Before reading this chapter, ask yourself or share with others: What areas of my life need to be changed? How can the Eucharist bring about this transformation?
Transformation in the Eucharist
During the Eucharist the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We wonder and marvel at this extraordinary transformation which enables such intimacy with the risen Christ. It is very comforting to receive Christ into our hearts when we receive the bread and wine and we can spend some time in heart-to-heart intimacy with the Lord. But we don’t go to Mass just to get cosy, warm feelings. There’s little value in such an act of piety. If I walk out of the Church with the same arrogance or selfishness that I had when I entered, then what’s the point of going? My attendance has been nothing more than a comforting but useless act of piety.
The transformation of the bread and wine must lead to a transformation in me. An important ingredient of our spirituality is the need to change and to change frequently. I mentioned this need for self-transformation briefly in Chapter 5. I will now explore this matter further.
Cardinal Newman once said ‘To grow is to change and to have become perfect is to have changed often.’
Our own self-examination, perhaps an insight from the readings, helps us to be aware of our selfishness, pride or anxiety about material things…
We may be going through a difficult emotional time with anger, jealousy or resentment gnawing at our innards. We may be trying to break an addiction to alcohol, tobacco or drugs. There may be a physical ailment: a weak heart, diabetes, high blood pressure or the frailty of old age. Whatever it is, there’s a need for change and the Eucharist is a powerful instrument of transformation.
A Practical Way of Transformation
A very practical way of achieving transformation through the Eucharist comes from Say But the Word: How the Lord’s Supper Can Transform Your Life, by Theodore Dobson, Paulist Press, Ramsey, USA, 1984. Many people have found this method to be very effective. I will here summarise the method that Dobson recommends.
The key moment is the Preparation of Gifts which tends to be a neglected part of the ritual. The bread and wine are brought to the altar and handed to the priest who then presents them to the Father.
The way of transformation is to present ourselves along with the bread and wine to be changed.
If it’s a physical thing such as a bodily ailment you want changed, then it is appropriate to present this with the bread. In your imagination you knead into the bread your high blood pressure, diabetes or whatever complaint is worrying you at this time, and ask the Father for the change you need.
It’s appropriate to present your emotional and spiritual needs with the wine. It is interesting that strong alcohol is called ‘spirits’. The matters connected with our spirits and our feelings have an affinity with the wine. In your imagination you pour your spiritual failings and emotional concerns into the chalice and present these to the Father to be transformed during the Eucharist.
The failure to present ourselves for transformation has been a serious omission in our Eucharistic spirituality. It must be recovered so that the Eucharist has a practical effect in our lives.
However, there must first of all be the desire to change. It is so easy to go through life quite content with myself as I am. Saint Augustine used to pray for his own conversion ‘but not yet’. We can be enjoying our lives of materialism, sexual indulgence or selfishness so much that we don’t want to change. This inertia itself can be put into the chalice – if we are brave enough. This may be where the transformation has to begin. Transformation is a life time project.
The action of presenting ourselves for transformation must be done consciously and deliberately; inner transformation doesn’t happen automatically.
What are we to be transformed into? We are to be transformed into that which we receive, namely, into the risen Christ. Paul says
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5)
Can any of us dare to say we already have the mind of Christ, that we think like Christ, that we have the same attitude as Christ? The best we can say is that we’re on the way, but there will always be need for ongoing transformation. The Eucharist recognises this in the Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs III:
By our partaking of this mystery, almighty Father, give us life through your spirit, grant that we may be conformed to the image of your Son.
Saint Augustine expressed this thought very well when he imagined the Lord saying to him
I am the food of grown men; grow and you shall feed upon me; nor shall you change me, like the food of your flesh, into yourself, but you shall be changed into me. (VII, 10, 16: PL 32, 742).
A billboard advertising bread once said, ‘What we eat and drink today walks and talks tomorrow.’ When we eat the Eucharistic bread, we are assimilated into Christ.
Don’t Miss the Moment
The time of presenting ourselves for transformation is something we can easily miss. The moment can slip past unless we are alert because frequently the presider says the prayers quietly and often the singing continues through this part of the Mass. If your eyes are fixed on the hymn book or on the screen you may miss the action at the altar. When I preside I always ask the musicians to finish the song in time for the people to hear the prayers as I feel this is a very important part of our Eucharistic spirituality.
The Rule of Life of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament alerts its members to the need for change:
The Spirit of the Risen Lord exerts an ever increasing influence over all who welcome him. By sowing in our mortal flesh the seeds of resurrection he transforms us day by day in love. (Rule of Life, 26)
The ‘seeds of resurrection’ are sown at the Eucharist. The grains of bread act like a slow release-fertilizer and the wine provides the moisture.
It would be foolish to expect an instant healing from this action, though ‘nothing is impossible to God’. We need to be content that transformation will come slowly but surely. The oak tree grows slowly but its branches are very strong.
Another practical point: we must be content to offer a small part of ourselves at a time for transformation. Psychologists say we can only be aware of about ten percent of our consciousness at any one time, so we offer that ten percent that is uppermost in our minds when we come to the Eucharist, be it a personal relationship, a family difficulty, a work related matter or an element of our spiritual journey. At each Mass, surrender to the Lord for transformation whatever is of prime concern at that time.
Every time I take part in the Eucharist, there are two matters that I surrender to the Lord for transformation. One is the speech impediment that I’ve had since childhood. I pour into the cup the blockages that may occur when I’m talking. This is a compulsion that I find difficult to overcome, but offering these blockages for transformation is a great help.
I also surrender to the Lord my sexual energies. Being a celibate, I don’t have the outlets for my sexual energies that married people have and there are times when these sexual energies are extremely powerful. So I offer these to God for transformation into spiritual energies. Again, I find this is a real help.
In his book Dobson gives an example of transformation from his own life. He had a difficult relationship with an elderly colleague; they were always on opposite sides of any issue. They had a particularly angry discussion just before Dobson went off to a conference. Then soon after he returned, he was at Mass when the other priest was presiding. During the celebration he felt all his negative feelings about this priest rising up within him. At the presentation of gifts he kneaded into the bread the angry words he had used towards this man. He poured into the chalice his negative feelings of hurt and anger and he asked forgiveness.
At the time of communion he asked the Lord to let him know how he could find a way to be reconciled with his colleague. Some time later he noticed this priest was having difficulty climbing some stairs because of his weak heart. Dobson asked if he could help and the other man allowed Dobson to assist him. This was the beginning of a happier relationship.
Dobson makes the very bold statement that transformation is the heart of the Eucharistic mystery.
Therefore the heart of the mystery of the Eucharist is this: As the bread and wine are transformed and made sacred, so are we transformed and made sacred, if we unite ourselves consciously and prayerfully with these symbols of the sacrifice. (Dobson, p.31)
See Paul’s Story.