Once a month, I lead a discussion for a group of women who wish to come together to share and deepen their faith. It was never really intended to be a ‘book club’, but our discussions have largely been based upon a monthly reading. We’ve read ‘He and I‘ and this month we read ‘7 Secrets of the Eucharist‘ by Vinny Flynn. We had read it for our meeting last month, but had a guest speaker at last month’s meeting, so we decided to carry over our discussion on ‘The Eucharist’ in order that we could discuss this wonderful little book.
What struck me as I was reading this book is ‘Why the secrets of the Eucharist are secrets?’ Its not as though these are ‘secrets’ in the sense that these are little known facts being intentionally hidden by a select few. The secrets are things that we really *should* know in order to fully appreciate the magnitude of the gift that we have in the Eucharist. The ‘secrets’ are really the things we either keep ourselves from realizing, or have never had the beauty of someone share them so that we may deepen our understanding.
One of the keys to bringing the soul into a faith filled union with the Eucharistic Lord Jesus is the virtue of humility.
For me, one of the most profound and thought provoking statements of the book is the one noted above. Of course, it makes perfect sense – but how often do we stop and ponder our own humility? How often do we do so in a world that rewards those who bring themselves to attention for achieving almost nothing and fails to recognize the virtue that exists within those who quietly achieve great things that change the world.
Flynn goes on to note the ‘The Emmaus Problem’ in which the Apostles fail to recognize the true identity of Jesus until
‘at the breaking of the bread’ their eyes are opened, and they recognize Him (Lk 24: 13-35)
As a convert, the most difficult concept for me to grasp was the idea of ‘transubstantiation‘. Flynn’s discussion of ‘The Emmaus Problem’ spoke to me in a very particular way in that I recognize fully that I continue to try and understand the concept with my head. But, how does one understand ‘The Mystery of Faith’ with one’s head? It cannot be grasped. I am constantly reminding myself of needing to understand with my heart.
The first mystery talks about the Eucharist as being ‘Alive’. I’d never thought of this before. I’d never thought of whether it was a ‘dead’ or ‘living’ Jesus and what that meant. Truthfully, I felt like a bit of a nitwit when I read the bible passage at the end of the chapter.
I am the living bread… Whoever eats this bread will live forever… Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. Jn 6: 51, 57
I had images of Homer Simpson running through my head saying ‘Doh!’. How did I miss this? I’ve only been fortunate enough to receive the Eucharist since December of 2007, but did I really miss this *the whole time*! It wasn’t, however, until I read the whole book and was reminded of other ‘secrets’ of which I was already aware that I realized why Christ was ‘Alive’ in the Eucharist – it is because He lives in Heaven and when we participate in the Mass we are invited into the presence of those in Heaven through the lifting of the veil. Of course – it makes perfect sense. If the Eucharist is the presence of Christ as He exists in Heaven – then the Eucharist *has* to be ‘Alive’. It makes sense… but why am I just now learning this?
‘The flesh of the Son of Man, given as food,’ explains Blessed Pope John Paul II, ‘is his body in its glorious state after the resurrection.’
With this in mind, it is easy to see why Flynn takes significant time to reflect upon the importance of being prostrate in either our bodies or our minds – or both.
Flynn goes on in the second secret to note that ‘Christ is not alone’. How many times when we receive the Eucharist do we hear ‘Body of Christ’ or ‘Blood of Christ’ and think ‘Yep – its the Body of Christ’ or ‘Yep – its the Blood of Christ’, but we forget completely that Christ is only one element of the Holy Trinity. So where Christ is present, so too are God and the Holy Spirit also present. Also, we forget that Christ – in His perfection – cannot be ‘divided’. Hence, His body and blood are fully present in the Eucharist under both species which is why we are in full communion upon receiving either the consecrated Host or the Precious Blood. Flynn also reveals the presence of Heaven during the Eucharistic Liturgy as revealed in the Book of Revelation. A nice summary (albeit somewhat antiquated website!) can be found here and also here.
The third secret ‘There is only one Mass’. In order to fully understand this aspect, one really needs to understand the first two secrets – they build on each other. The concept of this secret is the idea that God exists across all space and time and that time, for God, is not linear or chronological as it is for us. This is a concept that many seem to struggle with, but somehow my ‘warped’ brain seemed to understand. Two elements that helped me to understand this were asking – if God created the Universe, why would He be constrained to linear or chronological time. We, as humans, live on a chronological time scale and (save for some Saints who were able to bi-locate) can only be in one pace at any given time. God, however, is all encompassing and it would seem almost insulting to box him into the same concept of space and time limiting him to the notion that He can only be in one space and in one point in time. Realizing this, I was able to visualize the idea of a line representing the ground in which we stand and also the linear time scale, and a person (you, me, whomever) at a certain point in time. If it was our names that Jesus whispered on the cross, wouldn’t God be able to be at any point in time that He wanted to be and also at *ALL* the points in time that he wanted to be? With this is in mind and the idea of being invited to be in the presence of those in Heaven from the second secret, it becomes easier to contemplate the idea that when we attend Mass, we are stepping in and out of one Mass.
With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 2 Peter 3:8
The Mass is a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ – not a ‘memory’ of it, and not a ‘recreation’. At the Mass
the once-for-all sacrifice of the Cross, which is always present before the Father in heaven, is now made present on our time and place – p. 43
Even more astounding
We sit there in our parish church, locked in the confines of our own time and place, thinking that we’re joining our priest in offering our own particular Mass. But, in reality, Christ is inviting us to enter in, beyond the veil, so that He can lift us up, out of time and into the Eternal Now, into the very sanctuary of heaven, where He leads us into the presence of the Father (See Hebrews 10:19-21)
The awareness and belief in this – in and of itself – is absolutely mind-blowing to me.
