Source and Summit

Early in his Pastoral Letter, Bishop Matano affirms that the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist “is the source and summit of the Christian life.” This famous phrase is taken from Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, promulgated in 1964.

As a way of discussing the meaning of this statement, it is worth pointing out that the phrase “source and summit” is somewhat unusual. Source usually indicates a jumping-off point, a beginning from which things proceed. Summit typically means a culmination, a high point to which things proceed. To take an obvious example: if you’re climbing Mount Everest, the base camp from which you proceed (your source) is very different from where you’re going (the summit). The whole drama of this daring feat – the whole promise of success and the dangers of failure – occurs between your source and the summit!

The unusual claim that the Most Holy Eucharist is both the source and the summit of Christian life is made deliberately. The Council Fathers are expressing in words the ineffable mystery – and the inestimable gift – of this sacrament: the Eucharist is precisely the beginning from which our Christian life proceeds, and it is also the high point to which our Christian life is ordered.

Jesus himself established the Eucharist as the source of Christian life: “as the living Father sent me, so I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me” (Jn 6:57). Christian life, with all of its struggles, its demands, and its unfathomable dignity, flows from our partaking of Christ’s own life, which occurs principally through the Eucharist. By nourishing our communion with Christ, the Eucharist gives us “the motivation and strength to live as a true Christian” (Pope St. John Paul II, General Audience, April 8, 1992). It also cleanses us from venial sins and preserves us from future mortal sins: it is the “medicine of immortality” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians, 20:2).

 Jesus also confirmed that the Eucharist is the summit of Christian life: “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:54). The Eucharist accomplishes the goal of every other dimension of Christian life, which to be united body and soul to Jesus Christ. While the greatness of the mystery is often not yet outwardly visible, “by the Eucharistic celebration we…anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1326).

The whole drama of our own daring feat – to be saints of God in the midst of all trials and tribulations – also occurs between source and summit: the Eucharist serves as our commissioning and our culmination in faith, hope, and love. May we run from Eucharist to Eucharist, Mass to Mass, receiving all strength and all healing from the sacrament, setting the world on fire with divine love on our way.

Raphael – Mond Crucifixion

Posted in Year of the Eucharist

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About the Author

Dr. Matthew Kuhner is the Director of Catechesis for the Diocese of Rochester and Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. Matthew earned dual Bachelor’s degrees in Theology and Philosophy at DeSales University in Pennsylvania in 2010 and his Masters in Theological Studies at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Washington, DC in 2013. He recently defended his dissertation at Ave Maria University. Matthew is married to his college sweetheart, Michelle, and they have the joy of sharing their lives with their two-year-old daughter, Catherine Grace.

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