(Photo by Maria Oswalt)
Eucharist by Jesus at the Last Supper is an invitation to us to make acts of faith in Christ’s presence in this very Sacrament. Beginning at the last supper, this faith has been transmitted by the Apostles to the early Christians and from them down to us today. At the Last Supper Jesus anticipated and knew of his coming sacrifice on Calvary.
St. John Henry Newman, as an Anglican clergyman, believed that Christ was indeed present in the Eucharist, even though he believed then that the question of the manner of this presence was an undefined doctrine.
We know this from a sermon titled,“Eucharistic Presence,” in which he commented on the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. He said: “The text speaks of the greatest and highest of all the Sacramental mysteries, which faith has been vouchsafed, that of Holy Communion. Christ, who died and rose again for us, is in it spiritually present, in the fulness of His death and of His resurrection. We call His presence in this Holy Sacrament a spiritual presence, not as if ‘spiritual’ were but a name or mode of speech, and He were really absent, but by way of expressing that He who is present there can neither be seen nor heard; that He cannot be approached or ascertained by any of the senses; that He is not present in place, that He is not present carnally, though He is really present. And how this is, of course is a mystery. All that we know or need know is that He is given to us, and that in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.”
Upon becoming Catholic, he accepted the doctrine of Transubstantiation and the Real Presence even though for us all, the manner in which this takes place is a mystery, one of the defining mysteries of Our Faith.
In his novel Loss and Gain Newman describes the amazement of an Oxford student, thinking of the claims of Catholicism, when he enters a Catholic Church:
“While he was thus thinking, a change came over the worship. A priest, or at least an assistant, had mounted for a moment above the altar, and removed a chalice or vessel which stood there; he could not see distinctly. A cloud of incense was rising on high; the people suddenly all bowed low; what could it mean? the truth flashed on him, fearfully yet sweetly; it was the Blessed Sacrament—it was the Lord Incarnate who was on the altar, who had come to visit and to bless His people. It was the Great Presence, which makes a Catholic Church different from every other place in the world; which makes it, as no other place can be, holy.”
Newman found solace in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. We have evidence of his, for example during the Achilli Trial and during his summer vacations by the sea when he was suffering from depression. Some years before, in 1856, he wrote a paragraph titled “A Short Road to Perfection” which included: “make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament.”
Like St. John Henry, many saints such as St. John Vianney and St. Josemaría Escrivá have been drawn to accompany and adore the hidden Jesus in the tabernacle. St. John Paul II invited Christians to a renewed amazement at Christ’s eucharistic presence. At the celebration of the Lord’s Last Supper on Holy Thursday, after which when His sacramental presence is removed from us for a time, let us yearn for Him, and express our faith and love to Jesus, joining the bishops of the United States praying for a eucharistic revival in this country and throughout the world.