One of the most questioned aspects of the mystery of the Holy Eucharist is that of how the bread and wine offered at Mass become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The authentic teaching of the Church proclaims that by the epiclesis (overshadowing) of the Holy Spirit and the words of consecration said by an ordained priest in persona Christi (in the Person of Christ) the mystery of transubstantiation is effected. Thus, while the sacred elements retain the appearance bread and wine, the reality underlying those appearances is actually Jesus Christ Himself, dynamically sharing Himself with the baptized faithful.
For many years, this mystery of transubstantiation was seen as exclusively occurring at Mass. Yet the fact is that this mysterious dynamic is also effected in a different manner at the moment of human conception. For at the moment the living protoplasm of a man's sperm and a woman's ovum are united, God creates and infuses a soul into the new being, transforming what appears to be merely a piece of living protoplasm into a human being. Thus the substance of the fertilized ovum is no longer merely living protoplasm, but rather a unique person formed in the image and likeness of God. Thus, whatever is done to that developing new life is done to a person, to whom God has conferred certain basic rights.
This fact is rather intriguing, in that it brings to light an aspect of the Incarnation that is often overlooked. At the time God's Word became flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, there was given to us a beautiful prefigurement of the Consecration of the Mass. For just as the Holy Spirit comes upon the bread and wine to make possible the mystery of their transformation into Christ Himself, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, so also the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Our Blessed Mother made possible the Incarnation of God the Son in her womb.
And, as the priest, in persona Christi, utters the words of consecration ("This is My Body" ..."This is the cup of My Blood"), so Mary, living in profound communion with her Son in the life of sanctifying grace, by her fiat ("Be it done to me according to your word"), mystical was asserting to the Holy Child about to be formed in her womb, "This is my body, given for You ... This is my blood given and poured out for You in the holy pregnancy I now accept in humble obedience, love, trust and gratitude".
In this sacred context, a single cell of living protoplasm, derived from her own body, was transformed in her womb by the gracious action of the Holy Spirit to become God incarnate. Hence, the clear affirmation is later made by Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that this Child was not merely a new creation placed in her womb, but indeed the fruit of her very being in her womb. In the order of God's creation, fruit comes from the living substance of a being, and is not merely artificially inserted into that being.
The mystery of Our Blessed Mother's mystical communion with her Son was also substantiated by the fact that Mary nursed the Christ Child after His birth. Doctors now know that, if a nursing mother does not have enough calcium in her diet (a situation rather common in impoverished societies, her body will actually start to take calcium from her own bone tissue to provide adequate nutrition for her nursing infant. Thus, there were times when Our Blessed Mother could actually say to her nursing Child, "You are flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones".
All this points out again the basic truth that authentic spirituality involves the investment of our very substance, and not merely our surplus, both into the sacred mystery of Redemption and into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass wherein that redemption is made effectively present in the lives of the faithful. As the Church Fathers stressed so often, what is not shared is not redeemed. Our Blessed Mother possesses Christ completely by sharing herself completely with Him and sharing Him completely with us.
In addition to this, it is important to note that this whole saving dynamic took place in the context of the Mary's complete communion with the compassion of her Son in the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, whereby she was not only preserved from all stain of sin, but also perfectly share in the divine life of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence.
Thus, even though, through the graciousness of God, she was totally sinless and shared perfectly in God's own life , she wanted to share as a gift all that she had received as a gift. Thus it was that she hungered and thirsted for God's saving righteousness to be shared by all of humanity.
And in a humility inspired by the graciousness of the Holy Spirit, she made herself most in need of God's mercy - again, not because her own sin, since she was absolutely sinless, but because of her compassion. Thus it was that she hungered and thirsted for God's transcendent and transforming righteousness with a purity of heart that no sinner could ever attain.
And God, in His gracious fidelity, satisfied that pure and perfect hunger and thirst for righteousness through her in a way beyond comprehension in the mystery of the Incarnation. In this way, He also enabled her, who was so perfectly pure of heart, to see the face God in the sacred countenance of her Son. Such is the awesome graciousness of our God!
Spero columnist Rev. Thomas Collins is a Catholic priest who serves the people of Virginia.