Why Do We Say Christ Is Hidden In the Eucharist?

One common theme I've heard expressed among spiritual writers is that Our Lord remains hidden in the Eucharist. The implication is that since we witness no observable change to the bread and wine that he is not available to our senses and thus, he must be hidden. But a sacrament is essentially a visible sign of an invisible reality; it's not meant to hide anything - it's meant to reveal.

Occasionally, we speak of sensible experiences of the risen Lord. Francis of Assisi had a number of such experiences. He heard Jesus speaking to him while praying in front of the San Damiano Crucifix, 'Francis rebuild my Church which you see is falling down and in ruins'. Spiritual writers tell us that in the final stage of his conversion Francis understood the Leper he embraced and kissed to be Jesus. At the first reenactment of the manger scene, witnesses reported the Christ child came to life in the tender arms of Francis. And finally Francis had the seraphic image of Jesus before him when he received the stigmata on Mount Alvirna. Yet despite these dramatic encounters St. Francis of Assisi maintained, "I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except his most holy body and blood." It's this quote that is often used to demonstrate Francis's devotion to the Eucharist.

But of course a quote like this really doesn't tell us what it is that Francis 'sees'. In one sense we all see the same thing…we see the appearance of bread and wine. We of the Catholic Faith hold that at the consecration the substance of the bread and wine are changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ [see Catechism of the Catholic Church 1374-1376]. In this consecration the bread and wine are no longer present; they have been changed into the body and blood of Christ, and yet to our senses we perceive bread and wine.

Listen to this passage from the writings of the St. Francis of Assisi, the Seraphic Saint:

Sacred Scripture tells us that the Father dwells in 'light inaccessible' (1 Tim. 6:16) and that 'God is spirit' (Jn. 4:24), and St. John adds, 'No one at any time has seen God' (Jn. 1:18). Because God is spirit he can be seen only in spirit; 'It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing' (Jn. 6:64). But God the Son is equal to the Father and so he too can be seen only in the same way as the Father and the Holy Spirit. That is why all those were condemned who saw our Lord Jesus Christ in his humanity but did not see or believe in spirit in his divinity, that he was the true Son of God. In the same way now, all those are damned who see the sacrament of the Body of Christ which is consecrated on the altar in the form of bread and wine by the words of our Lord in the hands of the priest, and do not see or believe in spirit and in God that this is really the Most High himself who told us, This is my Body and Blood 'of the new covenant' (Mk 14: 22-24), and,' he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life everlasting' (Jn. 6:55).

At first glance this admonition seems disjointed because Francis begins by using Sacred Scripture to inform us that we cannot see God. Then he seamlessly transitions to lamenting the state of those who don't see or believe in the divinity of the Son of God, either in Palestine or on the altar. But if we continue Francis adds:

He shows himself to us in this sacred bread just as he once appeared to his apostles in real flesh. With their own eyes they saw only his flesh, but they believed that he was God, because they contemplated him with the eyes of the spirit. We too with our own eyes, see only bread and wine, but we must see further and firmly believe that this is his most holy Body and Blood, living and true.

Reading Francis more closely we see that if we contemplate the Eucharist with 'the eyes of the spirit' we will come to know Our Savior in the Blessed Sacrament. As we appreciate the Incarnation, the divine presence of the Son of God in his humanity, then we can truly and easily believe his promises. If we choose to live in the Spirit we will see the Lord Jesus as the divine Son of God and believe in his presence on the altar; we will hear and respond to his words "This is my Body and Blood". None of this is based on any evidence. It's based solely on faith in the Person who makes the promise.

This is why each person must seek, accept, nuture, and defend the gift that comes through his or her baptism. A gift of spiritual life in Christ, a life that enters fully into the mystery of the Trinity. Here in new life we seek 'spiritual light' and abhor darkness. Here the spiritual newborn (or reborn in the case of Confession) learns to accept in faith what is being revealed; to trust in the manner and means of salvation, and the promises that will be fulfilled in time. Thus we accept by faith that Jesus is the divine Person that the Father and the Holy Spirit testify to, and that he is doing what he said he would do, namely to feed us with his Body and Blood. This should present no problem for a Christian who dwells in light or sanctifying grace. I believe this is the crux of what St. Francis is driving at.

A sage once told me that a spiritual mystery is not a problem to be solved; rather it's a pool to dive into. When we seek to dissect spiritual mystery with words we risk confusing the reality. To enter into unending contention over the mystery of the Eucharist is to drift away from spiritual light into darkness. It's not Jesus who is hidden, indeed he is revealed by his very word and promise. His Eucharistic presence is taught and proclaimed in word and brought forth in liturgical action by his Church. It's the inner life of God that remains mysterious, though less so through the gift of sacrament. What we see, taste, chew, and feel in our encounter of the Eucharist is Jesus himself. It is what Jesus intended for us to experience as he truly unites us with himself and presents us to the Father.


Anonymous said...

When we seek to dissect spiritual mystery with words we risk confusing the reality.

This is something I need to remember.

Aimee said...

But a sacrament is essentially a visible sign of an invisible reality; it's not meant to hide anything - it's meant to reveal.

Exactly! That is the whole purpose of creation itself, the Incarnation, the Church, the Eucharist: God in the process of revealing and communicating – literally giving - Himself to us. And He is infinite - there is no end to discovery of God in and through the Eucharist. Through it we enter Him, and He enters us, more and more forever.

A sage once told me that a spiritual mystery is not a problem to be solved; rather it's a pool to dive into.

And God is the ultimate pool, the great Sea of Existence without end, that we are to dive into, and He into us, in and through Christ in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the doorway into God, into the new creation, into glorified, restored Reality itself.

Anonymous said...

Our the biblical truth of our Eucharistic Lord was central in bringing my family and I (protestant minister for some 20 years) into the Catholic Church.

A sign and an action both, not merely symbol only - yes, and thank God for Him.

May your day be blessed with perfect joy. ::thrive! O

Joyful Catholics said...

We came back into the Catholic Church during the end of the Year of the Eucharist. I LOVE the Eucharist! A new experience of Jesus as my personal Savior was wonderful and joyous back in 1974, but I "lost His Church" somewhere along the line, and to be back in Her Arms is the ultimate "high" and "Perfect Joy" this side of Heaven!