White Robed Monks of St. Benedict

On the Sacrament of the Eucharist: Bread of Life


Peace be with you.

We are offering you a general, detailed framework from within which to appreciate the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The following information is just information. We might label the following simply as instruction. We do not say the information is right or wrong (although we have intended the information to be accurate in stating what it does state). The following reflects only a
Catholic Spirituality rather than a dogmatic statement. We tend to be non-dogmatic, so please do not take the following in any way to reflect the last word about the Eucharist from the Catholic viewpoint. If you have any questions or need for clarifications, please contact your priest or deacon. Thank you.

Peace and Joy!

The White Robed Monks of St. Benedict

Index for On the Eucharist

The Eucharist

The Eucharist historically is the center of Catholic life. We are about to engage in a phenomenological (grounded in one's experience), rather than Scholastic-Aristotelian (grounded in the world of concepts), discussion about the Eucharist and related experiences.
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First a few (academic) words about Phenomenology to clarify and give a framework for our discussion. A phenomenological stance is neither right nor wrong in itself. It is just what it is, but one stance among many.

Phenomenology is the descriptive science of pure experience without intended theoretical or practical application.
1 We are about to investigate the Eucharist as it appears to our senses, as we may experience it and how we have come to symbolize it. Hence, we are about to study the Eucharist as it is (substantively) rather than how we might speculate it (substantially) to be. f the Eucharist was a rose, we are going to discuss the rose as it is rather than the delusive beautiful rose. We create the beautiful rose. Beauty we know exists only in the speculative eye of the beholder. The rose's speculative beauty may become a matter for debate — while the rose simply remains what it is: a rose. Likewise, the Eucharist remains what it is regardless of what we speculate about it.

There are several phenomenological approaches.
  1. Through Descriptive Phenomenology
    • we intuit, analyze and describe the Eucharist according to patterns of intentionality rather than how we may want the Eucharist to be.
  2. Through Eidetic Phenomenology
    • we explore the given reality of the Eucharist in perhaps in a creative or imaginative way.
  3. Through the Phenomenology of Appearances
    • we take special notice of the different properties and modes in which the Eucharist presents itself.
  4. Through Constitutional Phenomenology
    • we investigate how we establish the Eucharist within human consciousness, a state of being present and differentiated from awareness, an ego-function.
  5. Through Hermeneutic Phenomenology
    • we interpret the meaning of the Eucharist in terms of the human experience.
  6. Through Applied Phenomenology
    • we make use of any of the preceding disciplines to explain the Eucharist.
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Historical Framework for the Eucharist

The historical Christ was not a Christian. He was a Jew. Christ instituted the Eucharist. The Eucharist, therefore, finds is origins within the Jewish tradition as influenced by the non-Jewish traditions then in vogue at the time of the historical Christ. As Father Daniel Harrington has written "Everyone would agree that the historical Jesus must be understood within the context of Judaism."2

The Eucharist finds its beginnings in the allusion or story of Adam and Eve. As the story goes, Adam and Eve chose to forget who they were. They chose instead the illusive image of their own self-aware selves rather than their consciousness of God. They chose to follow their own delusive way of thinking, a dynamic inherent within the human condition. They chose not to listen through (L. ob, through + audiens, listen) their delusive tendencies. They lived out their own self-created allusion. They chose not to be obedient (L. ob + audiens, through + listening) to God's request: Do not eat of the fruit of the tree. (For a more detailed discussion of this phenomena, please refer to Christ: Self-emptying and the Prologue to The (Zen) Holy Rule).

The story continues with God throwing Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Paradise, a historical metaphor for heaven. Heaven is a metaphor for the intentional attitudinal predisposition of inherent unity or wholeness, peace and joy. Heaven is pure consciousness. When in heaven we may say the person is "living."

As a consequence of their disobedience, they became aware (ate of the Tree of Good and Evil) and assumed an intentional attitude of pain and fear and suffering. Fear is a person's delusive interpretation of sensation that s/he can not handle that sensation. Suffering is a person's allusive position of victimization by one's real or imagined circumstance. When not in heaven, i.e., hell, we may say the person is "surviving."

Adam and Eve experienced death and separation and alienation from their own true selves. They lost consciousness of who they were. They became, they chose to become, victims of their own circumstance. Consequently, they had to now struggle to survive rather than live within the Eternal Now in the Presence of God e in Paradise.

