We can fall into a routine reception of the Eucharist. Receiving our Lord’s Body can remain an isolated moment in our life—meaningful, but not central to our identity or how we live. God does not want the Eucharist to remain hidden at Mass or a secret in our lives. Rather, the Eucharist stands at the center of Christian culture, our communal and social way of life.
John Senior asks the question: “What is Christian Culture?,” and provides an answer: “It is essentially the Mass.” In the Restoration of Christian Culture, he describes how in the Middle Ages “all architecture, art, political and social forms, economics, the way people live and feel and think, music, literature—all these things when they are right, are ways of fostering and protecting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” (17). The focus on the Mass even shows the purpose of work, “not profit but prayer . . . that we live for Him and not for ourselves.”
Contrast this Eucharistic focus with culture today. Aidan Nichols echoes Senior and points to our own culture: “It is surely clear that the medieval Christian at prayer was supported culturally by a whole way of life. . . . By comparison, the contemporary Christian experiences an absence of God in the world today” (Christendom Awake, 204). He refers to our culture as a spiritual desert. In the midst of this vacuum, we must place God back into the world, starting with our own lives.
Culture can be understood simply as a way of life. A Christian culture, therefore, is a way of life that draws its source and finds its fulfillment in the Christian faith. Just as grace builds upon nature, the Eucharist builds upon human culture. Bread and wine are two of the most important and fundamental works of culture. They do not just grow out of the earth, but we use our intelligence to form them from the fruits of the earth. The matter of the Eucharist cannot be wheat and grapes, but the works of culture. The sacrament transforms our works of culture into acts of cult (worship), making them supernatural and divine.
The Eucharist may draw upon the work of human hands, but it becomes the offering we could never create on our own. As the Eucharist transforms our offering into the divine, we too are transformed by receiving it. John Paul elucidates this two-way street of Christian culture, as the material world becomes spiritualized and the spiritual impacts the material:
On the one hand, the works of material culture always show a “spiritualization of matter,” a submission of the material element to man’s spiritual forces, that is, his intelligence and will—and that, on the other hand the works of spiritual culture manifest, specifically, a “materialization ” of the spirit, an incarnation of what is spiritual” (Address to UNESCO, 8).
According to the same logic, the Eucharist transforms not only our soul, but our entire life, as we incarnate its fruits in our family life, work, and leisure. Christian culture as a whole becomes sacramental, an expression of the divine bursting forth from God’s entrance into the world.
The Eucharist should shape our way of life by centering our spirituality on becoming one with God in the embrace of Communion with Him. It shapes our time as the Lord’s Day is the center of the week and the liturgical seasons and feasts guide the rhythm of the year. The Eucharist also changes us throughout time from the inside out. Jesus makes us more like Him within, which in turn shapes all that we do to reflect this identity. Pope Benedict XVI tells us that “Eucharistic spirituality . . . embraces the whole of life” and “as a mystery to be ‘lived,’ meets each of us as we are, and makes our concrete existence the place where we experience daily the radical newness of the Christian life” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 77; 79).
The Eucharist also represents the pinnacle of creation, pointing us to the very purpose of the world and human life: to glorify God and to embody His presence. Pope Francis points to this reality at the end of Laudato Si’ (paragraph 236):
It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. . . . He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. . . . The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist, “creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself” (quoting Pope Benedict XVI, homily for Corpus Christi, 2006).
The Eucharist encapsulates all that we are and are called to be. In it spirit transforms matter; God enters the world; and creation offers back to the Creator a prefect work of prayer and sacrifice, offering to the Father a gift of infinite value. God draws our own work into this sacrifice, dignifying our humanity and life, and through it shapes our life and work. The Eucharist is truly the life of our soul, but also of our culture. It is our way of life.