I recently read an article in which a Methodist minister referred to the Eucharist as “revolutionary.” It would be easy to dismiss her use of a term used to advertise a new shampoo or safety razor. But the claim that the Eucharist is revolutionary is a reminder we very much need to hear, for it is very much true. We can too easily get accustomed to what we do at the Eucharist and forget its meaning for us and for the world. We lose much, perhaps everything, if we forget it.
In the Eucharist we are joined to the sacrifice of Christ—offered and received—and the sacrifice of Christ is the only true revolution. All the other revolutions have turned out to be merely adjustments in the way things are done, for better and far too often for the worse.
The American Revolution was an event of great world historical significance, yet in many ways it was just an adjustment in well-established English ways of living and thinking. The French Revolution replaced the absolute monarchy of France with a government just as absolutist and more bloody, which became the ancestor of all the bloody tyrannies of our era.
Then there is the Scientific Revolution. It has brought much good, but it has also given us greater abilities than human moral capacity can easily manage. It has brought healing, conveniences, communications, and knowledge unimaginable in earlier times, but on the other hand it has brought advanced killing technology, pollution, and embryonic stem cell research. It has provided a convenient excuse for childish atheism and shattered many aspects of human community and family life.
Human revolutions are merely adjustments in human life, not human nature. They leave us unchanged and the real human problem of sin, death, and the devil unaddressed.
The Eucharist—celebrated constantly throughout the world and this night with a particular intensity—turns our world upside down. It announces that at the center of the universe is the crucified Jew, Jesus.
When he was crucified, everybody thought the real action and the real power and glory were in Rome. Jesus was just another small-time, backwoods nuisance to the emperor, easily disposed of.
But in the frail flesh of Jesus, in his death, God changed everything. This is in human terms a most unlikely form of revolution. More radically—if that is imaginable—God continues that work under the forms of bread and wine.
Here God says no to sin and death, no to our weak compromises with the values of the present age. Here he heals us of our delusions of power, self-determination, and achievement. Here he says yes to us and brings life, forgiveness, and enlightenment for true change in human affairs. And we say our feeble “Amen.”
The kingdom and the power and the glory are not in Washington, they are not at the U.N. Headquarters, they are not on Wall Street, they are not in Hollywood, Beijing, or Brussels. They are on the altar, hidden in bread and wine as they were hidden in the same flesh of Christ on the cross.
The kingdom, the power, and the glory were hidden in the liberation of a band of slaves from Egypt and in the sacrifice of a lamb and the eating of unleavened bread.
The kingdom, the power and the glory were hidden in the washing of feet by Jesus, the work of a slave performed by an outsider.
Hidden in such moments, in such realities, is the truth that revolutionizes the world: that sin is forgiven, that death is defeated.
The Eucharist exposes all the false gods that we create to hide from our sin and pretend to immortality. Through it our small lives can be understood as the arena where God is working out the true revolution, the one that brings human beings back to God, the one that sends us out into the world to wash the feet of others.
Here God is creating the revolution that enables us to avoid getting sucked in by the phony glories and satisfactions with which our economic, social, cultural, and political systems tempt us. Here is the revolution that can free us to criticize and resist the deepening darkness of secularism, atheism, nihilism, and materialism currently on the march throughout the western world.
To receive Christ in the Eucharist, to adore him, to worship the Holy Trinity—this is to join the real revolution.
That is why the Church has enemies. That is why the powers of secularism so despise the Church. That is why empires from ancient Rome to modern China have tried to disrupt the Eucharist.
For at and through the Eucharist, we are the resistance. We are the true revolutionaries. At the end of the canon, Catholics say “Amen” to the words “through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, for ever and ever.” No Caesar wants to hear that. No Caesar can tolerate another center of power so absolute.
But for us who have tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord, who have found the core of our lives in the worship of God—for us there is no alternative to being at the Eucharist. We can want nothing more and imagine nothing greater than to be part of the people gathered around the altar of Jesus Christ, in whom alone are glory and freedom.
Fr. Leonard R. Klein is the Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Diocese of Wilmington.