Adam and Eve had broken their bond with God through their disobedience. They chose to listen to their own delusive thoughts rather than the voice of God speaking to them. They ate of the tree that God had told them not to. They became self-aware of what they had done. Then they lied about what they had done.

In light of the Jewish sacrificial mythos or context within which the historical Christ chose incarnate, he had to die for the remediation of Adam and Eve's original sin. "Every death, but particularly the death of an innocent one, (had) the character of atonement" (at-one-ment). Also following the custom of the day, Christ shared a meal with his disciples. Meals always "signified peace, trust, and community. By the distributing the bread and wine as his flesh and blood, Jesus gave his disciples a share in the power of his death to make atonement and to establish a new Covenant. This too, is a familiarity Oriental idea: eating and drinking communicated divine gifts."
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Who is this Jesus who instituted the Eucharist?

Given our contemporary methods of literary criticism, linguistic analysis, the data from anthropology, archeology, and sociology, as well as recently discovered texts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, we have today many different images of the historical Jesus. We find him as "a Jewish revolutionary, a political agitator, follower of the Cynic philosophy, a magician, an apocalyptic prophet, a popular sage, a holy man or charismatic, a Galilean rabbi, a wily politician, even a trance-induced psychotherapist, and, of course, a messiah."

Harvey Cox of Harvard University School of Divinity has developed seven different "plausible portraits of Jesus." The only thing in common is that Jesus is recognizably Jewish. He was "a participant in one of the many Jewish sub-cultures of first century Palestine." His God was the "God of Abraham, made known through the covenant with the Jewish people as One, who has active compassion for the outsider and who promises justice and healing to all nations."
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What is the Eucharist?

Sometimes we can sense greater clarity if we go outside the proverbial circle of Catholicism to grasp what we may take for granted. Thich Nhat Hanh, A Vietnamese Zen Monk and a world renowned advocate for Vietnam describes the Eucharist thusly:

"Christianity is a kind of continuation of Judaism, as is Islam. All the branches belong to the same tree. In Christianity, when we celebrate the Eucharist, sharing the bread and wine as the body of God, we do it in the same spirit of piety, of mindfulness, aware that we are alive, enjoying dwelling in the present moment. The message of Jesus during the Sedar that has become known as the Last Supper was clear. His disciples had been following him in person, but it seems they had not yet come into real contact with the marvelous reality of His being. So when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, he said, This is My Body. This is My Blood. Drink it, eat it, and you will have life eternal. It was a drastic way to awaken His disciplines from forgetfulness.

"When we look around, we see many people in whom the Holy Spirit does not appear to dwell. They look dead, as though they were dragging around a corpse, their own body. The practice of the Eucharist is to help resurrect these people so they can touch the Kingdom of Life. In the church, the Eucharist is received at every mass. Representatives of the church read from the biblical passage about the Last Supper of Jesus with His twelve disciples, and a special kind of bread called the Host is shared. Everyone partakes as a way to receive the life of Christ into his or her own body. When a priest performs the Eucharistic rite, his role is to bring life to the community. The miracle happens not because he says the words correctly, but because we eat and drink in mindfulness. Holy Communion is a strong bell of mindfulness. We drink and eat all the time, but we usually ingest only our ideas, projects, worries, and anxiety. We do not really eat our bread or drink our beverage. If we allow ourselves to touch our bread deeply, we become reborn, because our bread is life itself. Eating it deeply, we touch the sun, the clouds, the earth, and everything in the cosmos. We touch life, and we touch the Kingdom of God. When I asked Cardinal Jean Daniélo if the Eucharist can be described in this way, he said yes."
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The Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ

Christ's native language as Aramaic. The word "Body" in Aramaic is guph or basar which mean body "not as the body as distinguished from the soul, but rather designating the complete entire (person), 'I,myself.'" The English word this in Aramaic is da which connotes this which is here. In Aramaic and Hebrew, there is no copulative verb to be. Hence, Christ actually said: This (here), I, myself. "All discussion of the meaning of 'is' in the words of Eucharistic institution is wasted effort. Christ himself, then, in His own concrete reality equates with the consecrated bread (and wine)." Christ, then, is Present (L. prae + esse, to be before one). He presents himself to us just as he is, just as a rose is a rose.
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The Eucharist as Food

