If Christ's intent in the Incarnation is to share with
thinking creatures the self-aware love and joy of the Trinity,
the purpose of the sacrament of the Eucharist is to recreate
that sharing in our daily lives. The healing and recommitment
that the Eucharist both signifies and causes is the way that
the effects of the Incarnation are spread out in
time to all of us every day.
The Eucharist, for Aquinas, is where everything comes together:
the essential mystery of
the happy self-awareness of God as described
by the Trinity, the joining of this to a human being in the Incarnation,
and the chance for reasoning creatures to enjoy this happiness
as well, with the healing and recommitment of the grace of the
sacrament as the means.
How does this happen? In a simple act of healing presence.
Most all good things in life involve the presence of
something beloved. It's great to love Mozart, but it's even better
to actually hear him performed; it's great to love your kids
or your friends or your spouse but even better to have them right
before you. When we react to great art, we react to the truth
work as well as to the presence of the artist. Is Mozart really
present when his music is performed? Not physically, but something
of him certainly is, just as there is something of Michelangelo
in his sculpture the Pieta or in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel,
and just as the presence of those who have lived well outlasts
lives in the ones they have touched, in a way that is so much
more than "symbolic."
According to Aquinas, the act of consecration in the Mass brings
about the actual presence of Christ. As Brian Davies says in
his book The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (p. 373), "Anyone
reading through the discussion of the Eucharist in the tertia
pars of the Summa theologiae ought
to see without much difficulty that Aquinas thinks of himself
as talking about something which defies understanding. The Eucharist,
for him, is a mystery in precisely the sense that God is a mystery—for
the Eucharist, for him, is the presence of God." And the
mysterious presence of the vulnerable Lamb of God is the thing
that triggers our healing.
All this is mystery that defies understanding: the
mystery of God, the mystery of consciousness, the mystery of
presence, the mystery of a person who
and divine, the mystery of the vulnerable Lamp of God opening
our hearts to the love of charity, and the mystery that we too
may become divine and share in the self-aware love
for those of us who want a crack at the divine, the very fact
of existence itself also defies understanding, so there you have
it. I think
of the Eucharist as the daily dose of mystery that helps unfold
us and move us towards bliss.
By facing the mystery of existence, the mystery
of the self-awareness of God in the Trinity, the human struggle
to flourish, the model and grace of Christ to aid that flourishing,
and the daily presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we make a
claim about the essential nature of life. If we then act accordingly,
we can move closer to enjoying the
love and joy
of God, which we experience as that mysterious, crack-your-heart-open,
ecstatic oneness with life.
This is where we began and this
where we end.
We'll close with a quote from Chesterton in his book Saint
Thomas Aquinas, p. 91, where he says:
Aquinas declares that "... life is a living story, with
a great beginning and a great
rooted in the primeval joy of God and finding its fruition
in the final happiness of humanity."
“Everything that physical food and drink does for our
bodily life - sustaining, building up, restoring and gladdening
the heart - this sacrament does for our spirit.”
”Christ’s presence is “bodily companionship
on our pilgrimage.” And “it joins Christ to us in
such friendly unity that it is our greatest sign of his love,
and the raising of our hope.”
(3a, 75 ,1)