Understanding the Eucharist With Special Attention to the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas
The Church was born of the Paschal mystery and thus the Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Paschal mystery, stands at the centre of the Church’s life. (Ecclesia De Eucharistia, n. 3) For St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), The source and summit of the whole Christian life is Christ. So this Sacrament [the Eucharist] perfects the others by joining us to Christ. (In Sent IV d.8 q.1 art.1.)
The actions of Jesus at the institution of the Eucharist provide important insights into this mystery. The events recorded by the Gospels demonstrate parallels with the Jewish berakah. Jesus breaks the bread and distributes it; the very act that creates community, carried out by the head of the family, who, through this giving, sharing, and uniting, gives the stranger a share of what is one’s own. There is sense in which Jesus can be seen, through this action, to represent God the Father,
“...who gives us everything, through the earth’s bounty, that we need for life...God’s bountiful distribution of gifts takes in a radical quality when the Son communicates and distributes Himself in the form of bread.”— Ratzinger, J., Jesus of Nazareth Holy Week: From the Entrance to Jerusalem to the Resurrection, London: CTS, 2011, p. 129.What is present in the Eucharist is the true manna: communion with God in the risen Christ. Both the Cross and the Resurrection are intrinsic to the Eucharist. That the first Christians understood the Eucharist as an encounter with the Risen Lord is clear from Scripture. We see in Acts 20:6-11 that the “breaking of bread” was already fixed for the morning of the day of Resurrection, even in the apostolic age.
Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur,
Sed auditu solo tuto creditur.
Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius;
Nil hoc verbo veritátis verius.
Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.
“In Christ the saving victim was offered once, Then what of ourselves? Do we not offer every day? Although we do offer daily, that is done for the recalling of his death, and the victim is one, not many. But how can that be—one and many? Because Christ was immolated once. For this sacrifice is what corresponds to that sacrifice if his: the same reality, remaining always the same, is offered and so this is the same sacrifice. Otherwise, would you not say that because the sacrifice is offered in many places, therefore there are many Christs? No, but there is one Christ in all those places, fully present here and fully present there. And just as what is offered in all places is one and the same body, so there is one and the same sacrifice. Christ offered a victim and we offer the self same now; but what we do is a recalling of his sacrifice. Nor is the sacrifice repeated because of its weakness (since it is what perfects mankind), but by reason of our own, because we sin daily.” —Clark, op. Cit. This is Peter Lombard’s version from IV Sent., d. 12, c. 5, translated and quoted by Clark on page 75.
I hope that this post has demonstrated the fact of the sacrificial terms in which Christ instituted the Eucharist. This demonstrates the reality of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and unless Christ is really and truly present under the appearance of bread and wine, what is offered up in the Mass (as Christ commanded) is not what is offered up by Christ to the Father: His Sacrifice on the Cross. Moloney, Rahner and others argue that the Real Presence exists because of the Sacrifice. Undoubtedly the link between the two are integral, but consideration of the teaching of St. Thomas on the Real Presence would lead us to conclude that the Sacrifice depends on the Real Presence, the Eucharist having been instituted for spiritual nourishment rather than satisfaction (ST 3a 79,5). Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is rather the creative power of the God’s word changing bread and wine into his body and blood, which he gives up to his Father for us.
Brown, R. E., Fitzmeyer, J. A., Murphy, R. E., (Eds.), The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, London: Chapman, 1989.
Cantalamessa, R., The Eucharist: Our Sanctification, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1993.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Clark, F., Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Reformation, Oxford: Blackwell, 1967.
Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament: Second Catholic Edition RSV, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2001.
Hahn, S., The Lamb’s Supper, London: DLT, 1999.
Komonchak, et al, The New Dictionary of Theology, Minnesota: Michael Glazier, 1993.
Küng, H., On Being a Christian, London, SCM, 1977.
McGuckian, M., The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Herefordshire: Gracewing, 2005.
Moloney, R., The Eucharist, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1995.
Neuner, J., & Dupuis, J., The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Church, New York: Alba, 2001.
Nichols, A., The Holy Eucharist, Dublin: Veritas, 1991.
O’Neill, C., Meeting Christ in the Sacraments, Cork: Mercier Press, 1966.
Ott, L. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Illinois: Tan, 1974.
Rahner, K., Encyclopedia of Theology, New York: St. Paul’s, 2004.
Rahner, K., & Häussling, A., The Celebration of the Eucharist, London: Burns & Oates, 1968.
Ratzinger, J., God is Near Us, San Francisco, Ignatius, 2003.
Ratzinger, J., Jesus of Nazareth, London: Bloomsbury, 2007.
Ratzinger, J., Jesus of Nazareth Holy Week: From the Entrance to Jerusalem to the Resurrection, London: CTS, 2011.
Schneider, A., Dominus Est—It is the Lord!, New Jersey: Newman House Press, 2008.
Selman, F.J., A Guide to the Eucharist, Oxford: Family Publications 2006.
Selman, F., The Eucharist, Birmingham: Maryvale, 2003.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, Southampton: The Saint Austin Press, 1997.