The Eucharist and the Rule of Christ | Fr. James T O'Connor | From "The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist" | Ignatius InsightThe Eucharist and the Rule of Christ | Fr. James T O'Connor | From The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist (2nd edition) | Ignatius Insight

God the Father has put everything under Christ's dominion, and he shall rule until all powers opposed to him have been subdued, the last of them being death itself (cf. 1 Cor. 15:25-26). This present stage of Christ's rule is something we often profess in the liturgy (especially in the Feast of Christ the King) and in private devotion.

The meaning of the Lord's subjection of all reality in its present stage is, however, something upon which most of us do not often reflect. It means that, in some mysterious but real way, the risen Jesus influences, shapes, and directs all things so that out of all persons and things he is shaping the future visage of creation as that creation moves toward his glorious return. Even the sinner—whose very sin is at least implicitly an attempt to thwart the sovereignty and dominion of Christ—operates now within the overall plan of the Lord for the establishment of his Kingdom.

The ways in which Jesus exercises this dominion vary. Over creatures to whom he has given intelligence and free will, his action is such that it respects his natural gifts. Nonetheless, his power to move us by attraction, the arranging of circumstances, the example of others, the holy inspiration that comes from the reading of Scripture, interior grace that conveys the delectatio spoken of by Augustine— these and many other ways are some of the means by which he reigns efficaciously over intelligent creatures. As Vatican Council II said:
Constituted Lord by his Resurrection. Christ, to whom all power in heaven and on earth has been given, already works in the hearts of men by virtue of his Holy Spirit, not only stirring up a desire for the age to come but by that very fact also animating, purifying, and strengthening the noble intentions by which the human family strives to make its life more human and to subject all the earth to that goal. [16]
Over the lesser beings of creation his power sometimes is not necessarily more powerful (for his attractiveness and inspirations are powerful indeed) but more direct and immediate. And such is the case with the elements of bread and wine, simultaneously products of his creation and of ours, "fruit of the earth and work of human hands". At the Consecration of the liturgy, the heavenly King touches these elements directly by and through the power of his Spirit. He touches them so mightily that—if we may put it this way—he extracts from them their very reality, dominating it and attracting it (forcefully pulling it even) toward himself, so subjecting it to himself that its own true being is lost to it as it becomes the very Lord who has mastered it.

The mystery of transubstantiation is a totally marvelous change but not one wherein the Lord descends from heavenly glory to "enter" under the appearances of bread and wine. Rather it is one in which he, not coming down, lifts the creaturely realities to himself, drawing them up to where he is now with the Father. He draws them to himself in such a fashion that he subjugates them and so transforms their own being that it becomes identical with his. The very being of bread and wine is lifted out of itself in a mighty spiral of ascent, is subsumed by and converted into the reality of Jesus seated in glory. By drawing the reality of all the elements scattered throughout the world unto and into himself, Jesus maintains his own bodily unity. The elements are changed into him, not he into them. If he did to the appearances, the species, what he does to the very reality of the bread and wine, then, once the Consecration of the Mass was finished, the priest would be left with nothing before him on the paten or in the cup, and Christ would appear in glory. For then not only the being but the very appearances that manifest that being to the world would have been subsumed into the exalted Lord, and human history on earth would have reached its conclusion. [17]

Myles Connolly has caught this truth well in his little book Mr. Blue. There the book's hero, Blue, gives an imaginative scenario of the kingdom of the Antichrist. The last priest on earth, hunted by a universal dictatorial government, has determined to offer the Mass one last time. He goes to the roof of a building, vests, and begins the liturgy. His "treason " discovered, a plane is sent to bomb the building on top of which he is celebrating. The target sighted, the bomb is prepared for deployment just as the priest reaches the consecratory words of the Roman Canon: Hoc est enim corpus meum.
There was a moment of awful silence. Then, a burst of light beside which day itself is dark.... The earth burst asunder. And through this unspeakably luminous new day, through the vault of the sky ribbed with lightning, came Christ as he had come after the Resurrection. It was the end of the world! [18]
It is fantasy, of course, but it is also real in that it is founded on a truth. Were Christ to let happen to the sacramental Species or appearances what should follow from the change of reality in which they formally had their being, it would be the Parousia, the Second Coming in bodily appearance of [he Lord. If, developing the imagery of St. John Chrysostom, [19] we may use yet another fantasy, one created by Lewis Carroll, to help with an analogy to illustrate what is being said, then let us imagine what it would be like not to have the Sacred Host or the Precious Blood pass into our mouths but rather to have us be enabled to pass directly into them.

