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The Eucharistic Life

The Substance of Addresses Given by Two Members of the Oxford Mission Brotherhood of the Epiphany, at the Students Conference of the Syrian Christian Church, Held at Kottayam, May 1st--5th, 1916

London, New York, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras: Longmans, Green and Co., 1918.

Chapter V. The Eucharistic Gift

THE holy Eucharist is the central rite of the Christian religion. The ever-recurring meeting between our Lord and His disciples, which takes place in it, is the central fact in the life of the whole Church militant here in earth and of every member of it. This meeting is wonderful enough to evoke all the love of which we are capable. It is strange that we often forget how wonderful it is. If we did not for get, we could not desire anything in the world so much as this meeting with our dear Lord. It has been said: "If this most holy sacrament were celebrated in one place only, and by only one priest in the world, with what great desire and eagerness men would flock to that place and to this priest of God." [Imitation of Christ, Book IV, ch. i.] Christ in His great love allows this sacrament to be celebrated every day in all parts of the world. There is not an hour of the day or night in which it is not being celebrated somewhere. And we must beware lest we allow the frequent recurrence of it to lessen our wonder or our reverence for the great sacrament, or our desire thus to meet our Lord. The main reason why the Eucharist is to be the centre of our lives is because of the Gift which our Lord gives to the faithful in this sacrament.

It is the gift of Christ's own life, the human life which He lives now and for ever in heaven, and which is filled with the Divine life above.

[50] To understand what this gift means to us, it is necessary to consider, at least briefly, the history of man's redemption which lies behind it. From the time that man first fell into sin, God, whose love for man can never change, desired to save him and to fill him with the true life for which he had been created, in spite of his refusal of it and all the dire consequences that resulted therefrom. And at last, after many ages of preparation, when a "remnant" of the Jewish race desired a Saviour, were ready to receive Him and to spread His gospel; above all, when there was among them a woman holy enough to become His mother, God the Father sent forth His only begotten Son to be the Saviour of the world (St. John iii. 16-17; Romans v. 8, etc.). That is the same as saying that God sent Himself. He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became Man, i. e. He took our human nature to be His own, and entered it by a human birth to live in it for ever. Having be come Man, He met and conquered the whole force of evil which could be brought against Him. He felt the full force of temptation because He never yielded to it. The agony that was caused to Him by bearing the sins of men and the assaults of the evil spirits cannot be measured by us. But He was perfectly obedient every moment and under all trials, until at last He had as Man completely conquered the whole power of evil--had "condemned sin in the flesh" (Romans viii. 3), (i. e. condemned the whole force of evil as impotent to hurt His human nature in any way,) and had perfectly fulfilled the Father's will. This may be expressed thus: He had, as Man conquered all selfishness, and had enabled our nature to live a life of love or complete self-devotion to God and man. Therefore, as Man, He rose and ascended into heaven (i.e. His human nature was exalted above all creatures and filled with the life of God), so that in Him now and for ever God and Man [50/51] are at one, and live the one perfect life of love together.

But Christ won this victory not for His own sake, but for the sake of all men, that they all also at last may be filled with the life of God. Therefore, after His ascension, He at once began to impart this perfect, re-created human life of His to all His disciples who were capable of receiving it. On the Day of Pentecost (Acts ii.) Christ's first disciples received His life, were filled with His Spirit, and therefore were made one with Him, members of His body, the Church, as the Apostles describe it. So that, whereas all men have received from Adam this "natural" human life, they received also the new life of Christ, the second Adam. Whereas from the old Adam they had received a human life which was weak and habitually inclined to sin; they received from Christ, the second Adam, the new human life which has actually conquered the whole power of sin and temptation. They had "put on the new man" (see Ephesians iv. 17-24; Romans vi. 6-8). "There was a new creation"; they were "in Christ." The same thing has happened to all who since that time have been baptized into Christ. But this new human life, like the old, needs to be sustained by food. And the holy Eucharist is the chief means (all other means being insignificant in comparison with it) by which Christ gives the food by which man's new life is sustained in this world. He taught His first disciples, as He desires His Church to teach all His disciples in all ages and countries, that their souls need "the Bread of Life," which is given chiefly in this sacrament, as much as their bodies need food. We are therefore to think of this sacrament chiefly as the means by which Christ gives to His faithful disciples a gift of Spiritual food which they must receive and assimilate regularly and frequently if they desire to grow in spiritual likeness to Him.


[52] Let us now see how the spiritual food of the Eucharist is described in the New Testament. St. Paul says: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?" (i Corinthians x. 16). And our Lord Himself, no doubt to prepare His disciples for the institution of the sacrament, describes the gift of this sacrament in His discourse at Capernaum (St. John vi.). [That discourse, no doubt, refers to all the ways in which Christ comes to us and lets His life flow into us, e.g., in response to prayers which we lift to Him at any time. But a comparison of this discourse with the accounts of the institution of the sacrament (I Corinthians xi. 23-25; St. Matthew xxvi. 26-28; St. Mark xiv. 22-24 J St. Luke xxii. 19-20) makes it abundantly clear that its chief reference is to the Eucharist.] We ought to read and ponder over the wonderful words again and again: "My Father giveth you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which cometh down out of heaven, and giveth life unto the world. ... I am the Bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall not hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst. . . . This is the bread which cometh down out of heaven, that a man may eat thereof and not die. I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: yea, and the bread which I will give is My flesh, for the life of the world. . . . He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is true meat, and My blood is true drink. He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood abideth in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so he that eateth Me, he also shall live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven: not as the fathers did eat and died: he that eateth [52/53] this bread shall live for ever" (vv. 32, 33, 35, 50, 51, 54-58). These words were so extraordinary that many even of Christ's disciples said: "This is a hard saying; who can hear it?" And many of them "went back and walked no more with Him" (vv. 60, 66). But since the institution of the Eucharist, or rather since the day of Pentecost when Christ's Spirit came to enable the disciples to understand His words and actions, the Catholic Church in all parts and ages has understood and believed that, though this manifestation of Christ's love "passeth knowledge," He does indeed give to His faithful disciples through this sacrament His very life--the perfect human life which He lives in heaven--the new human life which is linked with the love of God, i. e. with the Divine power of self-oblation; that He gives it to them through a sacrament, i. e. by outward signs through which they may know when and how the gift comes, and may prepare themselves to receive and assimilate it; that the signs He has chosen, bread and wine--ordinary articles of daily food--are to assure them that He comes to them in the sacrament as their spiritual Food as the Bread of the true Life; and that as their bodies receive, assimilate and live by ordinary food, so He desires that their souls should receive, assimilate and live by this heavenly Food, which is nothing less than His own self. "He that eateth Me;" He says, "He also shall live because of Me."

