The Eucharist: Source and Summit of Christian Spirituality
by Mark Brumley
The Holy Eucharist, Vatican II tells us, is "the source and summit
of the Christian life" (, no. 11; cf. , no. 1324). Since the Christian life is
essentially a life, we might say as well that the
Eucharist is the "source and summit of Christian spirituality"
To the pious Catholic, that proposition may seem obvious enough,
even if he does not quite understand why. Intuitively, he knows
that the spiritual life means using every means available to grow
closer to Christ. And he knows that Christ Himself is present in
the Eucharist in the most sublime manner. It makes sense, then,
that the Eucharist should be central to the spiritual life of a
But what the devout soul knows about the Eucharist intuitively
should, where possible, become better known and more deeply
experienced through systematic reflection on the Church's
Eucharistic doctrine. The better we understand the Eucharist's
role in Christian spirituality, the better we will be able to love
Christ present in the Eucharist.
What follows is a summary of Catholic teaching on the Eucharist as
both the "source" and the "summit" of Christian spirituality. We
will consider each of these ideas in turn.
What Do We Mean By "Source and Summit"?
To say the Eucharist is the "source and summit of Christian
spirituality" means at least two things. First, that Christian
spirituality flows the Eucharist as its source, the way
light streams forth from the sun. And second, that Christian
spirituality is supremely the
Eucharist as its summit or high-point-that to which all of our
actions should ultimately be directed.
Christian spirituality, then, is a two-way street. It leads us
the Eucharist as our starting point out into the world of
daily life and it takes us back home to the Eucharist after our
sojourn in the world.
These two dimensions of the Eucharist-its being both the "source"
and "summit" of Christian spirituality-reveal how the Eucharist,
, brings God and man together in a saving
dialogue, a mutually giving and receiving relationship. In short,
in a covenant of love. The Eucharist is at once
gift of Himself in Christ to us and, through Christ,
offering of Christ and, with Him, of ourselves-our minds and
hearts, our daily lives-to
As the source of Christian spirituality, the Eucharist revealed
that our salvation begins with , not ourselves. God offers
Himself to man in Christ first. At the same time, as the summit of
Christian spirituality, the Eucharist is man's supreme, grace-
enabled, freely given offering of himself back to God through
Jesus Christ, our high priest, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The union or intimate, personal fellowship between God and man
realized through God's gift of Himself to man and man's faithful
response, we call
Put in the traditional language of the Christian spirituality, we
say that this communion with God is brought about by grace and
lived out in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.
Because the sacraments are instruments of grace and means of
growth in the theological virtues, we can say that Christian
spirituality entails what Pope John Paul II calls a "sacramental
style of life." It involves using the sacraments to grow in the
spiritual life. And because the greatest of sacraments is the
Eucharist, Christian spirituality is above all Eucharistic: coming
the Eucharist as its and it as its
The Eucharist As The Source Of Christian Spirituality
But precisely how is the Eucharist the source of Christian
spirituality? In other words, how precisely is the Eucharist the
source of grace and the way we grow in faith, hope and charity? A
closer look at the Church's teaching about the Eucharist provides
an answer to this question.
The Eucharist as the "Source" of Grace
The Eucharist is the source of grace in a number of ways. First,
the Eucharist is Christ Himself, the Author of grace. Other
sacraments are of Christ, to be sure, but only the
Eucharist is Christ under the "appearances" of bread
and wine (CCC, nos. 1324, 1373-1381).
A second way the Eucharist is the source of grace is as the
sacramental of Christ's saving Sacrifice on the
cross. Note it is the sacramental of Christ's
once for all Sacrifice on the cross, not merely a representation
or a ritual re-enactment of it (CCC, nos. 1362-1367).
On Calvary, Christ offered Himself to the Father in the Spirit for
our salvation. This happened once for all historically-Christ does
not die again at Mass. In the Eucharist, however, this same
Sacrifice of Christ, made once for all , is present
here and now , and celebrated on the altar. Why can
we say that? Because the same Christ who was both priest who
offered and victim who was offered is present here and now. Christ
is present in heaven as our high priest and our offering for sin
(Heb. 8:1-3; 9:24; 1 John 2:1-2), but He is also on our earthly
altars as the Eucharist. In this way, the "work of our redemption
is accomplished" through His Eucharistic offering (, no. 3), and fruits of Christ's unique Sacrifice are
applied to us here and now (CCC, no, 1366).
