BREAD THAT IS BROKEN
By Father Wilfred Stinissen, O.C.D.
Translated by Sister Clare Marie, OCD
Ignatius Press, 2020
$12.95, 107 pages
To order: ignatius.com or (800) 651-1531; online discounts available
This little gem of a book is perfect for growing in reverence of the Blessed Sacrament: an exposition of the Eucharist in which practically every sentence is worth reflection, but so well written that one keeps wanting more.
Recent theology has oscillated between focusing on the Eucharist as a “meal” or a “sacrifice.” In a good Catholic spirit, Father Stinissen insists there is no antinomy: It is “both/and.”
“The Eucharist is not only a sacrifice, nor is it only a meal. It is both sacrifice and meal. It is a sacrificial meal. Jesus does not give us just any kind of meal. He gives us himself to eat and drink. He goes so completely into the bread and wine that he himself becomes food and drink. Can one be more given, more sacrificed than to become food and drink?”
Father Stinissen discusses the Eucharist from a variety of angles, which all come back to the fact that Jesus so loved the world, so completely sacrificed himself, that this fundamental act, perpetuated in the Blessed Sacrament, fills the whole of the universe and Christian life. It teaches us what Love is and how superabundant it is. It shows us how the Christian life should be lived in absolute, self-giving love. It expresses absolute thanksgiving and elicits the same from us. By demonstrating just how much Jesus sacrificed to “be with us always, until the end of the ages,” it teaches us what real, personal presence is.
Two points Father Stinissen develops as full chapters especially impressed me: the relation of the Eucharist to the natural world and its eschatological dimension. His thoughts about the Eucharist and the natural world are striking because this book was originally written in 1989, 25 years before Laudato Sí. In the Eucharist, Jesus personalizes staple bread and festive wine, reminding us that even the greatest opportunities of grace presuppose cooperation by nature. At the same time, the transformation of that bread and wine into Christ augurs the transformation of the whole universe, when “Christ will be all in all” (Colossians 3:11, I Corinthians 15:28) in his Mystical Body.
This discussion of the Eucharist’s transformative power obviously leads into eschatology. Paul likewise reminds us that creation is “groaning” (Romans 8: 18-25) as it awaits its transformation. “Jesus in the Eucharist does not only offer himself but, as cosmic high priest, he gathers together everything that existed before him and that comes after him in order to present it to the Father as a thanksgiving offering, so we can be creation’s priests, his concelebrants, and in communion with him offer everything created to the Father. Everything created can become holy, consecrated to God, and in that way receive back its right relationship to God.” As it was in the “beginning” is how it should be; “world without end” — if only we truly understood our priestly stewardship of creation.
I have only one hesitation about the book. While Father Stinissen strongly underscores the Real Presence and does not deny — and even mentions —transubstantiation, he avoids dwelling on that term. Instead, he devotes a whole chapter to “transformation.” I agree that the Eucharist demands multifaceted transformation — in the bread, in ourselves, in relations with others, in the world — and that concept is true as far as it goes. But does it go far enough? Explaining transubstantiation can be challenging. But I admit to some ill ease when a classic term is somewhat sidelined, even for the best of intentions. It often leaves the door ajar for greater mischief.
This book offers a wonderful set of meditations to accompany you as you reflect on the gift of the Eucharist. Cheers to the translator for an easily readable translation.
John M. Grondelski writes from Falls Church, Virginia.
All views are exclusively his.