The Church’s sacraments are ordained for helping man in the spiritual life. But the spiritual life is analogous to the corporeal, since corporeal things bear a resemblance to spiritual. Now it is clear that just as generation is required for corporeal life, since thereby man receives life; and growth, whereby man is brought to maturity: so likewise food is required for the preservation of life. Consequently, just as for the spiritual life there had to be Baptism, which is spiritual generation; and Confirmation, which is spiritual growth: so there needed to be the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is spiritual food.2
As we need to eat and drink daily to nourish our bodies, replenish our strength, and to grow, so we need the Eucharist to nourish, replenish, and increase our supernatural life, which is the life of Christ in us. This life consists above all in sanctifying grace and charity. Christ instituted the Eucharist, therefore, to be the food of eternal life.
When men die, they leave a testament to their loved ones. They may leave certain reminders of their presence, such as letters, photographs, heirlooms, or their estate. On the night before His Passion, Christ also wished to leave a testament to His loved ones; as God, however, He was not limited in His choices. He left a testament that would not be outdone by any other, for He elected to leave to His bride, the Church, nothing less than Himself.
Three Ends of the Eucharist In summary, there are three principal reasons for which Christ instituted the Eucharist: 1)to perpetuate His human presence among men as our Redeemer and the divine Victim for our souls; 2)to perpetuate His redemptive sacrifice, the supreme act of His burning charity, and allow us to join with Him in offering it to the Father; 3)and to unite Himself in intimate communion with us so as to be our spiritual food and drink.
If the divine condescension is the characteristic way God reveals Himself in the Old Testament, then the Incarnation of God is in some way the most radically Jewish element of the Christian faith!
The Incarnation is for the sake of man’s divinization, and the Eucharist is the means by which we are progressively being nourished in Christ’s divinity, through receiving His humanity.
We enter the Covenant as children of God in Baptism and are brought to be mature members of the Covenant through Confirmation. Sins against the Covenant are forgiven through Penance and the effects of sin are further purified in Anointing of the Sick. Marriage is the privileged sign of the Covenant, which is essentially spousal, as indicated in Ephesians 5:32. The New Covenant has the glory of an eternal priesthood in which men are given the power to act in the person of Christ in administering the sacraments and to teach and govern the Mystical Body.
The Eucharist, however, does not merely realize an aspect of the New Covenant or symbolize it, as marriage does. Jesus says that the Eucharist is “the New Covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). By giving us Communion, the Eucharist brings us into the most intimate union with Jesus and causes our divinization, and it also makes it possible for us to offer the most perfect worship of God by giving us the means to offer ourselves to the Father in union with Christ’s own sacrifice. The Eucharist therefore is the heart of the New Covenant.
For Christ gave Himself entirely, holding absolutely nothing back, and in this He is a whole burnt offering or holocaust. He offers Himself under the sacramental sign of (unleavened) bread, and in this the Mass is like the cereal offerings. Christ offers Himself to atone for the sins of the world, and this fulfills the types of the sin and guilt offerings that were offered in propitiation for sin. Finally, Christ’s sacrifice establishes peace between God and man and between men, and thus it fulfills the types of the peace offerings. Furthermore, the immolated victim is given to all the faithful in communion, and this is also represented by the peace offerings.27
First, it is the sacrament of the unity of the Church, for all the faithful partake of the “one bread.” It is one bread not in the appearances, but in the fact that every host contains one and the same Christ. It causes the unity of the Church by uniting those who partake of it with Christ and in Christ. Second, Holy Communion is said (by way of a rhetorical question) to be a partaking of the Blood and Body of Christ, which presupposes the doctrine of the real presence. Third, partaking in the Eucharist is compared analogously to partaking in the sacrifices offered to demons. As partaking of sacrifice offered to demons creates a union with the demons, so partaking of the Eucharist creates a union with Christ. Fourth, the comparison of the Eucharist with participation in a sacrifice to demons implies that the Eucharist is likewise a sacrifice in which the faithful participate.
St. Augustine speaks of the sacrifice of the Mass offered for the faithful departed in his Faith, Hope and Charity (also known as the Enchiridion): And it cannot be denied that the souls of the dead obtain relief through the piety of their living friends, when they have the Sacrifice of the Mediator offered for them, or when alms are given in the Church on their behalf. But these things benefit those only who during their lives merited that these services should one day help them. For there is a manner of life neither so good as not to need such helps after death, nor so bad that they cannot be of benefit…. When, therefore, sacrifices either of the altar or of alms of any kind are offered for all the baptized dead, they are thank offerings for the very good; for those who were not very bad they are propitiatory offerings; and, though for the very bad they have no significance as helps for the dead, they do bring a measure of consolation to the living. And those who actually receive such profit, receive it in the form either of a complete remission of sin, or of at least an amelioration of their sentence.28