"The very fact that Christ should invite (us) to eat bread (and drink wine) already tells us that 'bread' does not signify a physiochemical reality; it is not a matter of the reality of the bread in and of itself, but of the bread insofar as food. The (reality) of food and the (reality) of physiochemical reality are not the same. As early as the thirteenth century St. Thomas and St.Bonaventure discussed this problem without reaching agreement. For St. Bonaventure, there is no presence of Christ except when the bread is food. He believed (given the understanding of the day) that mice are not nourished by bread. He affirmed that Christ is not present in consecrated bread if the rodent eats it. Such bread does not have ratio alimenti (the reality of food) for the mouse. St. Thomas, on the other hand, thought that the presence of Christ is a presence" in the bread as bread.
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Eucharistic Presence

Christ is written to have said: "I am the bread of life." (John 35:48) Christ connoted that He was food and not just bread. We tend to agree with St. Bonaventure. In the Eucharist, bread is bread as food, an not as the physiochemical reality of bread. Food is the principle of life; to be food is to be principle of life. Because of this Christ is present in the bread as food, as principle of life. The presence of Christ in the food signifies that Christ is principle of life.6 Christ is Present (before us). He is Presence (the fact or condition of being present.)
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The Eucharist as a Personal Encounter with Christ

The Eucharist then is not a symbol of Christ. He is before us. "The Eucharist is ... a 'personal' encounter of Christ, an occasion in which the participant meets Him and invites Him into his (or her) very being. To those whose spiritual eyes are open Christ can be seen in the Eucharist, just as He was seen by the Apostles in Luke 24:30-32."7 We substantiate Christ's presence when we share in the Eucharist.
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This discussion avoids the Scholastic speculation regarding transubstantiation, substance, substantiality, accidents and other speculative concepts that have little, if any, actuality in the space-time continuum of our given experience. Rather than substantiality, our discussion centers on the substantivity, the givenness of the Eucharist-as-Christ. Substantivity is much like the givenness that you are reading and interpreting these words now within this here and now moment. You are present in this reading-moment. By reading, you substantiate the readability of these graphic symbols.

The properties that compose the Eucharist are coherent among themselves in a unity of sufficiency. Rather than discussing the Eucharist as Christ, we know the Eucharist-as-Christ. In other words, instead of talking about the "son of Peter," we are talking about the "son-of-Peter," a substantivity. The radicality and primariness of things is ... substantivity. The rose is a rose, a substantivity.

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Consecration of Bread

Bread is a "naked physiochemical reality (and hence) is a reality-thing. Bread as food is a meaning-thing, since it is a principle of our life. And (the bread/wine) reality-thing is of such a condition that (we know it) as food. Because of this, ... bread as food becomes 'food-bread.' Substantivity ... can be acquired and lost without changing properties. The properties of bread as naked substantive reality do not change (whether food or not). When constituted food the systematic unity of the properties is not broken... (The unity) is closed and (the) total substantivity is opened to a superior unity. (It is now a meaning-thing.) This, then is what occurs in consecrated bread."8 The physiochemical reality, which was bread-food, is now bread-spiritual-food/Christ. By the action of Christ through the Holy Spirit, the priest brings the bread/wine to Christ-Present.
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Consecration by Christ as Spiritual Food

Christ is spiritual food. Christ confers on the bread a new condition, bread-spiritual-food. "The substantivity of consecrated bread is thus the divine substantivity of Christ himself. In consecration, nothing happens to the bread as physiochemical reality; rather it looses its former alimentary substantivity. This previous material substantivity has been converted, by mere presence of Christ, into a spiritual one, into the divine substantivity of Christ. The real presence of Christ has changed the condition of the bread." Christ and bread now constitute a single substantivity: it is what it is since it is that which it is,* the Eucharist-as-Christ.9 I, here, I myself, "'The bread that we break founds the community with the Body of Christ. 'Because the bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us partake in the one bread.'" (1 Corinthians 10:16f) Christ is present in the Eucharist much like we are present in a dining room sitting at a table. When present in the room, we do not fill the room. We are just at the table substantively: that we-are(-at-the-table).

(*If one reads this sentence with a Scholastic-Aristotelian frame of reference, the person may acclaim this sentence to be a tautology or solipsism. In American English there is a comic character, Popeye the sailor man. His creators gave him this recurrent solipsistic-sounding statement: I am what I am, I am Popeye the sailor man, which is simply a statement of a complete coherent substantivity: Popeye.)

