home events current issue resources
  around the church archive marketplace subscribe
The Eucharist Changes the World: Effects on the Person  
Rev. Ronald Lewinski and Andrew Liaugminas  

No one can encounter the living God and remain the same. And no person transformed profoundly by an encounter with God can continue to interact with others just as before. As the Eucharist affects the life of the individual, it thereby affects the broader community. This twofold eucharistic transformation forms the heart of Pope Benedict XVI's third and final part (#70-97) of his 2007 papal exhortation on the Eucharist following the Eleventh Ordinary Assembly of Bishops, entitled Sacramentum Caritatis. In this reflection on that third part, our focus is on the Holy Father's discussion of the Eucharist's effects on the life of the individual.

Total Reorientation of Life
One of the primary themes Pope Benedict XVI emphasizes in Part III of Sacramentum Caritatis is how the Eucharist renews the life of the individual through a reorientation to God in an all-inclusive way. The Eucharist transforms the whole of our lives because it transforms us-the core person we are-into an ever more alive and alert companion of God in the world. Incorporating the whole of our lives, it brings us into an intimate communion with the living God-a communion that does not merely endure only as long as we are in sacred space. God-with-us accompanies us as we go into the world to labor and live our everyday lives.

Christ's presence in the Eucharist is, however, not merely a static accompaniment. Christ enters our life to transform it at its very core. This theme is the foundation for Part III: "The Eucharist," since it embraces the concrete, everyday existence of the believer, makes possible, day by day, the progressive transformation of all those called by grace to reflect the image of the Son of God. There is nothing authentically human-our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds-that does not find in the sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the full" (SC, 71). We should note the uniquely Catholic nature of this claim in all its parts. That we can be transformed in who we are, that our reception of the Eucharist is essential to that transformation, and that the Eucharist fulfills our lives-are beliefs that Christians do not universally hold. It is a distinctively Catholic worldview.

After affirming how the Eucharist enables the fulfillment of all that makes up our lives, Benedict identifies that process with the "spiritual worship acceptable to God" that Saint Paul speaks of in Romans 12:1. The Holy Father, thereby, links our authentic human fulfillment with the "making holy"-the "sanctification"-of the whole of our lives. And indeed, these two effects-fulfillment and sanctification-are two sides of one transformation the Eucharist works in our lives. As the Eucharist encompasses the whole of our being, we begin to order all that we do in life for God's glory. "Worship pleasing to God thus becomes a new way of living our whole life, each particular moment of which is lifted up, since it is lived as part of a relationship with Christ and as an offering to God" (SC, 71).

As Christian worship is ultimately oriented to the Resurrection commemorated on the Lord's Day, so does the reorientation of our lives around the Eucharist likewise center us on the weekly Sabbath. This is an important point to the Holy Father: "Sunday is thus the day in which Christians rediscover the eucharistic form which their lives are meant to have" (SC, 72). Since what is celebrated on the Lord's Day is Christ's triumph over sin and death, Sunday thus "gives rise to the Christian meaning of life and a new way of experiencing time, relationships, work, life and death"-celebrating it makes us "heralds and guardians of the true meaning of time" (SC, 73). That is no small task.

Along with a recovery of the authentic meaning of time, the Pope teaches that the Sabbath day, being a day of freedom from our work, "relativizes work and directs it to the person" (SC, 74). In this context, Benedict XVI acknowledges Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter, Dies Domini, for reminding us about the true significance of Sunday for the Christian. It is the discipline of Sunday rest that renews us and readies us to return to our daily labor. Without the Lord's Day, work and leisure become inordinate. Rather than making our observance of the Lord's Day revolve around our duties or our leisure, both Pontiffs remind us that it is our duties and our leisure that must revolve around the Lord's Day. That is the right ordering of a Christian's life, not the reverse. This is a prime example of how the Eucharist gives us a form of life that leads to our personal fulfillment and sanctification.

New Way of Personally Relating to God
Before all else, the Eucharist is the sacrament of the most intimate encounter we can have with God on earth. It is Jesus Christ truly made present to us. Yet, in a day and age when the culture circulates doubt about the divinity of Jesus and the efficacy of the sacraments, the real profundity of that encounter with Christ in the Eucharist is lost on many people. And if that reality is lost, the transformation of the individual is stagnated or altogether thwarted. The Pope speaks strongly on this point:

Today there is a need to rediscover that Jesus Christ is not just a private conviction or an abstract idea, but a real person, whose becoming part of human history is capable of renewing the life of every man and woman. Hence the Eucharist, as the source and summit of the Church's life and mission, must be translated into spirituality, into a life lived "according to the Spirit." (SC, 77)

To live this requires "a new way of thinking," which is nothing less than "an integral part of the eucharistic form of the Christian life" (SC, 77).