But this implies that He means us to receive the Holy Communion frequently. He does not wish us in this age to go on making the mistake that has so often been made in past ages of regarding the Mass mainly as the great opportunity for worshipping our Lord or for offering His sacrifice to the Father, without regarding it equally as the great opportunity for the frequent reception of Christ's life in Communion, without which our new life cannot be [53/54] sustained and increased. The two truths ought never to be separated. In the Eucharist we offer Christ's sacrifice, and we receive Christ in communion. And as I hope to show in another address, we can only offer His sacrifice rightly, if we are regular and faithful communicants who are living by His life.

In your Liturgy, after the priest's communion there comes the great procession of the mysteries, The priest (or bishop) brings the holy sacrament from the altar towards the congregation .and holds it out to them. This is to be considered as our Lord's own invitation to you to come and receive Him, the Bread of Life. He does not hold Himself out to you merely that you may praise Him and worship, but that you may be filled with His life and so be able to praise rightly and offer His sacrifice to the Father. I do not mean, of course, that you can never rightly join in the worship at the Liturgy unless you receive the Holy Communion on that particular day. But I do mean that Christ wants you to receive Him frequently, when you have carefully prepared your selves by confession of your sins and much prayer; and that only if you do receive Him frequently and faithfully, will you be able to take your true part in the Church's worship.

If you will consider the teaching of Christ, of which I have spoken, often when you are alone with Him, and will combine with it all His exhortations to His disciples to come to Him--to depend on Him for life and everything needful--there will, I think, be no doubt left in your minds as to the fact that He invites you to receive His life frequently in Holy Communion. How plain His exhortations were, e.g., "I am come that they may have life, and have it abundantly." "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in Me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth [54/55] in Me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for apart from Me ye can do nothing." "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you."

Perhaps one reason why, in spite of this teaching of our Lord which is all equivalent to an invitation to come to partake of Him, the Bread of Life, in Communion, you come so rarely, is that you do not feel worthy to come often, and so have been afraid to receive Holy Communion more than three or four times a year. And no doubt there is something about this which is pleasing to our Lord. He desires that we should realize how awful a thing it is to approach these sacred mysteries, and how extremely careful we ought to be about our preparation for doing so. Nevertheless, we may be sure that our Lord desires to correct or rather to develop the feeling of awe by reminding us that apart from Him we can do nothing; that we cannot become more fit to come to Him by staying away. As well might we say with respect to natural food "my body is weak, therefore I will not take the necessary food except at long intervals." The answer, of course, is that your body cannot become strong unless it takes the necessary food frequently. Yet there is a truth in the above which we cannot lose sight of. The whole matter can be put thus:--

(I) It is true that our souls are only in a condition to receive and assimilate the heavenly Food of the Eucharist when they are already in a certain condition of health just as it is true that when our bodies are weakened (e.g. by fever), they cannot receive strong food. To do so is harmful, not helpful. If we were constantly giving way to sin, so that we did not really want to give it up altogether, or so that we had no real desire to live the life of Christ, [55/56] then it would be very wrong indeed for us to come to the Holy Communion. We should but eat judgment unto ourselves (see I Corinthians xi. 27-30).

(2) On the other hand, if our wills are set in God's direction, if we do earnestly desire to give up our sins and to serve Christ, although we are conscious that we are not able to carry out our good intentions, then we can accept all Christ's gracious invitations as addressed directly to ourselves. Then He says to us, in effect: "Come to Me because you are weak, that you may become strong; because you are hungering and thirsting after righteousness, that you may be filled; because you are sinful, that you may become holy; because you cannot at present conquer your temptations, that you may receive from Me the power by which all human sin and temptation has actually been conquered, and so be able to conquer them; because you are wanting in love and devotion, that you may receive My life which is filled with the Divine love; because without Me ye can do nothing, that receiving Me you may be able to do all that God asks of you."

I can take for granted, thank God, that I am speaking to men who do want to be holy, to give up their sins, and to spend their lives in the service of Christ and their fellow men. And, therefore, I say to you, in Christ's name, make the Holy Communion the centre of your lives; accept His frequent invitations; fear not to come to Him who loves each of you with all the love of God. Your desire to serve Christ wholly is perhaps fitful: the attractions of the world often hold you back, or prevent you from giving your best to God. But Christ knows this and [56/57] takes you at your best. He is your only source of strength, of steadfastness and perseverance. Through Him you can become, however weak and unstable you may be now, true faithful servants of His, to whom He will be able to say when your trial time is over, "Well done, good and faithful servants: you have been faithful in a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord."

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