A third way the Eucharist is the source of grace is as the
sacrifice. The Eucharist is the Church's sacrifice
because it is foremost the Sacrifice of Christ, Bridegroom of the
Church, who is "one-flesh" with the Church (Ephesians 5:21-32).
In other words, the Eucharist is the Church's offering by virtue
of her "spousal" union with Christ.
This sacrifice of the Church is twofold (CCC, no. 1368). First,
the Church offers the spotless victim, to the Father.
And second, the Church, in union with Christ, offers to
God in the Spirit. To the extent individual members of the Church
unite themselves with this offering, they receive the fruits of
Christ's Sacrifice and dispose themselves to receive further
graces. In this way, the Church is built up in her members as the
body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Expressed differently, we can say that because the Eucharist is,
through Christ, the sacrifice of the Church, in a certain sense,
the Church, by the promise of Christ and the power of the Holy
Spirit, "makes" the Eucharist, although it always remains foremost
the work of God. But the Eucharist also "makes" the Church (CCC,
no. 1396), continually renewing her communion with God through
Christ's Sacrifice in the Spirit and bestowing graces upon her.
Thus, the Eucharist can be said to be the source of grace and
therefore of Christian spirituality, which is the life of grace,
because the Church lives and grows in grace through its
celebration of the Eucharist.
A fourth way the Eucharist is the source of grace is as a source
of repentance. It is this in at least two ways. First, insofar as
the fruitful and reverent reception of the Holy Eucharist requires
one to examine himself spiritually before coming to the
Eucharistic banquet and, if conscious of grave sin, to receive the
sacrament of reconciliation before receiving Holy Communion (CCC,
no. 1415). And second, in that meditation upon the Sacrifice of
Christ made present in the Eucharist - the supreme Sacrifice of
Christ offered to atone for our sins-ought to stir us to greater
repentance for sin.
The last point is especially important with respect to the
spiritual life. Christian spirituality consists of two aspects, a
negative one-repentance from sin and purgation of the attachment
to sin-and a positive one- growth in the Christian life of faith,
hope and charity. The Eucharist pre pares us for the positive
dimension of Christian living by helping us undertake the negative
aspect- rooting out sin from our lives through repentance and
The Eucharist as the Source of Growth in Faith, Hope and Charity
In addition to being the "source" of Christian spirituality
because it is a "source" of grace, the Eucharist also helps us
grow in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. These
virtues are essential to the spiritual life because they "dispose
Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity" (CCC,
no. 1812). They are called because they direct us to
God. We might say that they are the three dimensions - the height,
width and depth-in which the Christian life is lived.
The Source of Faith
Faith is the virtue by which we entrust ourselves-mind and will-to
God, believing what He has revealed because of who He is (CCC,
nos. 143, 1814). How is the Eucharist the source of faith? Like
all the sacraments (CCC, no. 1123), the Eucharist is a sign which
instructs us. It nourishes and strengthens our faith by what it
signifies: the wisdom, love and power of God manifested to us by
Christ in His Real Presence and in His Sacrifice. In this respect,
the Eucharist is the sacramental "sign of the covenant" , beckoning us to enter into communion with God by
accepting in faith God's saving deeds on our behalf-supremely, the
death and resurrection of His Son. The Eucharist should move us to
deeper faith by reminding us what God has in fact done for us:
manifesting His trustworthiness.
But the Eucharist also fosters the virtue of faith insofar as it
signifies the one faith of the Catholic Church. This faith is
objectively grounded in the official proclamation of the Word of
God in the Eucharistic liturgy, and celebrated in the Eucharistic
Sacrifice offered by those in Holy Orders who, possessing
apostolic succession, in communion with their bishop and the
successor of Peter, legitimately exercise apostolic authority.
The Source of Hope
The Eucharist is also the source of hope. "Hope, the reminds us, "is the theological virtue by
which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our
happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not
on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy
Spirit" (no. 1817). The basis of this hope is the salvation won by
the death and resurrection of Christ and the gift of His Holy
Spirit poured out in our hearts (cf. Romans 5:5-11; 8:23-25; Titus
3:6-7), which is sacramentally present in the Eucharist.
As an efficacious sign of Christ's salvation, the Eucharist gives
us hope in God for the grace to live in His friendship in this
life and to inherit eternal life in heaven. The Eucharist
nourishes our hope, at once pointing to God's salvific
deeds, especially Jesus' death and resurrection, which provides
the firm ground for our hope; and to what we hope for,
the coming of the kingdom and eternal life of communion with the
The Source of Charity
Finally, the Eucharist is the source of charity. As Pope John Paul
II has written: "Christian life is expressed in the fulfilling of
the greatest commandment, that is to say, in the love of God and
neighbor, and this love finds its source in the blessed Sacrament,
which is commonly called the sacrament of love. The Eucharist
signifies this charity, and therefore recalls it, makes it present
and at the same time brings it about" (, no. 5).
