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Catholic Life Features

Philosopher speaks on paradoxes of Eucharist


(Part three of a five part series on the New York State Eucharistic Congress)

Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College and the King’s College in New York City, delivered a deeply thoughtful view on the Eucharist at the New York State Eucharistic Congress held Oct. 20-22, at the Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine in Auriesville.

A monstrance is carried out to a statue of Our Lady of Fatima at Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

In his early morning talk, “The Eucharist as the Remedy and Response to Secularism,” Kreeft examined the Eucharist as a reporter would, checking off the who, what, why, when and where of the true presence of Jesus Christ.

“Who? The answer is easy. It’s Christ,” he said. “If Jesus Christ were to appear to you in person, in your house, right in front of you, and smile at you, and call you His beloved child, how would you react? Well, that would be the reaction to the Eucharist. That’s it. The Eucharist is as close as we can have Him coming to this world. It is our Lord’s real presence, total, non-complete, perfect. Not a symbol, not an image, not a thought, not a feeling. A real person, only divine, I agree.”

Using his philosopher’s skills, Kreeft tried to explain the paradoxes of the Eucharist.

One paradox lies in the heart of Catholics who believe in the Eucharist. By eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ, pagans accused Catholics of cannibalism.

“In one way, the charge was false, but then another way, it was true,” said Kreeft. “The Catholic claim about the Eucharist is truly believable, incredibly incredible, totally stunning, astonishing. Almighty God assumes human flesh and lets us eat his body and drink his blood. This is so shocking that when Jesus first preached in John 6, most of his disciples, who at that point had left everything to follow him, stopped following him and started leaving. And you have to sympathize with these early protestors, these early protestants.” 

However, if the Eucharist does not exist itself, but is only a symbol, then Catholics are the most shamefully sacrilegious and pedantic idolaters in all of human history, because they’re bowing down to bread and worshipping wine.

Kreeft moved on to the other questions.

What is the Eucharist?

An estimated 8,000 people attended the New York State Eucharistic Conference in Auriesville. The crowd gathered outside the coliseum to witness the Eucharistic procession on Oct. 21. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

“The Eucharist is the culmination of the Gospel, which according to the last book of the Bible is a love story,” he said. “Only the marriage between the Messiah’s bride, His Church, His people – us, only the union is the complete confirmation of that marriage in His life, and our foretaste of the next. That image of a marriage is not a saintly abstract metaphor, it’s a strictly concrete and literal reality.”

The answer to “Why” is faith.

“Faith is essentially a seeing. A knowing. A self-knowing feeling. … We know the truth by faith as well as by reason, and not only in religion. Most of what we know about this world is known as the backstage of our faith. I’ve never been to Africa, but I know Africa exists. I’m not a mathematician, but I know E does equal MC squared. I wasn’t alive to see George Washington. He was our first president. But by faith, he knew the thought of reason, the purpose of his days. And he did the science to advance our ministry. He made the maps. He wrote the books. And it is very reasonable for us to put our faith in these thousands of human authorities. So how much more reasonable is it for us to put our faith in one and only divine authority?”

The last to be addressed were when and where.

“The one question is, is today. We begin the Eucharist with three different readings at three different times. And we’ll ask whatever we receive from this table, or whatever we participate in, to be a celebration. The only mark that it puts is about when, and it’s about whether it’s between time and eternity. And that, when it’s in our thoughts, or it’s in our spirit, it’s a form of impact, and I hope I’ve used it enough myself.”

As for where, again a paradox.“First, this is one thing in the world that’s considered normal and perversion. And it means that the main center of our manifestation is the Holy Spirit. Then in the Holy and the center of our sanctuary, and all the Holy Church surrounds that. And in the Holy and the center of our church building, it surrounds that. And in the Holy and the center of our physical institution, the Holy Church, it surrounds the Holy Sacrament. And in the Holy Church, the mystical one, it surrounds that. The second answer is also true. The Eucharist is the center of the manifestation. This is the bridge that the patriarchs of the divine religion underwrites. As our humanity assimilates the material world, and as the Eucharist as a host assimilates our humanity, the Eucharistic translation goes beyond the complete transubstantiation of the bread of the Father. … In a secondary sense, or neutral sense, the sacramental species are formed by the totality of the world, and their duration of creation is the time we need for this transformation. As St. Paul said, in Christ we live in the moment of our death.”


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