A quick read of the above quotation might overlook the truly radical point the Pope is making. Note how the Pope defines spirituality. Eucharistic spirituality is often associated with various private practices of prayer centered on the Eucharist. Defining spirituality as "a life lived according to the Spirit," the Pope strongly affirms that the Eucharist must not merely lead to private prayer, although also essential, but must be translated into how we live our daily lives. And how we carry out that "life lived according to the Spirit" must be along the lines of the eucharistic form of the Christian life that the Pope outlined above. Thus, in the Pope's vision, authentic eucharistic spirituality always leads to the Eucharist becoming the center of our lives and totally reorienting how we live life around it.

While many elements of a life reoriented by the Eucharist are common to everyone, such as living the Lord's Day of rest, some aspects are specific to the individual. Just as God relates to each of us in the uniqueness that makes us who we are, so does God call us to follow a personalized path. The Holy Father dedicates separate paragraphs to how the Eucharist shapes and forms a diversity of vocations in the Church (cf. #79-81).

Speaking to the Christian laity, the Pope teaches that the Eucharist "meets each of us as we are, and makes our concrete existence the place where we experience daily the radical newness of the Christian life" (SC, 79). Spirituality, "life lived according to the Spirit," for the laity involves the task of offering all their work and prayer in union with the eucharistic sacrifice- a word that means "making holy"-and translating the Eucharist they receive into Christian witness by the way they live their lives. "The Christian laity . . . are called to live out the radical newness brought by Christ wherever they find themselves. They should cultivate a desire that the Eucharist have an ever deeper effect on their daily lives, making them convincing witnesses in the workplace and in society at large" (SC, 79). One may add the family to those contexts in light of the Pope's discussion of the Eucharist and marriage.

To those called to the ordained priesthood, the Pope offers fraternal direction on the relationship of the Eucharist and sacerdotal ministry. "Priestly spirituality is intrinsically eucharistic," and thus if "celebrated in a faith-filled and attentive way, Mass is formative in the deepest sense of the word, since it fosters the priest's configuration to Christ and strengthens him in his vocation" (SC, 80). The Pope's broad understanding of eucharistic spirituality is again apparent. In explaining how a seminarian should pursue the spiritual life, the Pope states, "He is called to seek God tirelessly, while remaining attuned to the concerns of his brothers and sisters" (SC, 80). It is at once a spirituality of personal prayer and of priestly service.

Those consecrated in religious life live eucharistic spirituality by witnessing to a life of close union with God. All active charisms, according to the Pope, follow from that witness of close union with God. The Pope provides a broad principle to understand the character of the unique witness that consecrated persons give: "The essential contribution that the Church expects from consecrated persons is much more in the order of being than of doing" (SC, 81).

This is a distinction applicable to all the above vocations: some are called to witness to eucharistic spirituality precisely by being different from the world in who they are as a sign to it, and others are called to witness to it not by being different in who they are but in how they act in the midst of the world. In either case, there is no question that the Pope teaches that anyone who draws closer in relationship to God in the Eucharist must live a "eucharistic form" of life in a way unique to them personally, which may be a witness of being or perhaps one of doing. It is by living that life that they grow in relationship to God, and thus begin to realize their personal fulfillment and sanctification in that eucharistic relationship.

New Way of Personally Relating to God
Essential to how we live the "eucharistic form of the Christian life" is a radical change in how we relate to others in society. While we will focus on the effects of the Eucharist on society in the next reflection, we can see the foundation for it here in how the Eucharist transforms the relationship between individual and community.

Above all else, encountering God in the Eucharist is an encounter with love itself. As this "includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn," quoting his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, the Pope reaffirms that "A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented" (SC, 82). Our reception of the Eucharist must find expression in our actions toward others. This point is so important that the Pope repeats it: "The love we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with all" (SC, 84). If there is one theme the Holy Father wants his reader to understand, it is this: after receiving the Eucharist, our actions must increasingly manifest Christ in us, otherwise, our communion with Christ is "fragmented," incomplete.

Here is another radical message that one may overlook in a first reading of the text. Since our reception of the Eucharist must be translated into the concrete practice of love for our complete reception of the Eucharist, then our sharing the love of Christ with others becomes a necessary condition for us to receive the fullness of Christ's eucharistic presence. But what does it mean to make our living out of the love of Christ a necessary condition for receiving a Eucharist that is not "fragmented," that is complete? Since the fullness of the Eucharist itself does not depend on us, it must be our reception of that fullness that depends on our outward actions. We only receive the fullness of the Eucharist when our actions flow from the Eucharist.

