The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that one particular thing is the “Source and Summit of the Christian Life.”
I conducted an informal survey among some of my closest imaginary friends, and asked them if they knew what the source and summit of the Christian life might be. One person replied, “It must be the Pope, right?”
Another answered, “I’d say the Vatican.” Still another said, “The source and summit? Well, that must be the Bible.”
One person said, “The source and summit has to be pot luck suppers. That’s the only reason I go to church.”
Another offered this answer: “I’d say that Jesus is the source and summit of the Christian life.”
OK, now we’re getting close. The source and summit of the Christian life, according to the Catechism, is not the Pope, not the Vatican, not the Bible, and definitely not pot luck suppers—although I must say that church pot luck suppers are proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
The source and summit of the Christian life is the Eucharist. That’s right, the bread and wine at Mass are the pinnacle of what it means to be Christian. Now, if you think the bread and wine are just bread and wine, then you probably think declaring it the most important aspect of Christian life is quite misguided. But the fact is, the Church has always taught that it is not mere bread and wine. After the prayers of consecration by an ordained priest, God works a miracle and transforms the ordinary bread and wine into the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.
And Church leaders did not decide to teach this just because it seemed like a cool and mysterious thing to declare. Bread and wind becoming the body and blood of Jesus is exactly what Jesus Himself declared, both at the Last Supper and during His famous “Bread of Life” discourse, found in John’s gospel, chapter 6.
Many anti-Catholic groups these days claim that Church leaders “invented” this doctrine during the Middle Ages as part of a sinister plan to consolidate power among the clergy. However, if you read St. Paul’s epistles, especially his first letter to the Corinthians, along with the writings of the early Church fathers from the first, second, and third centuries, it is very clear that Christians embraced the doctrine of the Eucharist from the very beginning.
For example, St. Ignatius of Antioch, in the year 110 A.D. (which was just a couple decades after the last apostles died), wrote this: “[Heretics] abstain from the Eucharist…because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ.”
And a few decades later, St. Justin Martyr had this to say: “We call this food Eucharist…not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these.…the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him…is both the Flesh and the Blood of that incarnated Jesus.”
So, the person who responded to my informal survey by saying Jesus is the source and summit of the Christian life, gets half-credit for his answer. (Yeah, I would’ve been a tough teacher when it comes to grading papers.)
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life only because it IS Jesus, truly present for us. This is a breath-taking miracle that occurs at every Mass. Those of us who get more excited about pot luck suppers than the fact our Lord and Savior is really present in the bread and wine, might need to re-think our priorities.
Jesus is there for us, flesh and blood, in the Eucharist. Although prayer and Bible study and helping those in need are great ways to draw closer to the Lord, there is nothing that brings us in direct contact with Him more than the Eucharist. The Eucharist, the real body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus is indeed the source and summit of the Christian life.