The Eucharistic Feast: Revealing Our True Selves

Daniel Witham

The Eucharistic Feast: Revealing Our True Selves

When we come to the end of our lives, each of us will meet God face to face. At this moment, we will be judged and our eternal fate will be decided. 

The good, those in God’s friendship, who have served him well, will be welcomed into heaven. Some, before entering the joys of heaven, will need to be purified for a time, although throughout their time in purgatory they will be assured of their salvation. But for those who are not in God’s friendship, who have chosen not to love him, coming before God face to face will only mean the confirmation of the fate they have chosen for themselves. 

Coming before God face to face is such a powerful moment. Being in God’s presence at the moment of our particular judgment seals our fate. It does something to bring to light the interior choices we have made. God, being Truth itself, makes true our choices. Our choice to love and serve God, or to reject him, bears fruit when we are before His majesty. 

In this blog, I want to consider that we don’t have to wait until the end of life to come before God face to face. In fact, the Our Lord is truly present in the Blessed Eucharist. And the Eucharist produces for us the same very effects as when we come before God after this life: to the good, exceeding good, but to the bad, condemnation. 

To see what I mean, consider a beautiful hymn of St. Thomas Aquinas, Lauda Sion. One stanza reads: 

Both the wicked and the good 

Eat of this celestial Food: 

But with ends how opposite! 

Here 't is life: and there 't is death: 

The same, yet issuing to each 

In a difference infinite. 

St. Thomas poetically praises the “celestial Food” as a great and even dangerous thing. For those who are well disposed to the Eucahrist, who come to receive Our Lord worthily, the Eucharist gives life! But to the wicked, who receive the Lord unworthily, only further their guilt.

St. Thomas here is following a scriptural tradition. We can see this truth in three different passages of scripture. 

First, there is the famous story of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). The two are walking with Jesus after the resurrection. They believed in him, but now are disappointed. They do not recognize the risen Lord. But as they walk, Jesus opens the scriptures to them. When they invite him to stay with them that evening, he celebrates the Eucharist, and finally, “he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” 

Here we see that the Eucharist for these two disciples brought them to a firm faith in the resurrection. To them, the Eucharist brought life! 

Second, we can look to the teaching of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. He writes of the opposite reality, that those who receive the Eucharist unworthily bring judgment on themselves. He writes, 

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. 

Reflecting on this, we may be surprised. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It is the holiest thing on earth. Why should it harm us? The Eucharist is holy, but if we look through scripture we often see that holiness is also dangerous. God is almighty and infinite. At the same time that he loves us, he causes us to tremble. He is not an idol we can keep neatly within a set of boundaries that we have created–when we are before God we are not in control. And we know that if we disrespect him, there are serious consequences. The Eucharist could be compared to a strong medicine. Received well, it heals us, but received poorly, and it could kill us! St. Paul therefore points out the importance of preparation to receive the blessed Eucharist and especially of examining our consciences. 

One final passage of Scripture brings out this point. It is the “Bread of Life Discourse” of Jesus in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. Look at the diverse results of the people who hear Jesus explain how his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink:

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven…” 

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him (John 6:41-66) 

While the unbelieving among his followers turned away and ceased following Jesus upon hearing about the Eucahrist, there were others who heard and had their faith strengthened. I think the next verses are some of the most moving in all of Scripture: 

So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69) 

In this passage, we see how it is the teaching on the Eucharist that brings out the true nature of each group. The unbelieving have their unbelief revealed, and they leave Jesus’ company. But the believing twelve are prompted to solidify their faith in Christ and are firmly united to him. The same can be said each time we encounter the living God in the Most Holy Eucharist. 

We should reflect on this and keep it in mind each time we go to Mass. Of course, we should not fear God the way a servant fears a beating from the master. But the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and a true fear of God, like that of a son who fears disappointing his father, brings us to a great love. Whenever we go to Mass, or participate in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, or receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, we must do so reverently, lovingly, humbly, and with a clean conscience. Most of all, we should never allow ourselves to become complacent, treating his awesome presence as something routine and unremarkable. 

To conclude, I hope to share a lovely prayer I sometimes use before Holy Communion. It contains some of these sentiments and I encourage everyone to pray it if they find it helpful for their preparation to receive Almighty God. 

O Lord, I believe and profess that you are truly Christ, 

the Son of the living God,

who came into the world to save sinners, 

of whom I am the greatest. 

Accept me today as a partaker of your mystical supper, O Son of God, For I will not reveal your mystery to your enemies, 

Nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas, 

But like the thief I profess to you: 

Remember me, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom. Remember me, O Master, when you come into your kingdom. Remember me, O Holy One, when you come into your kingdom. 

May the partaking of your Holy mysteries, O Lord, 

Be not for my judgment or condemnation, 

But for the healing of my soul and body. 

O Lord, I also believe and profess, that this, 

Which I am about to receive, 

Is truly your most precious Body, and your life-giving Blood, Which, I pray, make me worthy to receive 

For the remission of all my sins and for life everlasting. Amen. 

O God, be merciful to me, a sinner. 

O God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy on me. O Lord, forgive me for I have sinned without number. 

(People’s prayer before Communion in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy)