharist, being Christ Himself, brings God and man together in a saving dialogue, a mutually giving and receiving relationship. In short, in a covenant of love as we have seen earlier. The Eucharist is at once the Father’s gift of Himself in Christ to us and, through Christ, our offering of Christ and, with Him, of ourselves – our minds and hearts, our daily lives – to the Father.
The Eucharist reveals that our salvation begins with God, not ourselves. God offers Himself to man in Christ first. At the same time, as the summit of Christian spirituality, the Eucharist is man’s supreme, grace-enabled, freely given offering of himself back to God through Jesus Christ, our high priest, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The union or intimate, personal fellowship between God and man realized through God’s gift of Himself to man and man’s faithful response, we call communion.
According to traditional language of the Christian spirituality, we say that this communion with God is brought about by grace and lived out in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Because the sacraments are instruments of grace and means of growth in the theological virtues, we can say that Christian spirituality entails what Pope John Paul II calls a “sacramental style of life.”1 It involves using the sacraments to grow in the spiritual life. And because the greatest of sacraments is the Eucharist, Christian spirituality is above all Eucharistic: coming from the Eucharist as its source and directed to it as its summit or zenith.
VIII) The Eucharist And Christian Prayer
But precisely how can the Eucharist be the source of Christian Prayer? In other words, how precisely is the Eucharist the source of grace and the way we grow in faith, hope and charity? A closer look at the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist provides an answer to this question.
a) The Eucharist as the “Source” of Prayer
The Eucharist is the source of prayer in a number of ways. First of all, the Eucharist is Christ Himself, the Author of grace. Other sacraments are actions of Christ, to be sure, but only the Eucharist is Christ Himself, under the “appearances” of bread and wine (CCC, nos. 1324, 1373-1381). We address every one of our prayers to Christ Our Lord to obtain the grace needed.
Secondly the Eucharist is the source of prayer is as the sacramental re-presentation of Christ’s saving Sacrifice on the cross. Note it is the sacramental re-presentation of Christ’s once for all Sacrifice on the cross, not merely a representation or a ritual re-enactment of it (CCC, nos. 1362-1367).
On Calvary, Christ offered Himself to the Father in the Spirit for our salvation. This happened once for all historically – Christ does not die again at Mass. In the Eucharist, however, this same Sacrifice of Christ, made once for all historically, is present here and now sacramentally, and celebrated on the altar. How can we say that? Because the same Christ who was both Priest who offered prayers and offered himself as the victim is present here and now. Christ is present in heaven as our high priest and our offering for sin (Heb. 8:1-3; 9:24; 1 John 2:1-2), but He is also on our earthly altars as the Eucharist. In this way, the “work of our redemption is accomplished” through His Eucharistic offering (Lumen Gentium, 3), and fruits of Christ’s unique Sacrifice are applied to us here and now (CCC, 1366).
Thirdly the Eucharist is the source of our prayer is as the Church’s sacrifice. The Eucharist is the Church’s sacrifice because it is foremost the Sacrifice of Christ, Bridegroom of the Church, who is “one-flesh” with the Church (Eph 5:21-32). In other words, the Eucharist is the Church’s offering by virtue of her “spousal” union with Christ.
This sacrifice of the Church is twofold (CCC, 1368). First, the Church offers Christ, the spotless victim, to the Father. And second, the Church, in union with Christ, offers herself to God in the Spirit. To the extent individual members of the Church unite themselves with this offering, they receive the fruits of Christ’s Sacrifice and dispose themselves to receive further graces. In this way, the Church is built up in her members as the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Expressed differently, we can say that because the Eucharist is, through Christ, the sacrifice of the Church, in a certain sense, the Church, by the promise of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, “makes” the Eucharist, although it always remains foremost the work of God. But the Eucharist also “makes” the Church (CCC, 1396), continually at prayer renewing her communion with God through Christ’s Sacrifice in the Spirit and bestowing graces upon her. Thus, the Eucharist we celebrate is the source of grace and therefore of Christian spirituality, which is the life of grace, because the Church lives and grows in grace through its celebration of the Eucharist.
Fourthly the Eucharist is the source of grace is as a source of repentance. It is this in at least two ways. First, insofar as the fruitful and reverent reception of the Holy Eucharist requires one to examine himself spiritually before coming to the Eucharistic banquet and, if conscious of grave sin, to receive the sacrament of reconciliation before receiving Holy Communion (CCC, 1415). And second, in that meditation upon the Sacrifice of Christ made present in the Eucharist – the supreme Sacrifice of Christ offered to atone for our sins – ought to stir us to greater repentance for sin.
