Throughout the centuries, one of the most amazing signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church is the way in which errors, far from destroying Her, actually help Her understand better and develop with ever greater precision the truth that was bequeathed to her. In the first centuries the heresies surrounding the person of Christ and the Holy Spirit led the Church to the magnificent treatises on the Trinity and the Incarnation. When the mystery of the Most Blessed Eucharist was attacked at the beginning of the second millennium, the Church reacted by stressing her love and devotion for such a great mystery, and also by presenting her teaching on that mystery in dogmatic texts that define the fundamentals of what the Church has always believed.
And what are they? They are essentially two, upon which all the others depend. First and foremost there is the doctrine of transubstantiation. This dogma of our faith teaches that when the priest pronounces the words of consecration over the bread and wine, they become, in truth, in reality, the Body and Blood of Jesus. The second is that this very act of consecration of the bread and wine constitutes a real and true sacrifice offered to God: it is the very same sacrifice that was offered on Calvary, the only difference being in the manner in which it is offered, that is to say, it is an unbloody sacrifice. All the teachings of the Church and the saints on the Most Holy Eucharist derive from these two points and are contained in them.
We might ask ourselves: Why did Christ institute this sacrament? Why is transubstantiation so important? Why is not the Eucharist just a memorial of the Last Supper in which we would remind ourselves of Jesus’ love for us? Why did He want us to have His real and substantial presence under the appearances of bread and wine? And why is the sacrificial character of the Mass of such great consequence?
I would suggest that the answers to all these questions lie in this: The entirety of our faith is summarised in the Eucharistic mystery, and to distort it is to annihilate the faith completely. It all goes back to the Incarnation. And the Incarnation goes back to creation. If Christ is really and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist with His body, blood, soul and divinity, it is because God Trinity decided to achieve the Incarnation of the Son in our humanity, that is to say, in flesh and blood, and this in turn is due to the love that God had in the beginning when He, in His infinite wisdom, drew creatures out of nothing.
God chose to create, not just angelic spirits, but also incarnate spirits, human beings who have bodies and are really composed of material elements. Creation, even material creation, is good: God saw that it was good. It was so good that He decided He would enter into it Himself. To assure us of the ultimate goodness of creation, He chose to leave with us this everlasting memorial of His Passion, by which the Incarnation continues on earth.
Once we have taken all this in, it becomes easy to understand why the denial of the Real Presence ultimately becomes a denial of the Incarnation, and consequently a denial of the goodness of creation itself. The reason for which all forms of Christianity which deny the Real Presence are powerless to halt the onslaught of evil becomes apparent, for to deny the Real Presence is to deny the Incarnation and to deny the Incarnation is to deny creation, and to deny creation is to leave humanity open to fall prey to countless forms of gnosticism and rationalism and modernism for which the secret to being a good person is only about being true to yourself and your personal desires. Truth becomes what you think, instead of being what it is objectively. The serpent’s “You will be as gods, knowing good and evil”, that is, making it up for yourself, can be heard behind the sophistry. Is it any wonder that the remedy to the original fall which consisted in eating an apple would be given in the form of Food from Heaven? And is it any wonder that in an age of growing ignorance of or indifference to the Real Presence, we see a plethora of ideologies that more and more undermine the very foundations of our world, pulling us down into an abyss of chaos? The Incarnation and the Real Presence are the ultimate safeguards against the lying Serpent and all ideologies which trace themselves back to that first lie. In a religion based on the Incarnation and the Real Presence, it would be impossible to even conceive of the present-day follies of child murder, otherwise known under the euphemism of abortion, of vulnerable person murder, otherwise known under the euphemism of assisted suicide, of sodomy, otherwise known under the euphemism of homosexuality, of the enslavement of women, otherwise known under the euphemism of pornography, of human mutilation, otherwise known under the euphemism of gender fluidity, and any number of other absurdities that we are plagued with. The Real Presence is the remedy against all this and more. It is the bulwark against all deviant theories of the mind which seek to manipulate our incarnate nature.
There is no hope for our world except in a return to belief in the Real Presence. This is no doubt why the great reformer Pope Saint Pius X, so strong in his condemnation of modernism, was also the great Pope of the Eucharist, who did so much for bringing Catholics back to frequent and fervent Holy Communion, and urging that children be admitted to the altar as soon as they were old enough to know the difference between ordinary bread and the Eucharistic Bread. This is why he taught that there can be no true moral civilisation without the true religion.
It is also why, in St John Bosco’s famous dream, in which he saw the Church portrayed as a giant ship, tossed about on the waves of the ocean, attacked by enemies and about to capsize, all is saved when the Pope anchors the ship to two pillars, that of the Eucharist and that of Mary.
And this brings us to a final point: devotion to the Eucharist and devotion to the Blessed Mother stand or fall together. If you love the Eucharist, you will love Mary. If you love Mary you will love the Eucharist, because it contains the very same Body of Her Son which she conceived, gave birth to and nourished with her own milk. It is the same Body that she received on Calvary, and over which she shed so many tears.
I often reminisce on how blessed we monks are to have been able to provide a new home for the Blessed Sacrament in this beautiful little church. It gives us such joy. And yet, the reality is other. It is not we who decided to come here and build a church for the Lord. It is He who called us here and gives us the honour of standing in His presence and serving, of praising His Name and glorifying His grandeur. Let us become more and more conscious of that awesome truth. Our friends are blessed to visit this church weekly, or some of them even daily, for Holy Mass and prayer. We monks are like the young prophet Samuel, whose story we recently read at Matins. From his tender youth he was given over, offered up, consecrated to the service of God by his pious mother Anna, and he had the privilege of living in the house of the Lord and hearing His word day and night. So it is with us monks. We do not go away, but stay here, conscious of the honour that is ours to stand before Him and serve. Let us prove ourselves worthy of such an honour.
After Mass today, we will show our love for the Blessed Sacrament by processing around the church with our Eucharistic Lord. It will be a humble procession, nothing like the imposing ceremonies that will be taking place in warmer climes, but we will put all of our heart in it, rejoicing in the blessed reality that He walks with us, or rather, that we are privileged to walk with Him. And as we do so, let us be mindful that our march through life is exactly like this procession. If we walk with Him, we have nothing to fear. Under the humble aspect of a tiny piece of bread, He reigns. And so it is that if we humble ourselves like Him and imitate His eucharistic virtues, we too will reign – reign over our passions and all the forces of darkness in this short life, reign in glory with Him forever in the presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit and in the company of all the angels and saints. Amen.