The Effects Of The Holy Eucharist

The Effects of the Holy Eucharist

The doctrine of the Church regarding the effects or the fruits of Holy Communion centres around two ideas: (a) the union with Christ by love and (b) the spiritual repast of the soul. Both ideas are often verified in one and same effect of Holy Communion.

(a) The union with Christ by love

The first and principal effect of the Holy Eucharist is union with Christ by love (Decr. pro Armenis: adunatio ad Christum), which union as such does not consist in the sacramental reception of the Host, but in the spiritual and mystical union with Jesus by the theological virtue of love. Christ Himself designated the idea of Communion as a union love: “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh blood, abideth in me, and I in him” (John 6:57). St. Cyril of Alexandria (Hom. in Joan., IV, xvii) beautifully represents this mystical union as the fusion of our being into that of the God-man, as “when melted wax is fused with other wax”. Since the Sacrament of Love is not satisfied with an increase of habitual love only, but tends especially to fan the flame of actual love to an intense ardor, the Holy Eucharist is specifically distinguished from the other sacraments, and hence it is precisely in this latter effect that Francisco Suárez, recognizes the so-called “grace of the sacrament”, which otherwise is so hard to discern. It stands to reason that the essence of this union by love consists neither in a natural union with Jesus analogous to that between soul and body, nor in a hypostatic union of the soul with the Person of the Word, nor finally in a pantheistical deification of the communicant, but simply in a moral but wonderful union with Christ by the bond of the most ardent charity. Hence the chief effect of a worthy Communion is to a certain extent a foretaste of heaven, in fact the anticipation and pledge of our future union with God by love in the Beatific Vision. He alone can properly estimate the precious boon which Catholics possess in the Holy Eucharist, who knows how to ponder these ideas of Holy Communion to their utmost depth. The immediate result of this union with Christ by love is the bond of charity existing between the faithful themselves as St. Paul says: “For we being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17). And so the Communion of Saints is not merely an ideal union by faith and grace, but an eminently real union, mysteriously constituted, maintained, and guaranteed by partaking in common of one and the same Christ.

(b) The spiritual repast of the soul

A second fruit of this union with Christ by love is an increase of sanctifying grace in the soul of the worthy communicant. Here let it be remarked at the outset, that the Holy Eucharist does not per se constitute a person in the state of grace as do the sacraments of the dead (baptism and penance), but presupposes such a state. It is, therefore, one of the sacraments of the living. It is as impossible for the soul in the state of mortal sin to receive this Heavenly Bread with profit, as it is for a corpse to assimilate food and drink. Hence the Council of Trent (Sess. XIII. can. v), in opposition to Luther and Calvin, purposely defined, that the “chief fruit of the Eucharist does not consist in the forgiveness of sins”. For though Christ said of the Chalice: “This is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28), He had in view an effect of the sacrifice, not of the sacrament; for He did not say that His Blood would be drunk unto remission of sins, but shed for that purpose. It is for this very reason that St. Paul (1 Corinthians 11:28) demands that rigorous “self-examination”, in order to avoid the heinous offense of being guilty of the Body and the Blood of the Lord by “eating and drinking unworthily”, and that the Fathers insist upon nothing so energetically as upon a pure and innocent conscience. In spite of the principles just laid down, the question might be asked, if the Blessed Sacrament could not at times per accidens free the communicant from mortal sin, if he approached the Table of the Lord unconscious of the sinful state of his soul. Presupposing what is self-evident, that there is question neither of a conscious sacrilegious Communion nor a lack of imperfect contrition (attritio), which would altogether hinder the justifying effect of the sacrament, theologians incline to the opinion, that in such exceptional cases the Eucharist can restore the soul to the state of grace, but all without exception deny the possibility of the reviviscence of a sacrilegious or unfruitful Communion after the restoration of the soul’s proper moral condition has been effected, the Eucharist being different in this respect from the sacraments which imprint a character upon the soul (baptism, confirmation, and Holy orders). Together with the increase of sanctifying grace there is associated another effect, namely, a certain spiritual relish or delight of soul (delectatio spiritualis). Just as food and drink delight and refresh the heart of man, so does this “Heavenly Bread containing within itself all sweetness” produce in the soul of the devout communicant ineffable bliss, which, however, is not to be confounded with an emotional joy of the soul or with sensible sweetness. Although both may occur as the result of a special grace, its true nature is manifested in a certain cheerful and willing fervor in all that regards Christ and His Church, and in the conscious fulfillment of the duties of one’s state of life, a disposition of soul which is perfectly compatible with interior desolation and spiritual dryness. A good Communion is recognized less in the transitory sweetness of the emotions than in its lasting practical effects on the conduct of our daily lives.

(c) Forgiveness of venial sin and preservation from mortal sin

Though Holy Communion does not per se remit mortal sin, it has nevertheless the third effect of “blotting out venial sin and preserving the soul from mortal sin” (Council of Trent, Sess. XIII, cap. ii). The Holy Eucharist is not merely a food, but a medicine as well. The destruction of venial sin and of all affection to it, is readily understood on the basis of the two central ideas mentioned above. Just as material food banishes minor bodily weaknesses and preserves man’s physical strength from being impaired, so does this food of our souls remove our lesser spiritual ailments and preserve us from spiritual death. As a union based upon love, the Holy Eucharist cleanses with its purifying flame the smallest stains which adhere to the soul, and at the same time serves as an effective prophylactic against grievous sin. It only remains for us to ascertain with clearness the manner in which this preservative influence against relapse into mortal sin is exerted. According to the teaching of the Roman Catechism, it is effected by the allaying of concupiscence, which is the chief source of deadly sin, particularly of impurity. Therefore it is that spiritual writers recommend frequent Communion as the most effective remedy against impurity, since its powerful influence is felt even after other means have proved unavailing (cf. St. Thomas: III:79:6). Whether or not the Holy Eucharist is directly conducive to the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, is disputed by St. Thomas (III:79:5), since the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar was not instituted as a means of satisfaction; it does, however, produce an indirect effect in this regard, which is proportioned to the communicant’s love and devotion. The case is different as regards the effects of grace in behalf of a third party. The pious custom of the faithful of “offering their Communion” for relations, friends, and the souls departed, is to be considered as possessing unquestionable value, in the first place, because an earnest prayer of petition in the presence of the Spouse of our souls will readily find a hearing, and then, because the fruits of Communion as a means of satisfaction for sin may be applied to a third person, and especially per modum suffragii to the souls in purgatory.

(d) The pledge of our resurrection

As a last effect we may mention that the Eucharist is the “pledge of our glorious resurrection and eternal happiness” (Council of Trent, Sess. XIII, cap. ii), according to the promise of Christ: “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up on the last day.” Hence the chief reason why the ancient Fathers, as Ignatius (Ephes., 20), Irenæus (Adv. haer., IV, xviii, 4), and Tertullian (De resurr. carn., viii), as well as later patristic writers, insisted so strongly upon our future resurrection, was the circumstance that it is the door by which we enter upon unending happiness. There can be nothing incongruous or improper in the fact that the body also shares in this effect of Communion, since by its physical contact with theEucharist species, and hence (indirectly) with the living Flesh of Christ, it acquires a moral right to its future resurrection, even as the Blessed Mother of God, inasmuch as she was the former abode of the Word made flesh, acquired a moral claim to her own bodily assumption into heaven. The further discussion as to whether some “physical quality” (Contenson) or a “sort of germ of immortality” (Heimbucher) is implanted in the body of the communicant, has no sufficient foundation in the teaching of the Fathers and may, therefore, be dismissed without any injury to dogma.

Written by J. Pohle. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney, SJ.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York