We have already considered how the Eucharist sacramentally
signifies and makes present the love of God manifested in Christ
and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and how the Eucharist is
Christ Himself, love incarnate. But the Eucharist is also the
source of charity in that it may lead us to love God and His Son
Jesus in the Spirit. Seeing what God has done for us in Christ,
who is present with us in the Eucharist, we should love God in
return, and in the Spirit pour out our hearts to Him through the
Through the Eucharist, then, we enter into a deeper participation
in the life of the Triune God, who is charity itself (1 John
4:16). In turn, this deepened love for God leads to a greater love
of neighbor for the sake of the love of God, because "whoever
loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:21). We love
others because Christ first loved us.
Furthermore, Christ's Eucharistic offering of Himself "becomes of
itself the school of active love for neighbor," as Pope John Paul
II has written, by revealing to us "what value each person, our
brother or sister, has in God's eyes, if Christ offers Himself
equally to each one, under the species of bread and wine."
Finally, as the source of grace, the Eucharist is the "source" of
charity insofar as grace is necessary for genuine obedience to
God's commandments, without which we cannot truly love God (cf. 1
The Eucharist As The Summit Of Christian Spirituality
We have seen how the Eucharist is the source of Christian
spirituality-how the Eucharist brings about the Christian way of
life in us. We consider now how the Eucharist is the summit or
high-point of Christian spirituality or, as St. Thomas Aquinas put
it, "the consummation of the whole spiritual life." In other
words, how Christian living leads up to and culminates in our
participation in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the summit of the spiritual life in the sense
that other aspects of Christian living, including the other
sacraments (CCC, no. 1324), are ordered to the Eucharist-to
Christ's offering of Himself to the Father in the Spirit for us
to our participation in Christ's offering. In other words,
the same profound sacramental link between the Sacrifice of the
cross and the Eucharist that makes the Eucharist the source of
Christian spirituality also makes it the summit or high point of
Christ's Sacrifice, Our Sacrifice
As we have already seen, the Eucharistic Christ not only gives
Himself to the Father us, He is offered to the Father by us
in the Spirit, through the indispensable ministry of the
sacrificing priest acting -in the person of
Christ high priest Himself and through union with
Christ as members of His Church. But, as also mentioned above,
it is not only who is offered to the Father in the
Eucharist; the Church also offers in and through her
union with Christ in the Spirit:
In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the
sacrifice of the members of his body. The lives of the faithful,
their praise, sufferings, prayer and work, are united with those
of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value
(CCC, no. 1368).
The self-offering of the Church in the Eucharist is central to the
Church's identity as a priestly people. This is, in fact, an
important way in which the faithful exercise their baptismal
priesthood, offering the sacrifice of themselves in Christ.
Moreover, the Eucharistic offering of the Church is both corporate
and objective, and individual and subjective. , the Church's offering of herself is constituted by
the action of the ministerial priest who, precisely because he
acts (in the person of Christ the
Head of the Church), also acts (in the
person of the Church) and in the name of the Church (CCC, nos.
1552-1553). The priest represents the Church before God because
he represents Christ who is head and bridegroom of the Church.
At the same time, members of the Church offer themselves
and in the Eucharistic liturgy,
insofar as they unite themselves by intention and action, with the
Eucharistic offering of Christ's Sacrifice. In other words, they
make Christ's offering for them as individuals their own offering
of themselves through Christ. They surrender their minds and
hearts, their very lives, to God through Christ's act of self-
surrender made present on the altar. We have already considered
the Eucharist as the source of the spiritual life, which we noted
is a life of grace lived through the theological virtues of faith,
hope and charity. Since the Eucharist is also the summit of
Christian spirituality, the and offering
of ourselves in the Eucharist also necessarily entails the basics
of Christian spirituality-repentance from sin and death to self,
as well as a positive growth in the life of grace and the
theological virtues. We look now at these things from the vantage
point of the Eucharist as their summit or high-point, rather than
The Need for Repentance
Since all the various ways we give ourselves to God are directed
to the Eucharist, this includes repentance from sin. Consequently,
if we would offer ourselves to God through the Eucharist and
receive from Him the Bread of Life, we must pass through the door
of penance. To enter into communion with the all-holy God through
the Eucharist, we must, following the general pattern of the
spiritual life, undergo purgation. As Pope Pius XII wrote:
"While we stand before the altar ... it is our duty so to
transform our hearts that every trace of sin may be completely
blotted out, while whatever promotes supernatural life through
Christ, may be zealously fostered and strengthened even to the
extent that, in union with the Immaculate Victim, we become a
victim acceptable to the Eternal Father" ( no.
