Terms of Endearment: Names matter, especially when it comes to the Real Presence of Christ
SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — During the 50th anniversary of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Bishop Michael Olson calls on North Texas Catholics to “become … aware of our mission and vocation as the Church made so by Christ’s selfless gift …”
What gift makes the Church? It is Jesus, Himself.
His own body and blood sustains members of His Mystical Body, for “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). It is altogether appropriate for Bishop Olson to place the diocese under the protection of the Eucharistic Lord this month since the Church especially reverences and honors the Blessed Sacrament each year during the month of April.
In the almost 2,000 years since the Last Supper, Christians have expressed their gratitude for the wondrous bequest our Savior left us the night before He died. As another bishop, St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), wrote:
“For tell me, if anyone gave you grains of gold, would you not hold them with all carefulness, being on your guard against losing any of them, and suffering loss? Will you not then much more carefully keep watch, that not a crumb fall from you of what is more precious than gold and precious stones?”
So, Catholics came to use four terms of loving endearment to describe this gift we prize so highly — the incarnate God hidden under the guise of bread and wine, as food and drink: the Bread of Life, whose Precious Blood is found within the Chalice of Salvation.
At the annual celebration of Passover, the paschal lamb became the main feature of a joyous supper of thanksgiving, memorializing God’s activity in freeing the children of Israel from slavery to the Egyptians. Jesus, the Lamb of God, as St. John the Baptist described Him (John 1:29), is the sacrifice of a new covenant. A fresh meaning is given Passover, a joyous supper recalling and renewing His sacrifice ending slavery to sin.
This sacred meal also offers the promise of life everlasting. St. Thomas Aquinas shows this in his beautiful hymn, O Sacrum Convivium:
“O Sacred Banquet! in which Christ is received,
The memory of His Passion is renewed,
The mind is filled with grace,
And a pledge of future glory to us is given. Alleluia.”
Bread and wine are substantially transformed into the person of Jesus Christ. Our Lord Himself bids us approach: “Take and eat … Take and drink” — graciously inviting us to partake of, and become one, with the very essence of the divinely glorious, formidably eternal God.
And so we are thankful.
Which brings us to our first term of endearment — Holy Eucharist.
Early on, members of the Church noticed that, before performing certain significant, miraculous signs — notably feeding the 5,000 with bread and fish, and then raising Lazarus from the dead — Jesus paused, before all else, to give thanks to the Father. Jesus did the same at the Last Supper before bidding His disciples to eat His flesh and drink His blood, using the unleavened bread and cup of wine of the Passover Seder.
“Thanksgiving” became one of the names for Christ’s everlasting act of love. The word given in the Gospels is eucaristeo transliterated as eucharisteo in our Latin alphabet: “giving thanks.”
Holy Eucharist, therefore, is our term of endearment properly describing the reality of Our Lord present in the Sacred Host and Precious Blood at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Within this celebration of thanksgiving, Christ’s redemptive death, resurrection, and ascension continue through all ages, the Paschal Mystery of our redemption.
Jesus left Himself as the Holy Eucharist to remedy humanity’s fall, which began with a desire for divinity, not in itself an evil longing. St. Augustine’s oft-quoted dictum states it well: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless, until they rest in You.” This desire is perverted when we place our wills above the will of our Creator, which creates an obstacle to real union with the divine.
The loving God desires to forgive insult to His majesty, the malice, cruelty, malevolence, spite, and hatred brought into the world by sin. To this end Jesus provided a solution about which St. Francis of Assisi could jubilantly proclaim:
“The Lord of the universe, God and Son of God,
So humbles Himself that for our salvation
He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread!
Brothers, look at the humility of God,
And pour out your hearts before Him!”
And so we consider our second term of endearment — Holy Communion.
Uniting humanity with Himself has always been the ultimate reason for God’s mighty act of creation. This unity, in Greek: koinonia; in Latin: communio, is achieved by a unity of humility, God’s and ours, when partaking of God the Son in a sacred communion of love.
“Let the little children come to Me, and hinder them not,” Jesus warns, “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Trendy liturgists and catechists are therefore wrong to label children’s initial reception of this sacrament with the awkward and confusing term, “First Eucharist” instead of “First Holy Communion.”
The action taking place is “union” not “thanksgiving”. Thanksgiving follows receiving the gift of Christ’s love. To call this action anything other than Communion obscures and even misses the point of a child’s actual union with the real, not a symbolic, Jesus. Symbols cannot love. In Holy Communion, Jesus invites us always to come to Him with our love so we may enjoy His love.
“Holy Communion is the surest and safest way to heaven,” taught Pope St. Pius X. It is, therefore, our term of endearment expressing our unity with Jesus. It is this communion with Christ which makes our churches communities of love.
Is there any other way to lovingly communicate with Jesus in His Real Presence?
In His sacramental form, Jesus remains present in our churches, first, for the benefit of the sick and dying. More about that in a moment.
It is an immemorial custom among Catholics to “make a visit” to Jesus to bask in the presence of His love. In the early Church, the newly baptized remained eight days in prayer before the sacramental Jesus kept in an arca, a wooden chest. Centuries later the sacrament house, later the tabernacle, was placed on the high altar in churches and chapels as the august sacrament of the altar became the focus of Adoration.
In the 1200s, with the institution of the Feast of Corpus Christi by Pope Urban IV, processions with the Blessed Sacrament and the ceremony of benediction came into their own. These rites were accompanied by the beautifully poetic Eucharistic prayers of St. Thomas Aquinas set to music: “Lauda Sion,” “O Sacrum Convivium,” “Adoro Te Devote,” “Verbum Supernum Prodiens,” and “Pange Lingua Gloriosi.”
Exposition and benediction, together with perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, remain very important opportunities for Catholics to pray. As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Inaestimabile Donum:
“Public and private devotion to the Holy Eucharist outside Mass is highly recommended: for the presence of Christ, who is adored by the faithful in the Blessed Sacrament, derives from the sacrifice and is directed towards sacramental and spiritual Communion."
Finally, at the time of our passing, with the Sacrament of Anointing, the priest brings Jesus to us a last time in this life, using the term of endearment we call Holy Viaticum. The Latin word means “with you on the way.” To this end, Jesus accompanies us on our journey to stand before the tribunal of Christ for judgment. In His mercy, we bring with us our Redeemer (who is also our Judge) as Defender and Advocate, to plead our case, seeking mitigation and, if necessary, purgation before we enter celestial bliss.
May we always recognize Jesus in His Abiding Presence, calling upon Him who loves us so much, with loving devotion in terms of endearment such as Eucharist, Communion, Sacrament, and Companion.
Sean M. Wright, an Emmy-nominated TV writer, is a member of the RCIA team at Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Santa Clarita, CA. He responds to comments sent him at .