REFLECTIONS ON THE EUCHARIST & THE APOSTLES’ CREED - delivered during the Forty Hours devotion at St Columba’s parish in Glasgow (on 28 May 2012, Whit Monday)
Now, I’m not sure if you used the Apostles’ Creed during the Mass here at St Columba’s, but it is recommended in the Missal as an option during Lent and Eastertide. Why? Because originally this Creed was a baptismal creed summarizing the teachings of the Apostles, and it was given to the catechumens when they were baptized from as early as c.200 AD. And the time of year when catechumens were prepared for baptism and received the sacraments of initiation, of course, was Lent and Eastertide. So, we remember that fact by using the Creed during this liturgical period. But the Apostles’ Creed is also very apt for this period after Pentecost because the tradition was that the Creed, which is divided into twelve articles, is believed to have been dictated by each of the Twelve apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost.
So, what I intend to do is to look at the articles of this Creed, and consider what them in relation to the Eucharist. However, time doesn’t allow me to look at all of the twelve articles, so we’ll just look at the five that follow on from belief in the Holy Spirit, which seems fitting given that we are in this time following on from Pentecost.
I believe in the holy catholic Church…
The classic position of the first millennium of our Christian Faith, especially in the Fathers of the early Church, is that “the Eucharist makes the Church”, as the Catechism says. Because the Eucharist is nothing less than the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ; it is the Lord. And it is from the body of the Lord that the Church is born. Just as Eve was taken from Adam’s side, so the Church is born from the pierced side of Christ on the Cross as blood and water poured forth. Pope Blessed John Paul II put it this way: “The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist”.
But the Eucharist makes the Church in another way. When we receive Holy Communion we are drawn deeper into communion with Christ, the Head of his Body, the Church, and so we are drawn deeper into communion with one another too. As the Catechism says: “Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens [our] incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism. In Baptism we have been called to form but one body. The Eucharist fulfills this call”. St Augustine reminds us, then, that when the priest says: “Body of Christ”, and we say “Amen”, we are saying “Yes, this is the Body of Christ, and I am a member of the Body of Christ”. So, we’re making a commitment to one another, a commitment of love, and so, we’re also building up the Church in love and unity.
The communion of saints…
It should be fairly clear, then, how the Eucharist is related to the communion of saints. For we, the baptized, are all called “the saints” by St Paul, and the sacramental grace that comes from the Mass makes us holy. And we have communion, a holy unity with one another through our union with Christ in the Eucharist; this is the great sacrament and sign of our unity.
St John Chysostom has a beautiful explanation of this. He says: “What is the bread? It is the body of Christ. And what do those who receive it become? The Body of Christ – not many bodies but one body. For as bread is completely one, though made of up many grains of wheat. And these, albeit unseen, remain nonetheless present, in such a way that their difference is not apparent since they have been made a perfect whole, so too, we are mutually joined to one another, and together united with Christ”.
As such, in the Eucharist, we are reminded of the pain of Christian division, and love spurs us on to strive for visible unity in the Church.
The forgiveness of sins…
We often think of the Sacrament of Confession as the sacrament of God’s mercy, but so, too, is the Eucharist. As the Catechism teaches: “The body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion is “given up for us,” and the blood we drink “shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins.” For this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins”.
Moreover, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ is a sign of God’s saving mercy, his forgiveness and love for sinful humanity, and in the Mass we recall this Paschal Mystery and its saving effects is given to us. So we can say that in the Eucharist, Christ’s mercy is revealed and effected and the Eucharist becomes a sign of God’s forgiveness and mercy to us.
The resurrection of the body… In the Eucharist we receive the Body of the risen Lord Jesus, just as the disciples recognized the risen Lord in the “breaking of bread”, that is, the Mass. So, the Eucharist which is given to us becomes a pledge, a promise of our own bodily resurrection for the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us. The Eucharist becomes the seed of glory planted in us, for as St Irenaeus said: “Our bodies, which have been nourished by the eucharist, will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time, for the Word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father”.
And life everlasting.
Finally, the great Dominican saint Thomas Aquinas summed up the Eucharist as the “sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory given to us”.
So, in the Eucharist, Christ promises us that we will have a share in his risen life, and indeed, in eternal glory. Through the Eucharist, as we’ve seen we are united with Christ himself and share in his divine life even now on earth. So, at our death, the Spirit will raise us up to share the life of the Holy Trinity with all the saints for ever in heaven.
Ultimately, this is the promise of Christ, the goal of our Holy Communion. This is the word of Truth on which our faith in the Eucharist and in Christ’s saving work through it depends. For Jesus said in St John’s Gospel: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”.