The Eucharist: Foretaste of Heaven
Our loving reception of the Lord in the Eucharist is the most intimate way in which the Trinity allow us to taste heaven on earth. This precious sacrament truly is the “pledge of future glory.”
St. John Paul II describes with heartfelt emotion how we are raised to heaven when we are present at Mass, as we “become part of that great multitude which cries out: ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ (Rev. 7:10).” As we are raised to heaven, heaven itself comes down to us. Indeed, the sacrament of the Eucharist, the most wondrous fruit of the Mass, is the sweetest taste and “glimpse of heaven on earth.”
In writing about her first Holy Communion, St. Thérèse tells us that “all the joy of Heaven” entered her heart when she received the Lord. Unable to hold back her tears, she realized that when she received the Lord in the Eucharist, “heaven itself” was in her soul.
St. Thomas Aquinas, too, tenderly contemplates the power of the Eucharist to raise us to heaven and to enable us to live in heaven here on earth. The Eucharist is the greatest of all the sacraments, the culmination and purpose of every other sacrament, precisely because in it we receive the precious Body and Blood of God the Son.
This article is from Heaven’s Splendor. Click image to preview other chapters.
Because Jesus is “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25), the Eucharist is the very cause of our eternal life in heaven: “Whoever eats of this Bread will live forever” (John 6:51).
Since the Lord is the font of all grace (John 1:16), devoutly receiving the Eucharist also deepens sanctifying grace and charity within us, “inebriating” us with heavenly delight. Meditating on the Scriptural words that “blood and water came out” of the pierced side of the crucified Lord (John 19:34), St. Thomas Aquinas reiterates the sentiments of St. John Chrysostom: “When you draw near to the awe-inspiring chalice, approach as if you were going to drink from Christ’s own side.”
Closeness with Jesus in the Eucharist
St. Thomas Aquinas loved the Lord’s beautiful words at the Last Supper, at which He instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist: “I do not call you servants any longer . . . but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).
We naturally want to spend time with a beloved friend, and only our friend’s physical presence is enough to content our heart. In a special way, we treasure deeply the presence and final words of a beloved friend. It is at this precious time, when a loved one is about to die, that his or her words are seared into our memory, and our most profound affection is enkindled deep in our soul.
This is why the Lord chose to give us the sacrament of His most sacred Body and Blood at the Last Supper, before He was about to suffer His Passion and death for us.
Having become man for our sake, the Lord has given us the exquisite gift of His physical presence in the Eucharist as a source of strength and comfort now, until we can enjoy His physical presence in an unhindered way in heaven. He imparts to us this sacred gift here on earth, uniting us to Himself most intimately in the Eucharist: “Those who eat my flesh, and drink my blood, abide in me, and I in them.” (John 6:56).
This most wondrous of all the sacraments gives us the intimate and “familiar” physical presence of the Lord, as the sign of the Lord’s supreme charity for us. The Lord surrenders Himself to us in this precious sacrament of the Eucharist ultimately so that, through it, He may bring us to heaven, where we will enjoy Him as the angels do, by the unhindered vision of His beauty.
Sharing a Heavenly Communion
St. John Paul II concludes his encyclical letter on the Eucharist by quoting St. Thomas Aquinas. In his Corpus Christi hymn for Lauds, with its concluding verses used for Benediction, “O Salutaris,” St. Thomas glorifies the Lord for giving Himself to us as our intimate companion, our daily food, and our heavenly reward.
In his poetic sequence for the Mass of Corpus Christi, Thomas cries out, “O Jesus, Bread of Angels, make us see Your Good in the land of the living. You who feed us here, make us there the intimate companions of the saints.” Becoming “companions of the saints” is a grace the Lord bestows on us even now through the Eucharist. In this most precious sacrament, the Lord gives us Himself as a “foretaste” of the eternal joys of heaven. Moreover, in a profound way, He also gives us communion with those in heaven.
St. John Damascene writes that the Eucharist is called “Holy Communion” because in receiving the Lord’s precious Body and Blood, we communicate with and are intimately united to the Lord Jesus. Since those of us on earth and the blessed in heaven are members of His Mystical Body, in the Eucharist, therefore, we also “communicate with and are united to one another.”
This truth deeply touched St. Thérèse. She was convinced that, because those in heaven are one Mystical Body with the Lord, when we receive the Lord in the Eucharist, our loved ones in heaven also are present to us in a very profound way. Thérèse writes of her own beautiful experience at her first Holy Communion: “Wasn’t Heaven itself in my soul?” Yes. And because her saintly mother surely was in heaven, Thérèse tells us, “In receiving Jesus’ visit, I received also Mamma’s. She blessed me and rejoiced at my happiness.”
What profound consolation for us! When we receive the Lord in the Eucharist, we can also commune with our loved ones who have died and who surely come to us united to their beloved Lord.
In the Eucharist, the Lord unites us to the faithful here on earth as well as to those in heaven. St. John Chrysostom urges us to come with profound faith and love to the Table of the Eucharist, where the gifts are not only joy but also “harmony, peace, and union of soul.” When we devoutly receive the Lord in the Eucharist, we receive also the grace to be more closely united to those we love here on earth, in a love that is itself a foretaste of heaven. This precious sacrament is thus the sacrament of the Church’s unity, for “the common spiritual good” of the entire Church is contained in the Lord given to us in the Eucharist. The more lovingly we receive the Lord Jesus, the more united we become to those dear to us here on earth, especially to those with whom we are blessed to share the Eucharist. Our receiving of the Lord in this sacrament also unites us more deeply with all the members of the one Mystical Body of the Lord, in a foreshadowing of the loving union that will be ours in heaven.
Taste Heavenly Joy
Another wonderful effect of the Eucharist is a deepening in our souls of a profound spiritual delight and “sweetness” that allow us to taste heavenly joy even now: “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). This deep contentment, even in the midst of trials, continues after we receive the Eucharist and especially can be savored when we spend time in adoration of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
St. John Paul II tells us of his own intimate experience: “It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the beloved disciple (John 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in his heart.” The pope reminds us of how much every one of us truly needs this time in adoration and love before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. “How often, dear brothers and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!”
Presence of the Trinity
Still another wondrous fruit of devoutly receiving the Lord in the Eucharist is a deepening of the presence of the entire Trinity within us. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10). And where the Father and the Son are, there also is the Holy Spirit.
Although it is the Lord Jesus who comes to us sacramentally, the presence of the entire Trinity thus deepens in our souls when we receive the Eucharist. The power of this sacrament is so great that even when we are unable to receive it but long to do so, grace is increased in our souls, and we become even more dearly the home and heaven of the Trinity.
St. Catherine of Siena recounts how, during the Consecration at Mass, she “tasted the depths of the Trinity.” Surely this was the grace given to her every time she desired to receive the Lord, which was daily. She assures us that this blessing can be ours. So, too, when we receive the Eucharist, the “power” of this sacrament, which is the “warmth of divine charity,” remains deep within our souls.
This article is an excerpt from Sr. Fatula’s Heaven’s Splendor: And the Riches That Await You There. It is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Sr. Mary Ann, O.P., holds a doctorate in systematic theology from The Catholic University of America and taught theology for more than 30 years at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio