In a fervent prayer, which is part of his magnificent Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul entreats the "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" that He may grant them to have Christ dwelling through faith in their hearts, so that, strengthened by the power of His Holy Spirit, they "may comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth" of Christ's love, "which surpasses knowledge."
If that love "surpasses knowledge," if it is an inscrutable mystery, how can it be "comprehended" by our human intellect? In truth, we cannot comprehend Christ's love in the fullness of it measureless dimensions. Our understanding, however, enlightened by faith through which Christ dwells in our hearts, and strengthened by the power of His Spirit, is able to penetrate those dimensions to a certain and ever widening degree, by attentive, loving and frequent consideration of the works born from Christ's love, and in a particular manner by the consideration of His Holy Eucharist. Here, indeed in the Eucharist, without ceasing to be a fathomless mystery, Christ's love seems to have placed its divine proportions within the reach of our limited intellect, more than in any other of its admirable works. Hence, if we want to catch at least a glimpse of those proportions, we have only to study the "breadth and length and height and depth" of this sacrament, which is par excellence "the sacrament of Christ's love.
It is such a glimpse, dear Daughters, that Jose Guadalupe Trevino seeks to provide us and that I set out to present in the following series of three posts. Once again, he beautifully opens our eyes to the wonders of the Holy Eucharist in ways that might have otherwise escaped us.
By the length of the Holy Eucharist, I understand its duration. When did it begin? When will Christ's eucharistic life come to an end?
It was born on the night of agony, "on the night in which he was betrayed." The forgetfulness, ingratitude, blasphemy, and hatred of all the centuries past and to come were cruelly oppressing and wounding Christ's divine heart. Then, even as from the incision made in some Arabian trees a perfume of exquisite fragrance flows forth, so, from the crushed and wounded heart of Jesus came forth the essence of His love, the Holy Eucharist, heavenly perfume, indeed, and balm divine.
The truth is that the nightly hour of the Last Supper, the hour "greatly desired," and called "His Hour" in the Gospel of John, saw only the external realization of what had been conceived of long ago in the heart of our Lord. The truth is that the Eucharist began with the first pulsation of that heart. In the long silences of Bethlehem and Nazareth it had been eagerly waiting for this time; more than once it must have been the theme of Christ's intimate disclosures to Mary. This, however, was only its earthly beginning.
In the person of the God-man, Jesus Christ, besides the truly human love of a truly human heart, there is also the divine love, sometimes metaphorically called "the Heart of God." The first love began at a determined moment in the course of time, with the first pulsation of His human heart; the second, prior to the first, knew no beginning. Being the very essence of divinity, according to St. John's definition of God, it is as eternal as God Himself. Hence, inasmuch as the Eucharist is the work of Christ's divine love even more than it is the work of His human love, its first origin has to be sought in the very bosom of God and is lost to our limited understanding in the inscrutable mysteries of eternity.
How consoling it is to think that God had decreed this excess of His love from all eternity. How consoling to think that, in our analogical way of speaking of the divine operations, from all eternity God had eagerly looked forward to the coming of "His Hour" and of that night which would be "light as the day," because in it would shine the eucharistic Sun, that knows no setting.
How consoling it is to think that in the very moment of the Eucharist's eternal birth I was present to the mind of God, and He foreknew the number of times I would allow Him to come to me in Holy Communion; that, even then, His tender love thankfully appreciated my hospitality, as if not I, a miserable creature of one day, but He Himself were to be the favored beneficiary.
"It was in the beginning . . . " What, then, will be the duration of His "eucharistic life"?
Christ's eucharistic life will last till the consummation of the world, because until then will men have to eat His flesh to have life everlasting. When He said to His Apostles: "Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world," He doubtlessly meant not only His divine and spiritual presence and His moral assistance, but also His eucharistic presence.
His enemies may refuse Him rights they would not deny even the lowest pariah, imprisoning Him within the narrow limits of His temples; they may subject Him to the most abominable outrages, thereby making His mystic passion in the Eucharist in some way exterior and visible. Those who call themselves His friends may multiply the traitor's kiss, deny Him and His works, and abandon Him who showered upon them the tokens of His love. But Jesus will stay. His promise and His love keep Him enchained. As long as there will be on earth a tear to wipe away, a sorrow to share, and a sinful man in need of His expiatory sacrifice, the Eucharist will continue to pulsate in the silence of our tabernacles.
Will the Holy Eucharist end with time and die with the centuries?
To this question faith gives no answer, and piety remains free to investigate the mystery and draw its own conclusions. But Christian piety is loth to suppose that the Holy Eucharist will come to a total end with time, and that the Bread which is and gives life will itself, in some way, die some day.
In the risen Christ we recognize an unmistakable eagerness to conserve in His glorious body the vestiges of his passion. He wanted to keep not only the scars of the wounds opened in His side, hands and feet, but their very perforations. This seems to be clearly indicated by the words He spoke to the incredulous Thomas with them: "Bring here thy finger, and see my hands; and bring here thy hand, and put it into my side." What a wound it must have been to make possible the introduction of a hand!
If Jesus wanted to keep His scared wounds in heaven itself, as a living remembrance of His passion and death, will He not also conserve there, in some manner, the living memorial of that same passion and death, the Holy Eucharist?
St. John, the Seer of Patmos, tells us in his Apocalypse that in one of his visions he saw Christ, not among the ignominies of this earth, as did Isaiah, but in the splendors of heaven. How did He see Him? Under the symbol of a "lamb standing, as if slain."