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The Eucharist as A Personal Encounter with God

Many of the titles attributed to Jesus in the New Testament we can find reference to in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The texts themselves predate Jesus. The title "Son of God" we find in the Aramaic Apocalypse (4Q246) where we also find the title "Son of the Most High." "Jesus' divine sonship occurs within the cultural context that is related both to history and to the contemporaneous world in which Jesus lived; to this extent Jesus' divine sonship is by no means unique."10 We are all children of God and in life are, metaphorically, a spark of Divine Life to which we nourish with and reawaken to in sharing in the Eucharist meal. As we are intentionally (authentically and genuinely) present to and within Christ, so too is Christ present to and within us. Through Christ's Presence, we re-awaken in Christ Consciousness and consequently, God Consciousness. We further re-awaken to who we are: from unconscious unawareness to unconscious awareness to conscious awareness to conscious unawareness.

Through the Dead Sea Scroll we engender a substantive appreciation of Christ and the Eucharist. The scrolls invite us to let go of the Greek conceptual model of the universe and ground again in our experience as it is. The Qumran scrolls do not pose a threat to the faith of what Father Joseph Fitzmyer calls a "mature Christian.". "Do the Qumran Scrolls contain anything that would tend to undermine Christian faith? So far there has been nothing of the sort. ... Nothing militates against the 'uniqueness of Jesus.'" If that is a concern of the Christian - or better put, of a mature Christian with a non-fundamentalist background.
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Religious (not necessarily Spiritual) Attitudes and Presence

Gordon Allport carried out extensive research into people's religious attitudes. He uncovered those who abided in extrinsic religious attitudes and those in intrinsic religious attitudes.

The extrinsically motivated person uses religion. Religious practices bring the extrinsically motivated person "peace mind, reassurance, security in dealing with problems of everyday life."

The intrinsically motivated person finds religion as "a means of opening oneself out to the world and to one's fellow human beings."

"Not surprisingly, Allport's research demonstrated that it was only the extrinsic who were prejudiced. Those who professed an intrinsic religion were the least likely of all his respondents to be bigots."
12 (Ref Fr. Michael Crosby's Culture I/Culture I/II Catholics).

As it happens, the more prejudiced we are intentionally, the more difficult we find it be present to ourselves, to others and to God. As we learned from Adam and Eve, we become caught in the prison of our delusive beliefs, illusive perceptions, and allusive stories. We are in fact engaging in idolatry, which Paul Tillick described as a more basic idolatry that we humans engage in: "making the relative absolute."
13 We confuse our beliefs, perceptions, and stories (each a relative phenomena of our own creation) with reality as it is. We imbue reality with so-called substantial forms (beauty, goodness, badness, rightness, wrongness) that are not in the reality as it is substantively. Reality as it is often times has little, if anything, to do with our beliefs, perceptions, and historicization about reality. We will kill over our varying interpretations of the beautiful (relative) rose while the rose remains just what it is (absolutely), a rose.

(Needless to say at this juncture that we humans have killed more of each other because of our differing interpretations of God than any other reality. After "my" God; "my" state is a close second.)

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Hunger and Eating

We hunger for that which we lost or think we have lost in our deluded way of thinking in dualistic categories such as good and bad, right and wrong; our illusive way of perceiving reality dually as self and other; and our allusive preoccupation with the most important story of all: our own individual life stories, be it a comedy or a tragedy or a comic-tragedy. In the Christian tradition, we "hunger for the completion of the love which Jesus has come to announce."

"Eating is such a basic and primal human activity that, like that other basic and primal activity, sexuality, it almost inevitably takes on religious symbolism. It represents (our) basic union within the physical forms of the universe and also (our) communion with others with whom (we share) this vital human activity.

"Hunger, in the final analysis, stands for human loneliness, and the desperate longing of (humans) for union. When we eat we take the physical world into our bodies in order to assuage our physical hunger. But (we) also (have) a capacity for the infinite, a hunger for everything, a longing for the absolute. When Jesus proclaimed himself the Bread of Life, (he offered us) food after which (we) would never hunger and drink after which (we) would never thirst."
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Overeating to Assuage Hunger

Are we often fat with corpulence, ideation, pain, suffering, isolation, and/or our life drama as a means to intentionally assuage our loneliness. We feel compelled through consumption to experience fullness. We compelling ourselves in the loneliness of our self-created prisons as we struggle to survive. We loose consciousness that the "kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 10:7) As we intentionally bring ourselves present to Christ AS HE IS rather than as we would have him be in our delusions, we live and experience his peace as he left us, which is not the peace of the world.
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The Fruits or Dessert of the Eucharistic Meal

