Mary and the Eucharist
By Deacon Keith Fournier
Years ago I participated in a retreat at a Benedictine Monastery which focused on Mary as a Model for all Christians. As a Deacon of the Church I am an ordinary minister for the Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. I was asked to preside at such a service.
I went to the sacristy to vest and was presented with a monstrance which I will never forget. The monstrance is a sacred vessel made of precious metal wherein the priest or the deacon enthrones the consecrated Eucharistic Host for public worship. The word monstrance is derived from a Latin word which means to show forth or display clearly - and this service is a profoundly beautiful part of Catholic piety and practice showing clearly what we believe about the most Holy Eucharist.
Madonna and Child with Six Saints (Sant'Ambrogio Altarpiece) - Sandro Botticelli - 1470
Usually the monstrance is made of gold and shaped in the form of the rays of the Sun to symbolize the grace which comes to us through this sublime and wonderful Sacrament. Sometimes it is shaped as a Cross from which the Divine Host, the Bread of Life, now presides. Many beautiful monstrances have developed over the centuries as the practice of Eucharistic Adoration has grown in popularity in the Western Church.
On this day, I was presented with a monstrance I had never seen before. It opened up for me the mystery of Mary symbolically and visually in a way I had never experienced. The monstrance was an Image of Our Lady and the Divine Host was positioned within her womb. The message was profound. The Jesus who is truly present in the Holy Eucharist is the same Jesus who lived in the womb of that Holy Virgin for nine months.
Jesus told the disciples, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you" (John 6:53 ff). We who receive the bread of angels, who have been invited to the Eucharistic Feast, now have His Divine life within us. We spiritually bring Christ into a world waiting to be reborn. We are called to become living monstrances, repositories of the Bread of life for others. Mary is the model who shows us the way.
This is a mystery, a gift to be received, lived, loved and experienced at a level beyond our human comprehension. We are called into communion with the living and true God. The implications of that invitation unfold into a dynamic life of continual conversion. This conversion happens in and through the struggles and travail of our daily lives. Like the gold which made the monstrance, we are forged in the refiners fire in order to become purified vessels for the Lord.
Through the continuing work of grace - and our response to God's loving invitations - we are called to become "living monstrances," living tabernacles, wherein the Lord dwells. Like Mary, the Mother of the Lord - and the mother of all who follow her Son - we are invited to give our "Fiat," our surrender of love, our "Yes" to the God of love and allow Him to be spiritually formed within us. The same God who fed His chosen people Israel manna in the desert, satisfying their physical hunger, now gives the Living Bread, the Eucharist, to satisfy the deepest spiritual hunger of every man, woman and child. In the Eucharist we receive the Lord Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, heavenly provision and eternal food for our earthly journey.
The great Western theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: "Material food first of all turns itself into the person who eats it, and as a consequence, restores his losses and increases his vital energies. Spiritual food, on the other hand, turns the person who eats it into Itself, and thus the proper effect of this sacrament is the conversion of man into Christ, so that he may no longer live for himself, but that Christ may live in Him. And as a consequence it has the double effect of restoring the spiritual losses caused by sins and defects and of increasing the power of the virtues."
In a beautiful apostolic exhortation entitled the Sacrament of Love, issued in 1997, Pope Benedict XVI wrote these words under a section entitled The Eucharist and the Virgin Mary:
From the relationship between the Eucharist and the individual sacraments, and from the eschatological significance of the sacred mysteries, the overall shape of the Christian life emerges, a life called at all times to be an act of spiritual worship, a self-offering pleasing to God.
Although we are all still journeying towards the complete fulfillment of our hope, this does not mean that we cannot already gratefully acknowledge that God's gifts to us have found their perfect fulfillment in the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our Mother. Mary's Assumption body and soul into heaven is for us a sign of sure hope, for it shows us, on our pilgrimage through time, the eschatological goal of which the sacrament of the Eucharist enables us even now to have a foretaste.
In Mary most holy, we also see perfectly fulfilled the "sacramental" way that God comes down to meet his creatures and involves them in his saving work. From the Annunciation to Pentecost, Mary of Nazareth appears as someone whose freedom is completely open to God's will. Her immaculate conception is revealed precisely in her unconditional docility to God's word.
Obedient faith in response to God's work shapes her life at every moment. A virgin attentive to God's word, she lives in complete harmony with his will; she treasures in her heart the words that come to her from God and, piecing them together like a mosaic, she learns to understand them more deeply (cf. Lk 2:19, 51); Mary is the great Believer who places herself confidently in God's hands, abandoning herself to his will.
This mystery deepens as she becomes completely involved in the redemptive mission of Jesus. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, "the blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son until she stood at the Cross, in keeping with the divine plan (cf. Jn 19:25), suffering deeply with her only-begotten Son, associating herself with his sacrifice in her mother's heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of the victim who was born of her."
Finally, she was given by the same Christ Jesus, dying on the Cross, as a mother to his disciple, with these words: "Woman, behold your Son" (103). From the Annunciation to the Cross, Mary is the one who received the Word, made flesh within her and then silenced in death. It is she, lastly, who took into her arms the lifeless body of the one who truly loved his own "to the end" (Jn 13:1).
Consequently, every time we approach the Body and Blood of Christ in the eucharistic liturgy, we also turn to her who, by her complete fidelity, received Christ's sacrifice for the whole Church. The Synod Fathers rightly declared that "Mary inaugurates the Church's participation in the sacrifice of the Redeemer." She is the Immaculata, who receives God's gift unconditionally and is thus associated with his work of salvation. Mary of Nazareth, icon of the nascent Church, is the model for each of us, called to receive the gift that Jesus makes of himself in the Eucharist.
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