In the fourth secret, Flynn asserts that the ‘The Eucharist is not just one miracle’. I have to confess that I didn’t fully grasp this the first time I read this book. One of the women in our group the other night noted that she thought that perhaps Flynn had *really* wanted to have ‘seven’ secrets and could only come up with 6, but then struggled and came up with this idea. She wasn’t quite sold on the idea. After some reflection on the first three miracles, she and I both came around to the idea that if you looked at everything that was taking place during the Mass – it became easier to see that there were, truly, several miracles involved.
Secret 5 was a good reminder – ‘We don’t just receive’. We are invited to participate in a relationship with Christ.
How can we receive such a gift in a merely passive way? Yes, Christ is doing something. But part of what He’s doing is calling to us, inviting us to respond to His initiative in an active way.
We receive innumerable graces through receiving the Eucharist, but we are also called to enter into communion, or to be in ‘union with Christ’. Being in union with Christ means that we are called to be like him, to love him, and to actively participate in our relationship that He and I share.
In Secret 6 we learn that ‘Every Reception is Different’.
…there is an absolute relationship between how I receive and what I receive. – p. 71
Flynn brings into the discussion the passage from 1 Corinthians that is often used to help Catholics explain to our Protestant brothers and sisters why only confirmed Catholics may receive of the Eucharist in the Catholic Church. As Catholics, we believe that the Body and Blood of Christ is present in the consecrated hosts and wine, as such, we also believe
Whoever eats of the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgement on himself. 1 Cor 11:27-29
For years before my confirmation, I attended Mass with my husband and would quietly sit in the pew while the rest of the Mass attendees went to receive the Holy Eucharist. There were times that I did feel ‘excluded’ wondering why I couldn’t receive. As I began to learn more about the faith, I began to understand that its not an ‘exclusion’ with the intent of keeping one from receiving – but rather a concern over the soul of the recipient. For one to attend a Catholic Mass where, through the Priest, the hosts and wine are consecrated to become the Body and Blood of Christ and *not* believe this but still receives the Eucharist calls into the idea that one ‘eats and drinks judgement on himself’. Of course, this opens a pandoras box of discussion regarding the significant number of Catholics that receive and still don’t believe in the true presence of Christ and those who knowingly participate in sinful acts and continue to receive – but that’s well beyond the discussion here. The scripture makes it clear that we are not to judge and that instead those who do so ‘eat and drink judgement on themselves’.
What Flynn does note is that
If when I receive, I’m not desiring this special sacramental union with Christ and trying to get rid of anything in my mind or heart that is blocking it, I gain none of the sacramental effect that Christ wants to give me. I’m still receiving the sacrament, but I get none of its fruit.
and more specifically
My spiritual disposition before, during and after receiving the sacrament will determine whether the sacrament will produce good fruit in me (in varying degrees), have no effect at all, or result in my condemnation. – p. 76
This seems entirely fitting if we review the secrets until this point. They truly do build on one another and are intertwined.
The final secret is the one that opened my eyes in a significant way – ‘There is no limit to the number of times we can receive’. Someone will say, ‘But the teachings of the Church say that we are not to receive more that twice in one day.’ This is true of the number of times we are to receive ‘sacramental’ communion. We can, however, also receive ‘spiritual’ communion.
…we can also receive spiritually through our desire for the sacrament, uniting our hearts to the Heart of Jesus in the Eucharist. – p. 84
When we receive sacramentally, it is ideal for us to also receive spiritually – to be in full communion with Christ body, heart and soul. There are, however, times where we are unable to receive sacramentally, but can still be fully united with Christ which is known as ‘spiritual communion’. Flynn does, however, make it clear
Spiritual communion is not a substitute for sacramental Communion, but a very real anticipation and extension of its fruits.
Throughout the day we may have thoughts about Christ – moments of reflection and contemplation, moments of prayer etc… Why not turn those moments into moments of spiritual communion where through our thoughts and prayers we express our desire to be with Christ. Flynn brings examples of various Saints who lived their lives in perpetual ‘spiritual communion’ – a long shot for a wife, mother of two who works part time and tries desperately to keep up with her blog! St. Catherine of Siena noted a vision of Christ holding two chalices and saying to her
In this golden chalice, I put your sacramental communions. In this silver chalice, I put your spiritual communions. Both chalices are quite pleasing to me.
While perpetual spiritual communion is not likely in the cards for this blogger, there is no reason I cannot make a conscious effort to be in spiritual communion at various points throughout the day. During my morning prayers, after blessing the food at meals, during prayers with my children, even while doing the laundry – I can make a point of saying a little prayer and acknowledging my belief and desire for the sacramental Eucharist and my desire to be in communion with Christ. Flynn notes
Frequency is much more important than duration, because the more you practice spiritual Communion, the more it becomes a habit, a natural instinct to unite yourself with God.
All these ‘secrets’ are beautiful and insightful contemplations on the richness of the Eucharist as the Mystery of Faith. I fully appreciated my RCIA experience, but I wish we had the opportunity to spend more time discussing the Eucharist in the level of detail and on the level which Flynn outlines in his book. But then I ask myself, ‘Would I have been ready to hear and understand these things at that time?’ Perhaps not. Thankfully though, God placed this book in my path along this point in my spiritual journey so that I could not just read the book, but begin to contemplate the beautiful mysteries within and appreciate them each and every time I receive the Eucharist going forward.