The Eucharist as God’s Gesture

The Eucharist as God’s Gesture

I was interviewed recently about how Pope Francis keeps circling back to the decisive significance of the Eucharist in Christian life when he speaks and writes. Preparing for the interview—trying hard to come up with something to say—helped me clarify my understanding and deepen my experience of the sacrament Vatican II called “the source and summit” of Christian life.

Most Catholics think of the Eucharist as a “thing” rather than an “activity,” God’s gesture on our behalf. But the actions of the Mass show us the holy mystery of God at work for us. Aren’t we called to imitate the action of the Eucharist by allowing God to take the bread of our own life, bless it an make it holy, and then encourage us give our lives away to others too? And when we do, don’t we also find our own lives given back to us? Actually, what’s given back to us, I think, is God’s life, blessed and broken. That’s real transubstantiation, if you ask me.

I once read about a Buddhist monk who spoke not a word of English but attended a Eucharistic liturgy in the United States. Everybody was stunned to see him in tears the whole time, and, when they asked him about it, he confessed he was overwhelmed by the sheer transformational, symbolic power of the gestures he saw—taking, blessing, breaking, giving. Maybe if we turned down all the words from time to time, the saving actions of the Eucharist and all real Christian living overwhelm us too.

Photo: CNS/Paul Haring


About the Author

Joe McHugh is a spiritual director, retreat leader, teacher, and writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the National Catholic Reporter. His book, "Startled by God: Wisdom from Unexpected Places" is available at He can be contacted at
  • David Kay

    I believe the Eucharist is holy. Would someone please explain why it is not good for me to accept it “just as I am”?
    What must one DO before receiving?