Those actions stand in radical opposition to how the world influences us to act. If we fully receive the Eucharist, there will be, by virtue of God's work in us, a different quality to our interactions than those of "non-eucharistic" people. The very qualityof our interactions with others will begin to speak of the One who is the center of our lives.

The wonder we experience at the gift God has made to us in Christ gives new impulse to our lives and commits us to becoming witnesses of his love. We become witnesses when, through our actions, words and way of being, Another makes himself present (SC, 85).

The overt reference to the Mass here should not be missed. As the prayers of the priest through transubstantiation make Christ present through the eucharistic species, so does the power given us by the Eucharist make Christ present through our words and actions. The quality of our interactions, reordered and reoriented by the Eucharist, begins to resemble Christ and thus are truly eucharistic in quality. The Holy Father leaves no room for ambiguity about the utter radicality of this calling to live as eucharistic witnesses in the world when he reminds Christians of the extent to which some have been called to give in service to that witness as martyrs.

But revolutionizing our way of relating to others demands far more than the resources of our personal resolve. It requires nothing less than supernatural aid, the grace of God. The Eucharist is the supreme source of that grace. In fact, the Pope says, the Eucharist is the principle of "moral energy" that allows us to act with love toward others, resembling how Christ himself would act. In this context, the Pope gives a concrete criterion of "eucharistic consistency" (SC, 83) that considers how well our relationship to God carries over to our outward actions. If we have that consistency, our actions should follow from the form of life that the Eucharist gives us. This is yet another way the Eucharist shapes how we act in the world.

Living into the body of Christ
Our discussion of Part III of Sacramentum Caritatis has shown the broad strokes of Pope Benedict XVI's vision of how the Eucharist changes the life of the individual. First, the Pope speaks of how the Eucharist challenges the foundation of our lives by reorienting us to the life of God, which shifts our priorities and the very structure of our lives. Reoriented to God in our lives, we awaken to a new relationship with God. In that context, we open up to how God is shaping our lives in a particular vocation. That love we receive from God must be translated into a change in how we act in the world: acting with the love of Christ. Our new relationship with God thus entails a new relationship with others.

The culmination of this vision of the Eucharist's effects on the individual is how we grow in living our membership in and communion with the body of Christ. As we receive the Eucharist, we begin to be more conscious of how we are related to all others in the mystical body of Christ. As a final note on the Eucharist's effects on the individual, the reader should note the seamless connection between individual and community in the thought of Pope Benedict XVI.

At the heart of the transformation we undergo in receiving the Eucharist is a fundamental change in how we each approach the world. That is not merely incidental to our reception of the Eucharist-it is integral in it. Again quoting his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict affirms:

The eucharistic mystery thus gives rise to a service of charity towards neighbour, which "consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, affecting even my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ . . . ." (#88)

Acting with the mind and heart of Christ, the individual gradually becomes an agent of God's renewal of society. Hence, personal transformation in receiving Christ in the Eucharist is inherently interconnected with and essentially leads to transformation of the society in which the individual lives that renewed and reoriented life.

Questions for Reflection
1. What does the "eucharistic form of the Christian life" look like in your setting?

2. What are the challenges people in our culture face when trying to live a more eucharistic life? In what ways would the moral energy from the Eucharist help to overcome those difficulties?

3. How do you see the connection between the Eucharist and your everyday life, particularly in light of the Holy Father's way of defining sacrifice, spirituality, and spiritual worship?

4. What might one do to "live according to the Lord's Day," that is, orient our lives more around the Sunday eucharistic celebration and the Sabbath rest? How can we make our everyday lives an authentic expression of the Eucharist and the Lord's Day?

5. How else does our full reception of the Eucharist and eucharistic consistency require a change of how we act in the world?

6. If a friend asked you to convey the heart of Pope Benedict's message about the Eucharist and its effects on the person, what would you say?

Rev. Ronald Lewinski,
the pastor of St. Mary of the Annunciation, Mundelein, Illinois, is the author of Guide for Sponsors, published by Liturgy Training Publications.

Andrew Liaugminas
is a seminarian at Mundelein Seminary.

This is the fifth in a series of six articles reflecting on the apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis. Those using the study guide may find it helpful to read the document, which can be found online at the Vatican's web site, www.Vatican.va.

Part I: Reflecting on God's Action in the Eucharist
Part II: Each Sacrament Connects to the Eucharist
Part III: The Liturgy as Communal Ritual Action
Part IV: The Eucharist: A Mystery to be Celebrated
Part V: The Eucharist Changes the World: Effects on the Person
Part VI: The Eucharist Changes the World: Effects on Society and Culture

© Copyright 2006-2023
privacy  contact us  www.LTP.org