"The essence of the Gospel is that Jesus - His life and death and victory over death, His ministry, His teaching - Jesus is the divine act, the fulfillment of God's redemptive purpose, the incarnation of the Kingdom of God.. The ministry of Jesus is no mere prelude to the coming of the kingdom, nor even a preparation for it: it IS the kingdom at work in the world. His ethic is no mere 'interim ethic' to bridge the gap between the present and the future It is the will of God which ... is done on earth as it is in heaven. God was in Christ reconciling the world into Himself"15 within the Judaic context within which He incarnated and within the context of those intentionally open to receive His message - Jew and non-Jew alike.

Jesus's basic message or Great Assurance is simply: All IS O.K.

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Christian Eucharistic Spirituality

As such, "Christianity (not as a religion, and as a spirituality) denies no human aspiration; it rather asserts confidently that these aspirations are valid. But (it) modifies the style of our pursuit of our aspirations in such a way that now, for the first time, achieving them ought to become accessible." To accept this unconditionally "takes a tremendous amount of trust in the fundamental goodness of Reality and a good deal of faith in the message which asserts such goodness." Such an acceptance, when everything is said and done, we can only achieve from the level of intentionality: simply surrendering to "thy will be done" and we empty ourselves of our conditioning. We are yet conditioned and we are no longer subject to or victims of it.

"If the Kingdom of God is at hand and it is moving toward victory with the inevitability of the seed growing into a tree, then we need never loose our goal. For in the long run nothing, not even death can hurt us."
16 "Behold, now is the accepted time, behold, now is the day of salvation." (II Cor 6:2)

The Eucharist subsumes the message and life of Jesus, a demonstration of "the inner meaning of the universe and of human life:"
17 Pure Consciousness, purely Present as Presence Itself.

Hence the dessert is the peace of Christ:

My peace I give unto you
My peace I leave unto you
Not as the world gives
but as I give.

(John 14:26f)

Consequently, how it is possible to embody life as anything else but Peace and Joy?
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Everything is different, everything remains the same. We are human beings being human. Part of the human condition is the actuality of our delusive, illusive, and allusive tendencies. Our choice is to either reactively engage in our delusions, illusions, and allusions and succumb to depression, worry, and anxiety tempered by greed, and hate and despair. Or, we can respond — to answer for our life and practice mindfulness, being obedient - like Christ — even unto the death of the cross, emptying our selves continuously of our human condition, nurturing ourselves in the Eucharist, co-experiencing and co-creating our of our responsibility the peace and joy of Christ as we are wont and choose.

The Eucharist is central to catholic life because it is our thanksgiving song, a re-presenting of Christ's salvific action in a way similar to the role the Seder plays re-presenting the salvation of the Jews from bondage, placing ourselves in the action of Christ. Eucharist is not sacrifice but re-presents the sacrifice of Christ. Through Christ and the Eucharist we can not only meet but more fully re-awaken to who we are. Thus we engender Presence as Christ was and is Present.

Peace and Joy!

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  1. John Beloff, "Psychological Sciences: A Review of Modern Psychology" in Jane E. and Harry H.Chapman. Behavior and Health Care: A Humanistic Helping Process. St. Louis: C.V. Mosby Co., 1975; p. 27.
  2. Hershel Shanks. The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls. New York: Random House, 1998; p. 64.
  3. Richard P, McBrien. Catholicism. New York: Harper, 1994; p. 590f.
  4. Shanks. p. 63.
  5. Thich Nnat Hanh. Living Buddha, Living Christ. New York: Riverhead Books, 1995; pp. 29-31.
  6. Xavier Zubiri, Theological Reflections on the Eucharist, 1997; ia,b.
  7. The Eucharist (http://www.kiva.net/~penguin/eucharst.htm).
  8. Zubiri, 2b.
  9. Zubiri, Second Problem.
  10. Bernard Haring. The Law of Christ, Vol II. Westminister, MD: Thew Newman Press, 1967, p. 170.
  11. Shanks, p. 74.
  12. Fr. Andrew M. Greely. Myths of Religion. New York: Warner Books, 1989; p. 266.
  13. Greely, p. 250.
  14. Greely, 136.
  15. Greely, p. 33.
  16. Greely, 51.
  17. Greely, p. 11.
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