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Cause and Symbol

Can something be the cause of success, as well as its symbol? We are used to symbols, that are not causes. Every logo is a symbol. We can think of the peace sign. It symbolizes the entire peace movement. But it is not the cause of the movement. It is an expression. A few lines within a circle in a particular design signify to everybody peace. The two fingers raised up in a “V” signify the same thing. But the movement has a different cause. Young people responding to the proliferation of war opted to throw all their energy into promoting peace. At least, that is the public narrative.

When we think of the Mercedes brand, once again we see in our mind’s eye a circle and a few lines arranged like an airplane propeller. It signifies wealth, luxury, fine engineering. The symbol, the logo, however, is not the cause of everything that the brand stands for. Decades of fine engineering and dedication to producing the best possible product are behind the success of the brand. The cause and symbol are two entirely different things, related only through the product.

With the Eucharist, however, something extraordinary happens. The same reality is both symbol and cause. The Eucharist itself is a symbol of unity and the cause of unity. The very Body and Blood of Christ, under the appearance of bread and wine, represents and causes unity.

“The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father and the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1325; quoting Eucharisticum mysticum).

Pablo Domínguez was a Spanish diocesan priest who passed away in a tragic mountain accident at only 42 years of age. The movie La Última Cima paints a spiritual portrait of him and shows the intensity with which he lived life. I am always touched by the testimony of his brother, speaking about his life in the Eucharist. He mentions that obviously it is hard that brother son died. However, knowing him to be so close to the Eucharist, his own participation at Mass gives him an intense feeling of the closeness of Pablo. He says that when the priest elevates the host, he feels that he and Pablo are looking at the same host, just from different perspectives. He expresses a profound truth.

We are what we eat, as Feuerbach commented famously. If we consume the Eucharist, we become in a very real way the Body of Christ. If we are all being transformed into the same reality, there is a deep, unbreakable bond of unity. This is how the Eucharist causes effectively unity.

At the same time, the Eucharist is a symbol of unity. Just as the many pieces of bread proceed from the same loaf; we, though many, are part of the same Christ, the same Church. It is always nice when the host used for consecration is divided up into many pieces and the congregation receives communion from one host. This is a powerful sign or symbol of the reality of unity that is there.

God the Father sanctifies the world through Christ. God himself comes into the world through the Eucharist. If ever we feel that God is far off and distant from our problems, we are only a visit to the Eucharist away from becoming aware of the great closeness that we can experience with him. He is never far off. He is present through his knowledge and his providence – looking out for our affairs – but also very especially through the sacramental presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is also the greatest expression of our worship of God. God does not need our worship. It is we who need to express our need for God. However, our expressions are always very poor. We see it in the early forms of religion, which were man’s attempts to arrive at God. They sacrificed animals in an effort to express their total dependence and trust in God. Through the Eucharist, we offer the Father his own Son. It is a worthy sacrifice. He himself has provided the sacrifice so that we can worship him more worthily.

The Eucharist causes unity, at the same time that the Eucharist is a symbol of unity. When we feel distant from God or from others, it is good to seek closeness to the Eucharist. It is the key to many doors and gives us a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves.

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