Appreciating the Eucharist
by Catherine Doherty
Friends of Madonna House, Vol. 2, no. 48.
Do you ever stop to think of the immensity of the gift that God has given to us in the Holy Eucharist? Have you ever stopped to think what it is to be in communion with God—that is, to communicate of the most holy Body and Blood of Christ? This is a communion that is incredible, impossible to understand! That is wrapped up in a mystery beyond all mysteries: that God, the second person of the most holy Trinity, should give himself to us, as bread and wine. Approach it as if you hear the words: "Take off your shoes, the place is holy."
A Nuptial Event
To me, Communion is a nuptial event. To me, receiving Communion is already being in heaven, because Christ is heaven, and he is in me. Are there any words in this world that could convey what happens when I go and receive a piece of consecrated Bread, with the Wine or without, as the case may be? I don't think so. It is eternally new; it is a moment when I truly know who I am. I am the beloved of Christ, for he comes to me in person. My faith transcends the apparent bread and wine; my faith receives him, and so it is a nuptial mystery. For all through the Old Testament God calls upon the Hebrews, as if he were a bridegroom and they were his bride. And so does Christ in the New Testament; he says: "You don't fast when the bridegroom is amongst you." I am the Bridegroom, says God.
In the sacrament of the Eucharist there is an ecstasy—that's a powerful word, but it's a word that we have to get used to; there is an ecstasy in the Communion of the liturgy. When I receive our Lord, I realize also the nuptial mystery: man and God. For God really has come. God, calling Israel, says: 'Even if you have prostituted yourself under every bush with a stranger, come to me, my beloved, and I shall make you whiter than snow.' God the Father makes love to Israel, his chosen people. The theme of love goes through all this, and because we're human and simple and ordinary, God has chosen the image of marriage—for himself and for his Son.
The great miracle at Cana's wedding feast, the changing of the water into wine, was, of course, the prefiguration of the Eucharist. Each Communion is our wedding feast with Christ and it is also the wedding feast of the whole Church because we are the Church. How joyous can be our daily (or weekly) 'wedding day' with God. If only we understood his love and lived by his love, every day for us would be a honeymoon with God!
Christ offers himself: sacrament and sacrifice
The mystery of the liturgy is so very simple. Christ offering himself, sacrament and sacrifice, for you and for me. Here he is, hanging on the cross, dying for us all, obedient unto death to his Father's will. He died. He lifted up all the sins of the world. Can you imagine that? All the sins of the world, as it were, on his shoulder. He lifted all these, and in our place he died for them, an absolute, totally unselfish, totally loving, totally complete gift of himself to the Father for us.
When you attend the most holy liturgy and hear the words, "This is my body; this is my blood," from that very moment, you know the infinite, incredible love of God for you. He invites us every day to come to the oasis of his heart and be refreshed by the wine of his compassion and love.
You also are the sacrifice!
When you are there, you offer the sacrifice. But you see, there is a deeper mystery. You also are the sacrifice! I barely dare to touch on this. You are aware that a drop of water, or a little bit of water, goes into the chalice with the wine. What is that water? Who is that water? Why does the water go in there? It represents us. So we are in the chalice. If we are the Mystical Body of Christ, and the Body is offered, then in a mystical way, we are offered. Put yourself on the paten. Give God your day, your whole day—that little time between two Masses.
The impenetration of God in my soul and your soul is the center of all strength. In Communion, we get the strength not to conform; the strength to preach the Gospel with our life, and to do it through the humdrum and everyday activities of a humble, ordinary person; the strength not to look for false glamor and for all kinds of 'statuses', and so forth. That's where we get the courage to live our faith. I can bear any burden, and so can you, between two Masses.
Laying down our life, daily—with Christ
What if our "laying down our life" is neither immediate nor spectacular, but a slow joyful death day by day in the ordinariness and dreariness of a thousand little services performed in the hidden 'Nazareth' of our daily life?
The Mass lifts high this being, this loving of ours, this doing. Christ said, "When I am lifted up, I will draw all things to myself." Because our loving service is a share in his cross, we too "draw souls unto him," and our lives are filled with splendor. When I receive the Eucharist I am a Eucharistic offering, because Christ fills me in totality. I am truly walking in Christ. That is why we have to be an offering, because Christ said, "I have come to serve," and so we channel our gratitude into service. Otherwise it is fallow.
Our suffering, in Christ, has meaning
Now we know, as only he can tell us, that we are never alone. He is always near, even though pain will come our way. We are the followers of a crucified God, and not a God crucified on soft cushions without any nails!
And then the mystery deepens, as mysteries always do when you are prayerfully in front of them. The mystery deepens in as much as we realize that we, too, are being allowed to suffer with him. And now your suffering and my suffering are lifted up, as if they were in a chalice, by Our Lady, and laid at the feet of the Father. And they are not valueless, far from it.
All our pains and aches and emotional sufferings are guarded in that chalice and fall like a benediction across the whole world, because they are an atonement. It is in atonement that we offer this to God—for our brothers, whom we may or may not have offended; for the world that has gone crazy; for those who do not believe that Jesus Christ is God; for so many things.
Eucharist divinizes us
I want to leave one thought with you: be close to the Eucharist. In it we communicate with the divine. We are divinized, brought into God's own life. The Lord made us this way. Let us use this communication so as to clear the world from the dark horrible fog that it is surrounded with. But to clear it, I have to offer myself. So offer yourself. All things are possible to God.
Taken from various talks and articles, 1955-78.
Catherine Doherty (1896-1985), born in Russia, was foundress of Madonna House and a prolific writer and teacher. Her passionate zeal impelled her to pass on her faith in God, and she is now being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church.