Vol I No. 7
From the Quarterly

Holy Communion

by William J. Martin

Raphael_School_of_AthensCountless debates have raged in the last 500 years over the nature and meaning of the Holy Communion, Lord’s Supper, or The Mass –call it what you will. Richard Hooker reminds us that the point or purpose of the Sacrament is to come into Communion with Jesus Christ and to feed on Him spiritually. (Laws….II.) To feed on him spiritually comes after we have said Yes to His desire to unite with us. What is clear is that Jesus Christ -the Way, the Truth and the Life, desires to live with us and in us in order to fit and ready us for ultimate unbreakable union and communion with God the Father. After we have given ourselves to Him, by His habitual coming and indwelling of our souls we become accustomed to our future Heavenly destiny beginning here and now.
Aristotle says that conflicts often arise in friendship because one of the parties does not get what he desires out of the friendship, usually when one person thinks that what he is receiving is not of equal worth to what he is giving. Yet who is to decide the worth of what is given or received? In friendships according to virtue, things are given for the sake of the receiver and the return is made according to intention, though it is not necessary of equal value. (N.E. ix) Of course, for the Christian, what is surrendered or given up to the other is not of equal worth and can never be. No human being can give himself to Christ in the way that Christ has given Himself to all men. But man can intend to give himself to Christ, and Christ can accept the good-intention, as tainted and imperfect as it may be, because man desires the return, which is beyond what he can desire and deserve. Man’s intention to reciprocate can then be counted as the best he can offer in an unequal yoking. But because Christ condescends to allow the exchange, a unique possibility emerges as Christ’s love overcomes the inequality and makes up for human deficiency.
The nature of the Eucharist is therefore one of union and exchange. Man gives himself to Christ, and then Christ gives Himself to man. First Christ Jesus offers to unite Himself to us; second He desires to change and transform us. Of course Christ knows that unless and until He begins to transform and transubstantiate us, in the end, we cannot be reconciled to God our Heavenly Father. So there is an ulterior motive in God’s heart that moves Him to an unequal friendship with man through His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Knowing that we cannot save ourselves, He condescends to friendship with us –comes down to our level, in order that He might lift us up and onto the level plain of reconciliation to the Father. So Divine desire unites with human nature in Jesus Christ in order that human nature might be enabled to fulfill Divine desire. He desires not only to confront and address us as the eternal Word and Will of the Father, but as the indwelling effectual power of conversion and sanctification through the Holy Spirit. His union with us is meant to effect our transubstantiation- which means that He desires to change us substantially or essentially, inwardly and spiritually through His inwilling Holy Spirit, progressively incorporating us into His Mystical Body. With the repetition of receiving His Body and Blood first we become the sons and daughters of the Father, and then the friends of God and one another. So we are called to be changed by Jesus Christ’s Holy Spirit from sinners into saints, from strangers into friends, being taken from nature into Grace. Brethren, we know that we have passed from death to life. (1 John iii. 14)
Having said this, it should be clear that Holy Communion is not a unique spiritual event that should be alien to us by reason of history or nature. In the first instance, men do themselves no small spiritual disservice by alienating themselves through time from the implications of Christ’s one and complete Sacrifice made for the sins of the whole world. The historical Atonement is so rarefied that it ceases to be of any contemporary spiritual usefulness. In the second instance, the Real Presence of Christ is so particularly confined to the physical elements, that He is adored, again, from a distance, when it was His original intent to pitch His tent on the soil of our souls. In both cases -call the one Protestant and the other Catholic, the real point seems to be lost. To be sure what Christ did for us once and for all on Calvary Hill is unique and unrepeatable. And yet what He did, He does because what He desires, He is. And so the Sacrifice of Calvary is an expression of Divine Love that desires to draw us into the wake of its accomplishment -that his inestimable benefit. So, as Hans Urs Von Balthasar says, the Beloved who died for us becomes alive and present for us in the midst of our remembering. (The Glory of the Lord: Seeing the Form, 543) Or to put it into Augustinian terms: In our remembering, we see; in our seeing, we understand; in our understanding, we love. In our loving, we desire; and in our desiring, we will. We remember what Jesus has done for us; we see and know that He wishes to welcome us into that love that will enable us to be dead to the world, the flesh, the devil, and ourselves. We will or choose the Really Present and all-effectual motions of His Holy Spirit in our lives, and so we submit to His rule and governance. As we recollect the love of Jesus conveyed through His death and rising, we are then called to desire that the same death and rising might inform and define our earthly sojourn to the Heavenly City. So, we ask Christ Jesus to rise up within us through His Holy Spirit, carrying us within His embrace up and out of sin and vice and into the true life which He shares with Our Heavenly Father.
So when we come to the Holy Communion we combine memory and desire through knowledge in order that we might be transubstantiated through the indwelling Real Presence of Jesus Christ’s Holy Spirit. This is the most important nature of the Holy Eucharist. We do after all want the Grace of God, through the flesh and blood of the Son of Man to make us all into the Sons of God. The point of the Holy Communion is indeed to sup on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. But let us turn our mind’s eye to the reason. We are in search of salvation, and can have it only when Jesus dwells in us and we in Him. So let us delight in this our soul’s deepest desire, knowing that while we never deserve it, God comes down in Jesus Christ to welcome us into it.