Finally, Eucharist is important with respect to the spiritual life. Christian spirituality consists of two aspects, a negative one – repentance from sin and purgation of the attachment to sin – and a positive one – growth in the Christian life of faith, hope and charity through prayer. The Eucharist prepares us for the positive dimension of Christian living by helping us undertake the negative aspect – rooting out sin from our lives through repentance and purgation.
In addition to being the “source” of Christian prayer because it is a “source” of grace, the Eucharist also helps us grow in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. These virtues are essential to the spiritual life because they “dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity” (CCC, no. 1812). They are called theological because they direct us to God. We might say that they are the three dimensions – the height, width and depth – in which the Christian life is lived.
b) Eucharist is the Prayer of Faith
St. John of the Cross says that faith is the virtue by which we entrust ourselves-mind and will-to God, believing what He has revealed because of who He is. How is the Eucharist the source of faith? Like all the sacraments (CCC, no. 1123), the Eucharist is a sign, which instructs us. It nourishes and strengthens our faith by what it signifies: the wisdom, love and power of God manifested to us by Christ in His Real Presence and in His Sacrifice. In this respect, the Eucharist is the sacramental “sign of the covenant” par excellence, beckoning us to enter into communion with God by accepting in faith God’s saving deeds on our behalf – supremely, the death and resurrection of His Son. The Eucharist should move us to deeper faith by reminding us what God has in fact done for us: manifesting His trustworthiness.
But the Eucharist also fosters the virtue of faith insofar as it signifies the one faith of the Catholic Church. This faith is objectively grounded in the official proclamation of the Word of God in the Eucharistic liturgy, and celebrated in the Eucharistic Sacrifice offered by those in Holy Orders who, possessing apostolic succession, in communion with their bishop and the successor of Peter, legitimately exercise apostolic authority. According to St. John of the Cross, faith is the essence of prayer. Hence, praying the Eucharist strengthens faith and contributes to a inner strengthening of our attitudes.
c) Eucharist is the Prayer of Hope
The Eucharist is also the source of hope, which manifests its effects in our daily prayer. “Hope,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (no. 1817). The basis of this hope is the salvation won by the death and resurrection of Christ and the gift of His Holy Spirit poured out in our hearts (cf. Romans 5:5-11; 8:23-25; Titus 3:6-7), which is sacramentally present in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist gives us hope in God for the grace to live in His friendship in this life and to inherit eternal life in heaven as an efficacious sign of Christ’s salvation. The Eucharist nourishes our hope, at once pointing back to God’s salvific deeds, especially Jesus’ death and resurrection, which provides the firm ground for our hope; and forward to what we hope for, the coming of the kingdom and eternal life of communion with the Triune God. This is what we always enrich in our daily life through prayer.
d) Eucharist is the Prayer of Love
Finally, the Eucharist is the source of charity. As Pope John Paul II has written: “Christian life is expressed in the fulfilling of the greatest commandment, that is to say, in the love of God and neighbor, and this love finds its source in the blessed Sacrament, which is commonly called the sacrament of love. The Eucharist signifies this charity, and therefore recalls it, makes it present and at the same time brings it about” (Dominicae Cenae, no. 5). If we consider the outcome of any prayer we are forced to conclude that every prayer should help one to love God and neighbour.
We have already considered how the Eucharist sacramentally signifies the presence of the love of God manifested in Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and how the Eucharist is Christ Himself, love incarnate. But the Eucharist is also the source of charity because it leads us to love God and His Son Jesus in the Spirit. Seeing what God has done for us in Christ, who is present with us in the Eucharist, we love God in return, and the Spirit is poured out in our hearts through our Eucharistic prayer.
Through the Eucharist, then, we enter into a deeper participation in the life of the Triune God, who is love itself (1 John 4:16). This deepened love for God leads to a greater love of neighbor for the sake of the love of God, because “whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21). We love others because Christ first loved us, and this indeed is the essence of our daily prayer.
Christ’s Eucharistic presence “becomes of itself the school of active love for neighbor,” as Pope John Paul II has written (Dominicae Cenae, no. 6) that by revealing to us “what value each person, our brother or sister, has in God’s eyes, if Christ offers Himself equally to each one, under the species of bread and wine” we become more and deeply united to one another and our prayer life becomes a significant sign of sacrifice and a willingness to participate in each ones life.