When Christ came proclaiming the kingdom of God, He preached
conversion and faith. "," He said, "and believe in the
gospel" (Mark 1:15). Not surprisingly, then, there exists a
special link between the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist.
Pope John Paul II has written of this:
The Eucharist and Penance thus become in a sense two closely
connected dimensions of authentic life in accordance with the
spirit of the gospel, of truly Christian life. The Christ who
calls to the Eucharistic banquet is always the same Christ who
exhorts us to penance and repeats his "Repent." Without this
constant ever renewed endeavor for conversion, partaking of the
Eucharist would lack its full redeeming effectiveness and there
would be a loss or at least a weakening of the special readiness
to offer God the spiritual sacrifice in which our sharing in the
priesthood of Christ is expressed in an essential and universal
manner (, no. 20).
The Eucharist, then, is the high point of repentance because it is
the supreme sacrament of Calvary. All other acts of penance
prepare for our participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, our
supreme rejection of sin and turning toward Christ and communion
Offering Ourselves in Faith, Hope and Charity
But Christian spirituality is not simply a life of repentance and
purgation; as we have seen, it also includes growth in faith, hope
and charity. So, too, our Eucharistic offering, as the summit or
high-point of Christian spirituality, involves the theological
virtues. Indeed, acts of faith, hope and charity are specific ways
in which we offer to God in the Eucharist, thereby
entering into communion with Him through the highest act of
Faith, as we have seen, is an offering of oneself- the response of
man to God's gracious initiative in Christ-in which one freely
submits intellect and will to God and His Word (CCC, nos. 143,
1814). In the Eucharist, man submits by faith to the Divine Word
by which bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, and
indeed to the whole Catholic Faith of which the Eucharist is the
greatest sacramental sign because it is Christ Himself. This is at
least one of the ways in which we can speak of the Eucharist as
the "Mystery of Faith."
Furthermore, in receiving Holy Communion in faith one bows before
this mystery which only the person of faith perceives: "Unless you
eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not
have life within you ... For my flesh is true food and my blood
true drink" (John 6:53, 55). In this way, a person offers himself
to Christ in faith, saying, "Yes, Lord. I believe what you said."
Most importantly, man's act of faith is supremely realized in
believing and receiving what God has done for him in Christ on
Calvary. And God's saving act in Christ is supremely realized in
the Eucharist, which makes Calvary present.
But the faithful's Eucharistic self-offering is also an offering
of hope. Again we note that, by the virtue of hope, a believer
trusts in God's promised grace in the Eucharist and that "he who
has begun a good work ... will bring it to completion."
In hope, the believer acknowledges God's sufficiency and his own
insufficiency. Offering oneself to God in the Eucharist is a
profound act of hope in that the Eucharist, as Christ Himself, is
God's more-than sufficient provision for our sins. Indeed, it is
only because of Christ, who as priest and victim is present in the
Eucharist, that we can hope that offering of ourselves will
be acceptable to God. There remains no greater means by which we
hope in God than by the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
To unite ourselves to Christ in the Eucharist, then, is to
acknowledge our own insufficiency and our reliance on God's
goodness to bring us to eternal life with Him. Through the
Eucharist, which is "the pledge of future glory" (CCC, nos. 1402-
1405, 1419), we hope in God to provide us with the grace
necessary to be faithful here and now, and to attain eternal life
with Him in the age to come. As the has it: "There is no surer pledge or clearer sign of this
great hope in the new heavens and the new earth 'in which
righteousness dwells' than the Eucharist" (no. 1405).
Perhaps most importantly, the Eucharist is the summit of Christian
spirituality because it is the "sacrament of love." Primarily, of
course, this means it is the sacrament of love for us. At
the same time, there is a sense in which the Eucharist, by , is the sacrament of love for God and
for our neighbor.
