It is a whimsical fact that a huge number of anti-Catholics spend enormous quantities of energy trying to prove that Catholics “worship Mary.” Even in an age of mass communication, this goofy 19th-century Know Nothing charge is still leveled by people who really ought to know better. And, of course, as with all such goofy charges (sustainable only by the ability to read minds), the Catholic has a simple reply: “I don’t worship Mary.” The reply is based on a simple fact: If you cannot read minds, the only way you can know what people worship is to ask them. If they say they do not worship Mary, then that’s that. End of story.
Yet, the (tactically speaking) golden opportunity that many such critics of the faith overlook is this: Though Catholics don’t worship Mary, we really do worship the Eucharist. We really do hail it as the “source and summit of the Christian life” and adore the Host exactly as we adore God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If you were going to really try to make a plausible argument for idolatry, you’d start there.
But, of course, you’d still fail. That’s because worship is only idolatrous when the thing you are worshipping is not God. When it is God, then the big sin is failure to worship.
And the Eucharist is God, fully present in the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, the incarnate second Person of the blessed Trinity.
Catholics believe this for a very simple reason: They know Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said, “This is my body. This is my blood” — and that to worship God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is what the Christian faith is all about.
That’s why the Church uses the rather surprising language of source and summit to describe the Eucharist: Because, as Paul says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). All things begin and end in God. He is both the origin and destiny of all things. Even the fallen creatures who go on rejecting him all the way to hell shall, says Paul, bend the knee to him, testifying to his justice and love by their being, even if they refuse to testify with their wills. The self-offering love of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will illumine every last nook and cranny of the universe on the Last Day, bearing witness to the God who made it on the First Day.
What that means for us is this: If the Eucharist is Jesus and Jesus is God, then reality (all of it, not just the “religious” bits) is ultimately Eucharistic. We, like the Eucharist, shall be, like Jesus, taken, blessed, broken and given. It’s the direction all reality is heading sooner or later. We see it recapitulated everywhere: in the annual drama of the crops, where the seed falls into the ground and dies only to bear much fruit; in the salmon that gives its life to give life to the next generation; in the sacrificial love of man for woman and vice versa, from which the new life of a child comes. Birth, death, resurrection. It’s the Way of Things. And it’s the Way of Things because Jesus — The Way — fashioned the universe to reflect himself.
So, the question is: How willingly or unwillingly will we go that way? The great systems of evil, from Nazism to Stalinism to radical Islam and American secular hedonism, are, in the end, organized in order to avoid making that Eucharistic choice to face death for the sake of love. The ways in which the Eucharistic self-offering is refused are different. But the refusal is monotonously the same. Conversely, to say Yes and make that self-offering in Christ is to enter into the really glorious diversity of the communion of saints and find the point of one’s life in a way that is glorious. We discover, in Christ, the meaning of all things, including our own lives, when we give our lives away to him as he gives his life away for us in the Eucharist.
Mark Shea blogs