Choose    [ PDF Version ]     [ RTF Version ]     [ EBook Version ]    for saving the document.

The Intrinsic Link between the Eucharist and the Gift of the Holy Spirit

General Audience — September 13, 1989

Jesus' promise "...before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5), indicates the special link between the Holy Spirit and baptism. We saw in the previous reflection that beginning with John's baptism of penance at the Jordan when he announced the coming of Christ, we are brought close to him who will baptize "with the Holy Spirit and with fire." We are also brought close to that unique baptism with which he himself was to be baptized (cf. Mk 10:38): the sacrifice of the cross offered by Christ "through the eternal Spirit" (Heb 9:14). He became "the last Adam who became a life-giving spirit," according to the statement of St. Paul (cf. 1 Cor 15:45). We know that on the day of the resurrection Christ granted to the apostles the Spirit, the giver of life (cf. Jn 20:22), and also later at Pentecost when all were "baptized with the Holy Spirit" (cf. Acts 2:4).

There is therefore an objective relationship between Christ's paschal sacrifice and the gift of the Spirit. Since the Eucharist mystically renews Christ's redemptive sacrifice, one can easily see the intrinsic link between this sacrament and the gift of the Spirit. In founding the Church through his coming on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit established it in objective relationship to the Eucharist, and ordered it toward the Eucharist.

Jesus had said in one of his parables: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son" (Mt 22:2). The Eucharist is the sacramental anticipation and, in a certain sense, a "foretaste" of that royal feast which the Book of Revelation calls "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (cf. Rev 19:9). The bridegroom who is at the center of that marriage feast and of its Eucharistic foreshadowing and anticipation is the Lamb who "took away the sins of the world," the Redeemer.

In the Church born of the baptism of Pentecost, when the apostles and with them the other disciples and followers of Christ, were "baptized with the Spirit," the Eucharist is and remains until the end of time the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.

In it is present "the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God" (Heb 9:14); the blood "poured out for many" (Mk 14:24) "for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28); the blood "which purifies your conscience from dead works" (cf. Heb 9:14); the "blood of the covenant" (Mt 26:28). When instituting the Eucharist, Jesus himself said: "This cup...is the new covenant in my blood" (Lk 22:20; cf. 1 Cor 11:25), and he told the apostles: "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19).

In the Eucharist—on each occasion—there is re-presented the sacrifice of the Body and Blood offered by Christ once for all on the cross to the Father for the redemption of the world. The Encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem states: "In the sacrifice of the Son of Man the Holy Spirit is present and active.... The same Christ Jesus in his own humanity opened himself totally to this action...[which] from suffering enables salvific love to spring forth" (n. 40).

The Eucharist is the sacrament of this redemptive love, closely connected with the Holy Spirit's presence and action. At this point how can we fail to recall Jesus' words in the synagogue of Capernaum, after the multiplication of the bread (cf. Jn 6:27), when he proclaimed the necessity of being nourished on his body and blood? Many of his hearers thought his discourse "on eating his body and drinking his blood" (cf. Jn 6:53) "a hard saying" (Jn 6:60). Realizing their difficulty, Jesus said to them: "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending where he was before?" (Jn 6:61-62). That was an explicit allusion to his future ascension into heaven. At that very point he added a reference to the Holy Spirit which would be fully understood only after the ascension. He said: "It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (Jn 6:63).

Jesus' hearers understood that first announcement of the Eucharist in a "material" sense. The Master immediately explained that his words would be clarified and understood only through the "Spirit, the giver of life." In the Eucharist Christ gives us his body and blood as food and drink, under the appearance of bread and wine, just as during the paschal meal at the Last Supper. Only through the Spirit, the giver of life, can the Eucharistic food and drink produce in us "communion," that is to say, the salvific union with Christ crucified and glorified.

A significant fact is linked to the Pentecost event: from the earliest times after the descent of the Holy Spirit the apostles and their followers, converted and baptized, "devoted themselves to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). It was as if the Holy Spirit himself had directed them toward the Eucharist. In the Encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem I stated: "Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church from the beginning expressed and confirmed her identity through the Eucharist" (n. 62).

The primitive Church was a community founded on the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42). It was completely animated by the Holy Spirit who enlightened the believers to understand the Word, and gathered them together in charity around the Eucharist. Thus the Church grew into a multitude of believers who "were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32).

In the same encyclical already quoted we read: "Through the Eucharist, individuals and communities, by the action of the Paraclete-Counselor, learn to discover the divine sense of human life" (n. 62). They discover the value of the interior life, realizing in themselves the image of the Triune God. This is always presented to us in the books of the New Testament and especially in St. Paul's letters, as the alpha and omega of our lives. That is to say, it is the principle according to which man is created and modeled, and the last end to which he is directed and led by the will and plan of the Father, reflected in the Son-Word and in the Spirit-Love. It is a beautiful and profound interpretation which patristic tradition has given of the key principle of Christian spirituality and anthropology. It was summarized and formulated in theological terms by St. Thomas (cf. Summa Theol., I, q. 93, a. 8). This is how it is expressed in the Letter to the Ephesians: "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (3:14-19).

It is Christ who gives us this divine fullness (cf. Col 2:9 f.) through the action of the Holy Spirit. Thus, filled with divine life, Christians enter and live in the fullness of the whole Christ, which is the Church, and through the Church, in the new universe which is gradually being constructed (cf. Eph 1:23; 4:12-13; Col 2:10). At the center of the Church is the Eucharist, where Christ is present and active in humanity and in the whole world by means of the Holy Spirit.