Through charity, man embraces God Himself, who is love. By
offering himself to God through his union with Him in the
Eucharist, man's love for God reaches a climax: he gives himself
to God in the only way possible-through the Father's own Son,
Jesus. In this way, God's gracious invitation to communion with
human beings is answered through communion with the Eucharistic
"Greater love has no man than this," the Master taught, "than that
he lay down his life for his friends." Through the Eucharist, we
join ourselves to Christ and "lay down" our lives in loving union
with Jesus' supreme act of obedience to the Father's will. As
Christ prayed in Gethsemane that the Father's will be done, so we,
in uniting our lives to Christ in the Eucharist, say to the
Father, "Thy will be done." As Jesus was obedient "unto death" as
an expression of His love for the Father and for us, in the
Eucharist we participate in Christ's love of His Father,
surrendering ourselves to the Father's will through Jesus, by
surrendering our wills "unto death" of ourselves.
But charity is not offered to only God in the Eucharist; love for
one another is also expressed and realized therein. Surrendering
our wills to God in charity means wanting to please Him-to do what
He asks. And what, after the First Great Commandment, does He ask
of us? "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Our Eucharistic
Sacrifice, then, must include the sacrifice of ourselves in love
of, and service to, our neighbor because, as we saw earlier,
whoever loves God must also love his neighbor (1 John 4:21).
Love of neighbor means, among other things, that we offer Jesus'
great prayer of love to the Father not only for ourselves but for
others-for those visibly united with the Church and for others as
well, living or dead. The Christian life of intercession for
others is supremely expressed and realized in the Eucharist, the
greatest prayer that can be offered and the sacramental re-
presentation of that Sacrifice by which all other prayer is
The Eucharist, then, is supremely the sacrament in which we as
members of Christ's body are united in faith, hope and charity. We
are united by faith, hope and charity Christ in the
Eucharist. And we are united by faith, hope and charity
Christ through the Eucharist, with one another.
In this way, as members of Christ and one another, we become "one
body, one spirit in Christ," sharing imperfectly on earth in the
heavenly liturgy and in that communion with God which is the goal
of the Christian life. Or to put it another way, the Eucharist is
the earthly anticipation of the eschatological Wedding Supper of
the Lamb, when Christ and His espoused Church fully experience the
"one flesh" reality of their spousal and corporeal union.
Let us summarize what we have considered. The Eucharist is both
the "source and summit of Christian spirituality." It is the
source of Christian spirituality in that, as Christ Himself and as
the sacramental of Christ's Sacrifice on the
cross, the Eucharist is in Christ through
the Spirit us. We, as members of Christ's Church,
this gift by grace and, through grace, grow in communion with God
by turning from sin and increasing in faith, hope and charity, to
which the Eucharist, as a sacramental sign, gives rise in us.
At the same time, the Eucharist is the summit of Christian
spirituality because, as the greatest sacramental sharing in
Christ's Sacrifice, it is the greatest in
Christ, corporately and individually, to the Father by the Spirit.
As individual members of Christ's body/bride, the Church, our
Eucharistic self-donation includes death to ourselves and
repentance from sin, and is made complete through our submission
to God in faith, hope and charity, by which we are united to
Christ's Eucharistic Sacrifice.
Pondering and making our own these great truths about the
Eucharist in the Christian life should illuminate our spiritual
path and give us more reasons to love the Eucharist, and in this
way, help us to grow closer to God and to each other in Christ.
Thus will we know evermore deeply that through the Eucharist we
receive from the Father the gift of Himself in His Son and that in
the Spirit-inspired, loving response we join ourselves to the
Son's gift of Himself back to the Father.
Mark Brumley is the Managing Editor of The Catholic Faith
1 See , no. 7.
2 A succinct statement of Catholic doctrine on this point can be
found in the ("Eucharisticum Mysterium"), #3, c., issued May 25, 1967,
by the then Sacred Congregation for Rites.
3 See , no. 5; , no. 4.
4 , no. 6.
5 III, q. 73, a. 3
6 See also , no. 5.
7 See , nos. 80-97, Daughters of St. Paul edition.
8 Cf. , no. 11.
9 See also , part 5.
10 Cf. , no. 47.
No. 1367: The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the
Eucharist are one single sacrifice: "The victim is one and the
same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who
then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is
different." "In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the
Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner
on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an
unbloody manner" (Council of Trent 11562): DS 1743; cf. Hebrews
No. 1368: The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. The
Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of
her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She
unites herself to his intercession with the Father for all men. In
the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice
of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their
praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of
Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value.
Christ's sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all
generations of Christians to be united with his offering.
This article was taken from the May/June 1996 issue of "The
Catholic Faith". Published bi-monthly for 24.95 a year by
Ignatius Press. To subscribe, call: 1-800-651-1531 or write: The
Catholic Faith, P.O. Box 160, Snohomish, WA 98291-0160.