In case there is anyone who comes to one of our Divine Liturgies and wonders if we truly believe that the Holy Eucharist is the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the priest intones this immediately after Holy Communion: “Having received the divine, holy, immaculate, immortal, heavenly, and life-giving, awesome Mysteries of Christ, arise, let us worthily thank the Lord!” No one would be foolish enough to say that about mere bread and wine!
I’d like to look briefly at these adjectives that attempt to describe the Indescribable, in the hope of renewing your faith and devotion to Our Lord in this, his most precious Gift to us. First of all, we say the Eucharist is divine. That in itself should make it clear that what we are receiving is not some sort of symbolic memorial of the Last Supper, but is, as Jesus Himself said, his own flesh and blood. The Holy Mysteries are divine not in the relative sense of being “of God” or somehow related to God (as, for example, our Eucharistic service is called the Divine Liturgy, or Our Lady is sometimes called the Divine Mother because she is the Mother of God), but in the absolute sense of being the very body and blood of a Divine Person, the Second Person of the All-Holy Trinity, incarnate from the Virgin Mary for our salvation. Hence worship is due to the Holy Eucharist as to the Son of God Himself, for the Eucharist is the Son of God Himself—manifested and communicated in a sacramental form.
Since I’ve mentioned “holy” several times in reference to the Divine Eucharist, let me simply say that holiness is inseparable from divinity. God cannot be divine without at the same time being holy—all-holy, the Source of all holiness. So we call the Body and Blood of Christ the Holy Eucharist, or the Holy Mysteries, or Holy Communion. Holiness is of the very essence of God, and He communicates his own holiness to us—insofar as we have the capacity to receive it—through the Holy Eucharist.
The next adjective is “immaculate.” This is again self-evident. It literally means, “without spot,” so in reference to the Holy Eucharist it means utterly pure, perfect, flawless, without the slightest hint of anything that is beneath the transcendent dignity of God—which is fitting for that which is divine and holy!
“Immortal” again refers to something that belongs to God as one of his essential attributes. Our souls are immortal, but only because God has shared his immortality with us. Nothing can be immortal without the direct, creative intervention of God. St Ignatius of Antioch, one of the earliest of the Apostolic Fathers to witness to the reality of the Eucharist and its celebration in the Early Church (he lived in the first century and died a few years into the second), called the Holy Eucharist the “Medicine of Immortality.” Jesus Himself said: “The bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world… This is the bread that came down from heaven… he who eats this bread will live forever” (Jn. 6:51, 58).
Speaking of Bread that came down from Heaven, the next adjective is “heavenly.” If the Holy Eucharist is divine, it is certainly heavenly, for Heaven is where God dwells, and Heaven is whence the Son of Man came to this world, to offer his Body and Blood as a sacrifice for our sins, and to give it to us as food, that we might, as St Augustine said, eat and drink the price of our redemption. We ought never to forget that our communion with Christ in the Holy Eucharist literally connects us to Heaven and all its mysteries. He is the Bread from Heaven, and those who eat this Bread He will raise up on the last day, to live in Heaven with Him forever.
Next is “life-giving.” This, too, is clear from the Gospel of John. Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…” (6:53-54). It can’t be clearer: if you receive (worthily) the Holy Eucharist, you will have eternal life in you; if you don’t, you won’t. So the Holy Mysteries are rightly called “life-giving.”
Finally, the Holy Eucharist is “awesome.” It is unfortunate that this rich term has been grossly cheapened in colloquial usage, so much so as to become almost meaningless. Nowadays, anything from new clothes to a new cell phone to a night at some club to one’s favorite food is “awesome.” If I ever wish to use the term, I try to rescue it by saying “awe-inspiring” or, from the perspective of the subject, “awestruck.” Something that inspires or strikes us with awe is something that takes our breath away, that works in us a kind of holy “fear and trembling,” that is so astoundingly brilliant, glorious, and beyond all description so as to leave us speechless with wonder and amazement. When we realize that Jesus Christ, truly present in the Holy Eucharist, is divine, holy, immaculate, immortal, heavenly, and life-giving, then we fall before Him in awestruck wonder and worship.
Let us never approach the Holy and Divine Mysteries with anything less than the fullness of the faith and love and adoration of which our hearts are capable. Then let us arise and worthily thank the Lord.