The Eucharist is the source and the summit of the Christian life. This teaching of the Second Vatican Council has come to life for countless generations of ordinary men and women of faith, particularly those who suffer persecution and martyrdom for believing in Jesus Christ.
Take the example of Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, the Vietnamese archbishop who was imprisoned, tortured and sentenced to solitary confinement for 13 years by Communist authorities. He was deprived of food, personal human contact, and forbidden to read books or spiritual materials. He found consolation in reciting the Psalms and prayers of the church, which he knew by heart.
And every day, he celebrated the Eucharist behind bars. If the prison guards discovered him, he would have been beaten and punished severely. So how did he celebrate Mass in secret?
Cardinal Van Thuan described his deep love of the Eucharist with moving words: “Every day, with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of my hand, I would celebrate Mass. This was my altar, and this was my cathedral! ... Each day in reciting the words of consecration, I confirmed with all my heart and soul a new pact, an eternal pact between Jesus and me through his blood mixed with mine.”
With only three drops of wine, smuggled into his prison cell, and tiny particles of leftover bread, he was nourished by the body and blood of Jesus who gave him strength to endure violent persecution and hope in his loneliness and desolation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the Eucharist is the sum and summary of the Catholic faith. On this solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the word of God invites us to make the Eucharist the center of our spiritual life and journey of faith.
At the Last Supper, Jesus takes bread and wine, prays a blessing to his heavenly Father, and commands his disciples to take, eat and drink of the life-giving spiritual food of his own body and blood. Then, Jesus offers his body and his blood on the cross so that we may be reconciled to friendship with God.
The most fitting response of faith to the gift of Jesus’ own flesh and blood is thanksgiving. And that is what the word “Eucharist” means. To partake of Jesus’ body and blood is to live our lives in eucharistic amazement, hearts filled always with thanksgiving for the unconditional mercy and goodness of God.
The Holy Spirit invites us today, and every day, to live our lives in humble thanksgiving to God who so desires our friendship that his Son Jesus gives us his own body and blood as our spiritual food and drink.