We clearly understand that Eucharist is the source of grace, it is clearly a vehicle through prayer to reach each and every one of us the best fruits of Christ’s redemption. Christ always prayed and his life and prayer was inseparable. This is clearly visible in his Eucharistic celebration at the last Supper. The Eucharist is the “source” of charity insofar as grace is necessary for genuine obedience to God’s commandments, without which we cannot truly love God (cf. 1 John 5:3).
We have seen how the Eucharist is the source of Christian prayer and how the Eucharist brings about the Christian way of life in us. We consider now how the Eucharist is the summit or highpoint of Christian spirituality or, as St Thomas Aquinas put it, “the consummation of the whole spiritual life.” In other words, how Christian living leads up to and culminates in our participation in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the summit of the spiritual life in the sense that other aspects of Christian living, including the other sacraments (CCC, no. 1324), and all forms of prayer that make life and sacraments an epitome of Christian life are ordered to the Eucharist – to Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father in the Spirit for us and to our participation in Christ’s offering. In other words, the same profound sacramental link between the Sacrifice of the cross and the Eucharist that makes the Eucharist the source of Christian spirituality also makes it the summit or high point of Christian spirituality.
IX) Eucharist is a prayer of Sacrifice
As we have already seen, the Eucharistic Christ not only gives Himself to the Father for us, He is offered to the Father by us in the Spirit, through the indispensable ministry of the sacrificing priest acting in persona Christi – in the person of Christ our high priest Himself and through our union with Christ as members of His Church (Mediator Dei, nos. 80-97). But, as also mentioned above, it is not only Christ who is offered to the Father in the Eucharist; the Church also offers herself in and through her union with Christ in the Spirit:
In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value (CCC, no. 1368).
The self-offering of the Church in the Eucharist is central to the Church’s identity as a priestly people. This is, in fact, an important way in which the faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood, offering the sacrifice of themselves in Christ.
Moreover, the Eucharistic offering of the Church is both corporate and objective, and individual and subjective. Corporately and objectively, the Church’s offering of herself is constituted by the action of the ministerial priest who, precisely because he acts in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the Head of the Church), also acts in persona Ecclesiae (in the person of the Church) and in the name of the Church (CCC, nos. 1552-1553). The priest represents the Church before God because he represents Christ who is head and bridegroom of the Church.
At the same time, members of the Church offer themselves individually and subjectively in the Eucharistic liturgy, insofar as they unite themselves by intention and action, with the Eucharistic offering of Christ’s Sacrifice. In other words, they make Christ’s offering for them as individuals their own offering of themselves through Christ. They surrender their minds and hearts, their very lives, to God through Christ’s act of self-surrender made present on the altar.
We have already considered the Eucharist as the source of the spiritual life, which we noted is a life of grace lived through the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Since the Eucharist is also the summit of Christian prayer, the individual and subjective offering of ourselves in the Eucharist also necessarily entails the basics of Christian spirituality – repentance from sin and death to self, as well as a positive growth in the life of grace and the theological virtues. We look now at these things from the vantage point of the Eucharist as their summit or highpoint, rather than their source.
Summing up all that we have documented above, we can affirm that the Eucharist is both the source and inspiration for Christian prayer. The Eucharist is the source of Christian spirituality because Christ Himself and as the sacramental re-presentation of his Sacrifice on the cross, the Eucharist becomes God’s gift of Himself in Christ through the Spirit to us. We, as members of Christ’s Church, receive this gift by grace and, through grace we grow in communion with God by turning from sin and growing in faith, hope and charity, to which the Eucharist, as a sacramental sign, gives rise in us.
At the same time, the Eucharist is the essence of Christian prayer because, as the greatest sacramental sharing in Christ’s Sacrifice, it is the greatest gift of ourselves in Christ, corporately and individually, to the Father by the Spirit. As individual members of Christ’s body/bride, the Church, our Eucharistic self-donation includes death to ourselves and is made complete through our submission to God in faith, hope and charity, by which we are united to Christ’s Eucharistic Sacrifice.
Pondering and making our own these great truths about the Eucharist in the Christian life, it should illuminate our spiritual path and give us more reasons to love the Eucharist, and in this way, help us to grow closer to God and to each other in Christ. Thus will we know evermore deeply that through the Eucharist we receive from the Father the gift of Himself in His Son and that in the Spirit-inspired, loving response we join ourselves to the Son’s gift of Himself back to the Father. This happens both in Eucharist and Prayer.