The Eucharist: Sacrament of Unity

Our nation—our world—is divided. You may have noticed. The Church is the source of unity for all peoples, but when division threatens the Church herself, what do you do? The threat of such division is evident, and though the Church has endured much worse, the weariness, the anxiety of it weighs one down, perhaps makes one dejected or despondent. Our hopes for the Church, for the world, for our loved ones and ourselves become smaller, to the point where we are afraid to hope, lest disillusionment strike again. The problems seem far too great for us to solve on our own.

But they are not too great for the Lord to solve, and he makes his strength our own—grace which enlivens our souls, especially in the Eucharist. Here, the Lord gives himself as the principle of the Church’s unity: his body offered up for us deepens our incorporation into him; his blood shed for us enlivens us. The Eucharist also unites us to each other. As St. Augustine says, “If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your mystery placed on the Lord’s table. You receive your mystery.” Perhaps we do not meditate on this aspect of the sacrament enough—a pity, because receiving the Eucharist with a desire for union with the whole Body of Christ greatly fosters this unity: “Be what you see; receive what you are,” says Augustine. In receiving Christ, we unite ourselves to all who belong to Christ—and if we refuse to do the latter, we cannot do the former. Again, Augustine writes, “Whoever receives the mystery but does not keep the bond of peace, receives not the mystery for himself, but a testimony against himself.” The Eucharist cannot be privatized, nor profitably received as an outward sign of a unity which is not present inwardly. Yet, if we approach the altar with the explicit desire for this unity—for ourselves and others—we not only prepare ourselves for a more fruitful communion, but we work to attain this unity. Sacraments effect what they signify, and the more prepared we are to receive them, the stronger their effects.

Of course, what makes this unity possible is the reality of the Eucharist as the whole substance of Christ—a mere sentimental desire to belong (on my own terms), an outward show of communion, the reception of simple bread and wine cannot achieve this unity. But the reception of Christ our peace, whose members we are, can and does. Yet we should realize that, precisely in receiving Christ, we receive one another as members of the same Body—not substantially, it is true, but in charity. There are indeed divisions which presage conflict in the world and in the Church, but our food and drink is the Prince of Peace himself. If we receive him with the ardent desire for unity, and the intention to make it real, will he not make enable us to achieve it?

Br. Columban Mary Hall, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE