How is sacramental bread made holy?
"Do this in memory of me"
- with these words Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist at the Last Supper (cf.Lk 22: 14-20). The "breaking bread", as the early Christians call the rapidly developing custom of meeting regularly on Sunday, the day of Jesus' resurrection, reading the scriptures and celebrating the Memorial with bread and wine, becomes the central sign the abiding presence of the risen Lord in his church. For from the beginning the Christians do not understand this meal as a mere reminder of the past time with their Lord, but in memory it is made present. In this meal, in the signs of bread and wine, Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, with body and blood, in his devotion out of love for people, becomes ever anew present to the community. And in receiving the transformed gifts of bread and wine, there is a deep encounter, communion (= communion) with the risen Lord.
That is why the Eucharist is not just one sacrament among a total of seven sacraments in the Catholic Church, but it is the central sacrament: "The source and climax of all Christian life", as the Second Vatican Council formulates it (LG 11). Because from this ever new encounter with Jesus Christ, with his gift of life out of love for people, the Church lives. From here every single Christian gets the strength and motivation to work with Christ for people and for a better world.
The belief that in this sacrament in the signs of bread and wine through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit the risen Christ is permanently present for us with body and blood, is referred to in theology with the term “real presence”. How this real presence is to be understood concretely has been the subject of heated debates in theology and especially during the Reformation. The problem lies in how we can understand that after the Change, bread and wine still taste, smell, and look like bread and wine on the one hand, and yet on the other hand we believe that we are really ("real") and not just thought of Christ met with body and blood. In other words: how can something be both a sign and a reality? In Catholic theology this is described with the doctrine of transubstantiation: It is not the matter of bread and wine that is transformed, not what I can see, smell, taste or touch, but the "substance", i.e. the actual being, is transformed . This teaching appears to be misleading, not least because today we understand “substance” to be something other than the medieval theology (scholasticism) that formulated this teaching. Substance in this philosophical-theological context does not mean the chemical composition, the substance of which things are made, but what constitutes the true essence of a thing or person under the visible surface.
Another theological idea that some come across is the sacrificial character of the Eucharist. In many religions and cultures one had to make sacrifices to the deity in order to make him gracious. In this sense, is the Eucharist a sacrifice that the Church makes time and time again to make God gracious? And if we believe that this is actually not about bread and wine, but that it is ultimately Jesus Christ with body and blood: does God then, as it were, demand an ever new human sacrifice? But that would be difficult to convey with the picture of the loving Father whom Jesus testified to us. When we speak of Jesus 'sacrifice on the cross, then we do not mean a human sacrifice, which would be necessary to please the angry God, but then Jesus' gift of life is meant, the ultimate consequence of his love for people. When the Eucharist is called a sacrifice, it is not in the sense that we always “sacrificed” Jesus anew, but that we remember and present him thanks to his devotion for us humans. That is why this sacrament is also called “Eucharist”: because this Greek word translates as: Thanksgiving!
Ultimately, however, it is not so much the theological models of thought that want to make this central secret of faith understandable that are decisive, but the inner willingness that I allow myself to be drawn into this dynamic of transformation. What matters is that I allow myself to be transformed from this encounter with Christ and become more and more "Christian" in the true sense of the word: to a person through whom Christ shines through - in the way I deal with my fellow men, like I live my relationship with God as I practice the commandment to love God and neighbor in everyday life.
Lk 22: 14-20 = New Testament, Gospel of Luke, chapter 22, verses 14-20
LG 11 = Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium, Section 11
Author (s): Tobias Schäfer
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