If Jesus Christ is really “God from God, Light from Light, True God fromTrue God” (and he is), and if he is really present in the bread and wine ofthe Eucharist (and he is), and if for millennia the Church has been faithfulto Christ’s instruction to “do this in memory of me” (and we mostly havebeen), we would expect that the people who emerged at the end of thosemillennia of faithful celebration of the Blessed Sacrament would beprofoundly affected as a result. We would expect that so many centuriesof having Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist as the “source andsummit” of their lives would have shaped them in characteristic ways (andso it has). As early as the second century, St. Irenaeus was writing that”Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist inturn confirms our way of thinking.” So, the Eucharist was alreadydetermining the way Christians thought (as well it should). But that’snot the half of it! The Eucharist shapes not only how we think, buthow we see and how we experience the world.
The idea is that the Catholic conviction that we regularly encounterChrist through our senses in the bread and wine of the Eucharist hasaccustomed us to expect to encounter him by means of our senses in thematerial world in any number of other ways. It has caused us to movethrough our lives attentive to the possibility that any encounter withanyone or anything could be an occasion of God’s Grace. It is for thisreason that we are quintessentially the Christians of the senses. It’s whywe have stained glass windows, church bells, Gregorian chant, incense,miraculous medals, holy water, holy cards and hot cross buns. The listcould be extended indefinitely. This special Catholic quality is usuallyreferred to as ‘sacramental imagination.’
This Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ affords usthe opportunity to reflect on our own relationship to the Sacrament thathas shaped us as a people. How might we grow closer to the sacramentthat is the source and summit of our lives, and give our sacramentalimaginations full reign?
Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C., is co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. He writes and records a regular blog called “Fractio Verbi.”