The Eucharist is never an event involving just two, a dialogue between Christ and me. Eucharistic communion is aimed at a complete reshaping of my own life. It breaks up man’s entire self and creates a new ‘we’. Communion with Christ is necessarily also communication with all who belong to him: therein I myself become part of the new bread that he is creating by the resubstantiation of the whole of earthly reality.
Joseph Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, 78
Reflection – Then Cardinal Ratzinger packs quite a lot of weighty content into a very few words here. Something of a gift he had—his writings have the quality of being both seemingly simple and accessible, yet with depths of meaning that require careful reading and thought.
Here, it is about the relationship of the reception of the Eucharist and belonging to the Church. This is the primary theme of this entire book, which is superb. In our hyper-individualistic, subjectivist, and consumerist world, we tend to think of the Eucharist as something we just go to ourselves, so that we can each get this thing from Jesus that we need or want to get.
It’s rather like lining up in a buffet line to get the food we crave, and indeed in an extremely subjectivist view of the Eucharist, it is rather like a buffet, isn’t it? I am going up there for healing; another is going up for consolation; a third is going for strength; a fourth, for fellowship. Maybe someone in the line is going up for the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ which is the life of the soul, but another is going up for something quite different.
Well, that’s all well and good in the all-you-can-commune buffet line of the soul. The Eucharist means something very different to each one of us, and as long as we are true to the meaning it has for us, it doesn’t really matter. This would only be true, of course, if the Eucharist has no meaning in and of itself, but is a sort of blank screen on which we can project whatever our personal spiritual ‘truth’ is at this time.
This of course has nothing whatsoever to do with the Catholic or Orthodox doctrine of the Eucharist, nor for that matter with any of the Eucharistic theologies that came out of the Protestant Reformation. It is entirely novel, a product of the post-modern, atomized, consumerist culture of our day. For that matter it is such a vapid and ultimately meaningless view of the Eucharist that the only way it can be seen as persuasive is under the influence of a sort of Hegelian historicism, whereby any new idea is a priori superior to any old idea, however silly and unfounded it may be.
Ratzinger offers here, in very few words, the much deeper traditional doctrine of the Eucharist. In entering into this depth of encounter with Jesus, with the real, living resurrected and ascended Christ, we do not simply remain at the level of the individual and ‘my’ need for Jesus.
Rather, Jesus breaks us open to the much bigger, broader, deeper level of engagement with the whole body of believers, with the whole world, radically redefines what it means to be a ‘self’, actually, a person, into a Christological and Trinitarian mode. Not so much a buffet line, but being buffeted into an entirely new mode of being a person.
We, in our fallen and broken condition, define personhood of selfhood as something fundamentally opposed or at least in sharp distinction from other selves, other persons. We may get along with others or be in conflict with others, but at any rate we do see that the fundamental identification of ourselves as ‘self’ is that I am not you, you are not me, and each of us is precisely, only, and ultimately the self we are.
The Eucharist blasts all that out of the water. Because the Eucharist configures our whole self around the indwelling presence of Christ, and Christ is God, and God is Trinity, and the persons of the Trinity are defined by their relations to one another, when we receive the Eucharist our whole self becomes defined by relation, relation to God and then in that mutual relation to God, relation to one another, to the body of believers, to all those who are incorporated into Christ.
And this is precisely what we mean in our Catholic tradition by the word ‘Church’. The Eucharist makes the Church, and it is the direct immediate effect of the reception of the Eucharist that it makes us fully and totally engaged in this membership, in the incorporation, the becoming fully and totally ‘of the Body’ of the Church.
Nor is it some vague spiritual abstraction—again, that is a wholly novel idea of the Church, unheard of until our modern disincarnated age. The Church is a visible entity on the earth, even if its precise borders cannot be wholly known this side of the parousia.
The negative aspect of this is that this is why we insist that communion can only be taken by those who are fully members of the Body, who are fully incorporated into the visible Church. But the positive aspect of this is far more important than the negative ‘rule’ we have to insist on. Eucharist breaks me open and plunges me into a depth of union with my brothers and sisters that demands the whole of me, mind, heart, spirit. And in that union, “I myself become part of the new bread that he is creating by the resubstantiation of the whole of earthly reality.”