To have us pass, that is, through what remains of the bread and wine, viz., their appearances. Were we able to do this, we should find that, having passed through the appearances, we would be standrng with Christ in heaven itself, at the Father's right hand. And not only would we be standing there, but everyone who, anywhere in the world, was capable of doing the same thing, would be standing there with us united in Christ. This would be so because the Eucharistic appearances are themselves the boundary between the visible and invisible orders of creation, the horizon at which earthly time and the everlasting aeon of the blessed touch. The appearances are the window whose far side holds "what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor 2:9).

The analogy may appear to contain more of Lewis Carroll than of reality. In fact, however, the reality of the Eucharistic Presence is in itself and in its consequences (for time, geography, spatiotemporal relationships, and interpersonal relationships) more fantastic than fantasy. It is more true, more real than the narrow, almost one-dimensional view of reality from which we often suffer because of contracted intellectual vision. It was a wideness of vision vis--vis reality that nourished the imaginations of a Leonardo da Vinci, a Jules Verne, and so much of yesterday's "science fiction". The first glimpse may at times have distorted the reality, but so much of yesterday's fantasy is, in essence, the quickly superseded "fact" of today. The potentialities latent in God's universe have only begun to be realized by mankind . Indeed, one of the "side benefits" of his revelation of some aspects of his Mysteries is that it compels us to stretch our minds and imaginations to make room for the not-yet-experienced, the wonderful, the awesome.

By the Christian Mysteries philosophy is enriched and experiential science is challenged. And certainly this is preeminently true of the Mystery of the Eucharist. By its very nature, this Mystery touches upon the natural and philosophic "mysteries" of time, place, the nature of matter and of human bodies, their physical and metaphysical structures, the visible and invisible realms of the universe, their relatedness and compenetrability, etc. Just as he stretches the heart, so the Eucharistic Christ stretches the mind. The analogy given above limps, not because it is "fantastic" but simply because it is not daring enough.

By his power, then, as Universal Lord to attract all things to himself, Christ "lifts" the creaturely realities of bread and wine, draws them to himself, changes them into himself, leaving the appearance of the earthly realities as vehicles for the heavenly exchange by which he physically comes to us as our food while drawing us to himself through and in the Eucharistic species.

In this way we can be helped to understand the affirmations of Aquinas and Paul VI. The Lord himself is not moved locally, nor is he locally "in place"; what "happens" to the Sacrament happens to the appearances. It is they that are doubly consecrated, moved, broken, multiplied in many ciboria and churches throughout the world, etc. Having been, however, "destructured" of any real being of their own and preserved miraculously, the appearances of what were bread and wine mediate to all who touch them, receive them, worship before them the Person whose Flesh and Blood they contain and whose reality their own former reality has become.

Thus, what happens to the appearances directly happens to the Lord's Body and Blood per accidens, since it is only through the sacramental species that he is physically accessible at all on this side of the divide that separates the visible and invisible dimensions of creation, both of which already contain spiritual and material-physical elements.


[16] Vatican Council II, Guadium et Spes, 38.

[17] St. Thomas (Summa Contra Gentes, IV, 63, 12) appears to contradict this opinion. His remarks, however, are predicated on the presumption that Christ would not will the end of the world at such a moment.

[18] Myles Connolly, Mr. Blue (Garden City, N.Y. ; Doubleday, Image, 1961), pp. 63-64.

[19] Cf. above. Section I, pp. 46-48.

Related Articles and Book Excerpts:

The Spirit of the Liturgy page
For "Many" or For "All"? | From God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Foreword to U.M. Lang's Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Music and Liturgy | From The Spirit of the Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer | From The Spirit of the Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Benedict and the Eucharist: On the Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis | Carl E. Olson
Abbot Vonier and the Christian Sacrifice | Aidan Nichols, O.P.
The Meaning and Purpose of the Year of the Eucharist | Carl E. Olson
The Doctrine (and the Defense) of the Eucharist | Carl E. Olson
Walking To Heaven Backward | Interview with Father Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory
Rite and Liturgy | Denis Crouan, STD
The Liturgy Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, OP
The Mass of Vatican II | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
The Eucharist: Source and Summit of Christian Spirituality | Mark Brumley
Eucharistic Adoration: Reviving An Ancient Tradition | Valerie Schmalz

Fr. James O'Connor was a professor of theology for twenty-three years at St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie. He is now the pastor of St. Joseph's Parish, Millbrook, New York.

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