The Most Holy Eucharist is More Than a Symbol

When we receive Holy Communion, we are touching more than the hem of Christ’s garment

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, “The Virgin of the Host”, 1866
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, “The Virgin of the Host”, 1866 (photo: Public Domain)

Most people know the snippet of Flannery O’Connor’s defense of the Holy Eucharist, wherein she sat at a dinner party and said, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” The quote goes on further from her letter:

That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.

If we thought the Eucharist were truly the body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we would stay. We would worship. We would praise. We would adore. If we really considered, beyond an intellectual understanding, the reality of that reality we profess every time we say the Creed, every time we participate in the Mass, we would weep at this gift. No one would be able to keep us from singing. No one would be able to get us to cease marveling at what God has done.

But we forget. Sometimes we forget while speaking, other times while walking back to the pew or into the parking lot. We do not allow ourselves to entertain the reality we profess too deeply. Our Lord has made clear that he is not offering us a symbol or a metaphor or a simile. He is not giving us a way to remember him, but to know him intimately. He is offering us more than a kiss, more than a moment, more than a ceremony. He’s offering himself to each of us.
We forget in favor of all that is expendable.

Those who heard Jesus say these things, who heard him say, “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink,” allowed themselves either to steep in the wonder of what he said and repeated and re-emphasized, or they drifted away. We read a lot of stories in the news about people drifting away from the Catholic church. Some say it’s because we do not create community. Others say it’s because our morality is outdated. Some say it’s because we don’t serve enough, or because people have abused positions of power. These may be reasons to yell, to complain, to even rage, but the reality of why people leave our faith is that they do not see the reality of the reality we profess.

The idea of the Eucharist being the actual body and blood of Our Lord, that’s a take on communion, and not the TRUTH. Anyone who knows that the Holy Eucharist is the body and blood of Our Lord cannot leave, though they may wrestle with the tenets. We can’t leave the Truth if we would live in Christ. If we deny Christ in the Holy Eucharist, we will eventually walk away sad, because we will know there must be more.

So today, consider that holding the Host in your hands is like Mary holding the infant Jesus in her arms. It’s like Mary bringing Jesus for the Presentation. Each of us is receiving the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand when we eat, and at the Last Supper. We are at the wedding feast of Cana, with the best of wines, and drinking of the cup he offers each of us. We are touching more than the hem of his garment, and as such, if we approach with great love and true hope, we shall have our ears made open, our limbs strong, our eyes healed, and our hearts ready to bring him to all the rest of the world. Because we know that the Holy Eucharist is so much more than a symbol, we step into Heaven with it, and we could not be elsewhere — for when we receive, we are with Jesus.