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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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?