In that Lamb "who has been slain from the foundation of the world," and who, in the splendors of the heavenly glory, always appears as a victim immolated, I discover a symbol of the Eucharist.
The manna sent by God to the Israelites to be their chief nourishment during their long wanderings through the desert, another manifest symbol of the Eucharist, lost its purpose when they finally entered into the promised land. And yet, in obedience to God's own commandment, a vessel filled with manna had been placed near the Ark of the Covenant in the "Holy of Holies," to be kept there, for future generations, as a reminder of how God had nourished His people in the wilderness. The Holy Eucharist is the food which sustains our supernatural life on the journey through the desert of this earthly life. Shall we, then, at our final entrance into the promised land, remain forever without the remembrance of this truly divine Manna? At the approach of our final moment of separation from this vale of tears, when the soul's hope of possessing God without fear of losing Him, of contemplating Him face to face and loving Him with a never fading love, will rise higher than ever before in our hearts, shall we have to be saddened by the thought that we receive our last Host and say "adieu" forever to that Companion of our exile? If such were the case, many a departing soul, gathering all its strength and spending the last energies of a waning life in this supreme effort, would cry with the disciples of Emmaus: "Stay with us, for . . . the day is now spent."
There are cries of the soul which find so powerful an echo in the heart of God that cannot resist their appeal, even if, to still them, He would have to display all His omnipotence. It seems to me that one of these mighty cries is the "stay with us" of departing souls. Would it be too much to suppose that Christ's answer would be the words He once addressed to a holy soul: "If as yet I had not instituted the Eucharist, in this very moment it would come forth from my heart for thee"?
Priesthood cannot be thought of apart from sacrifice, nor eternal priesthood apart from eternal sacrifice. Now, Jesus is Priest and His priesthood is eternal - "Sacerdos in aeternum." Must we not conclude therefrom that, since His sacrifice is the eucharistic sacrifice, the Eucharist must be in some manner eternal? It existed already under the figures of the primitive sacrifices and of those of the Old Covenant, which it endowed with efficacy and made acceptable. It exists now that Christ reigns in heaven. Could it be that, once it has fulfilled its purpose on earth, at the glorification of all the elect, it will fade away and die?
Christian piety desires and demands that the Holy Eucharist be not entirely missing in heaven. It even desires that in heaven it be a Eucharist with veils - otherwise it would not be like what we now adore in the obscurities of faith; but with luminous and transparent veils - otherwise it would not be a celestial Eucharist.
Thus the Holy Eucharist would reach from eternity to eternity, including in its immeasurable love what we call "the centuries," no more than a miserable instant in comparison with eternity.
When Garcia Moreno, martyr-defender of the rights of Christ, fell mortally wounded by the "machete" of an emissary of Ecuadorian Masonry, his last words were: "I die . . . but God dies not!"
At life's end, when my last glance shall fall upon the Host of my Viaticum, I wish to expire murmuring in my turn: "I die . . . What does it matter? I die, a miserable creature of one day; but He shall never die!" The light of my eyes, so many times bathed in the light of that divine Sun, shall end in darkness; my lips, that told Him so many words of love, shall remain cold and sealed by death's icy finger; my rigid limbs will not allow me any more to even drag myself to the foot of the tabernacle, where day and night I have spent the best hours of my life; my heart, which has so loved Him, will beat no longer . . . . I shall die. My mortal remains will go to decay in the obscurity of a tomb; those who love me now will forget me; nothing else will remain of me but dried bones, ashes, and dust. What does it matter? He shall not die! New generations will offer Him adoration and love, and that divine Sun will continue bathing them in His light; no sunset will it know, because it is He, who "is the same, yesterday and today, yes, and forever," and "whose reign shall have no end." Men will forget me. What does it matter? Thou, O Jesus, wilt not forget me, because even as in the course of my life on earth, since the happy day of my ordination, I have celebrated Thy Holy Mysteries, in memory of Thy love and in obedience to Thy command, "Do this in memory of me," after my death Thou shalt celebrate those same Mysteries, through other priests, in memory of a heart which never ceased loving Thee as long as it beat on earth.
If death were the end of it all, even then, that so consoling thought alone would suffice to make me go joyously to the grave. But death is not the end. Much to the contrary, it is the dawn and beginning of the glorious eternity. "If anyone eat of this bread he shall live forever."
Non omnis moriar - "I shall not die altogether," exclaimed a great pagan poet. More fortunate than he, I shall be able to challenge death on the very edge of the tomb, because each consecrated Host will have deposited in my soul and in my body a germ of eternal life. "Oh death, where is thy victory? where is thy sting?"
If the Holy Eucharist, which is "the Resurrection and the Life," dwells in my soul now, my eyes, when closed by death, shall see again, my muted tongue shall speak and sing an immortal canticle, and my heart shall throb again with an endless life. "Death will be swallowed up" in the victory of the Holy Eucharist, which is the Bread that gives life everlasting.
O wellspring of grace which rises up unto life everlasting! O eternal testimony of God's eternal love! O living Bread that gives perpetual life to perishable man! Grant that I may live on Thee, true heavenly ambrosia; grant that I may taste evermore of Thy incomparable sweetness.
O divine remembrance of my Savior's death,
Living Bread that brings heaven's breath,
Be my soul and body thine forevermore;
Lift me to the sweetness of thy sacred love.
Such is the "length" of the Holy Eucharist, and such the amplitude of the love that created it. It reaches from eternity to eternity, including in its duration that moment we call "the centuries," and communicating to man, creature of one day, immortal and everlasting life.
Jose Guadalupe Trevino
The Holy Eucharist