Eucharist - Seasons of Grace
Douglas Bushman, STL
One of the interesting elements of the witness of the gospels to
Jesus Christ is the remarkable suppleness that was required of the
disciples who followed Him.
The demands placed on the disciples' faith was distinctly different
at various points in the Lord's public ministry. In the early part
of His mission we have the working of miracles and the call of the
apostles. Jesus proclaims the Good News to the poor, demonstrates
the powers of God at work in Him, and gives the Sermon on the Mount.
Later on, as the opposition of the Pharisees and Scribes becomes
more and more apparent, Jesus presents his closest followers with
predictions of his betrayal and death.
It is one thing to follow Jesus during the first period of initial
wonderment and excitement, and quite another to follow Him during
this second period. It required an adjustment of faith, and a
leaving behind of any merely human projections onto what Jesus had
been teaching. St. Peter experienced this when he protested against
the Lord's prediction of His passion, and we are all familiar with
the admonishment he received: "Get behind me, Satan" (Matthew
16:23). At this point, the apostles learn that they still do not
have sufficient faith to weather the storms of discipleship (see
As the hour of Jesus to be handed over and crucified approached, He
said a remarkable thing to Peter: "Now you cannot follow me where I
am going, but later you will follow me" (John 13:37). What a
contrast to some of the first words Peter had heard from Jesus:
"Follow me" (Matthew 4:19). Jesus begins by inviting Peter to follow
Him, and ends by saying that he cannot follow Him. But He added:
"But later, you shall follow me."
Jesus understood fully the challenges to the faith of His followers.
He understood that in discipleship there are seasons of grace,
patterns and dominant themes of what one experiences in the presence
of the Lord. The apostles had to learn that the mission of the
Messiah would not be just miracles and preaching the Good News. It
also included the rejection, suffering and death of Jesus. It is
difficult to fault Peter for resisting the second season of
suffering and preferring the more glorious season of popularity and
miracles. But it was not to be.
The same kind of challenge to faith is encountered by the followers
of Christ in every generation. There are seasons of grace in our
lives, times of consolation and times of desolation. There are times
when it seems easy to place our faith in Christ, and other times
when it is very difficult.
This is most apparent in the passion, death, resurrection and
ascension of the Lord. After following Jesus for three years,
witnessing His saving power and taking in His teaching, the apostles
and all of the Lord's disciples lose Him: Their Master is betrayed
and crucified. Good Friday inaugurates the season of grace which is
one of loss, abandonment, desolation.
We know what the apostles and disciples at that time did not know.
We know that this season of Jesus' absence was to be only a short
season of three days. For He would rise on Easter Sunday morning and
they would have Him back! And yet, Easter is also the beginning of
what would prove to be a relatively short season of grace. It is the
season of the post-resurrection appearances. A mysterious period of
the Risen Lord's appearing and disappearing. This period closes with
the Ascension into heaven.
The Ascension marks the beginning of a new season of grace, the
season of the Church. It is the season of Pentecost and the coming
of the Holy Spirit. This is the final and definitive season of God's
grace. Christ died to make this possible. For He Himself said: "It
is for your own good that I go away, for if I do not go away, the
Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you"
Jesus had to ascend to the Father in order to receive from the
Father the promise of the Holy Spirit and thus be able to pour forth
that Spirit upon the Church (see Acts 2:33). This is why, when Mary
Magdala wrapped her arms around Him on Easter Sunday, the Risen
Lord's first words to her were: "Do not cling to me, for I have not
yet ascended to the Father" (John 20:17).
Can we imagine the reaction these words must have provoked in Mary's
heart? Stricken with grief over the loss of her Lord, she went to
His tomb to express her love and devotion by anointing His body,
only to find that His body was not there. She had had three days to
adjust to the loss of the One Who had freed her from seven demons
(Mark 16:9). Then, suddenly, she is overwhelmed with joy to discover
that He is not dead, but risen to life, and she clasps His feet to
give Him homage (Matthew 28:9). And then she hears the words, "Do
not cling to me."
We know that Jesus is not cruel, and that these words were not
spoken to hurt Mary. Neither were His words of rebuke to Peter or
the apostles for having such little faith. Rather, Jesus wanted Mary
to enter fully into the mystery of His death, resurrection and
ascension. And this mystery is not complete until the Holy Spirit is
poured forth on Pentecost. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church
teaches, "Christ's Passover is fulfilled in the outpouring of the
Holy Spirit" (CCC,731).
Pope John Paul II has greatly underscored the fact that the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was caused by the death,
resurrection and ascension of Christ. Based on the text of John
16:7, quoted above, he has written:
"[W]hile all the other promises made in the Upper Room foretold the
coming of the Holy Spirit after Christ's departure, the one
contained in the text of John 16:7f also includes and clearly
emphasizes the relationship of interdependence which could be called
causal between the manifestation of each: `If I go, I will send him
to you.' The Holy Spirit will come insofar as Christ will depart
through the Cross: he will come not only afterwards, but because of
the Redemption accomplished by Christ. . ." (Dominum et
Have you ever noticed that in many cathedrals and churches you can
often see a dove painted on the ceiling of the sanctuary, just above
the altar? This is an artistic depiction of a very profound truth of
faith regarding the relationship between the descent of the Holy
Spirit on Pentecost and the death, resurrection and ascension of our
Lord. The Holy Spirit's coming to the Church is caused by Christ's
Passover, His passing over to the Father, His departure.
Of course, Jesus does not really leave us, because, according to St.
Paul, the "Lord is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:17). Jesus is not
absent; rather, He is present in a new way, in the Holy Spirit. This
is the new season of grace for the Church, and we need the gift of
faith to see all of this in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.
Yes, we need a similar kind of suppleness of faith, as did St. Peter
and Mary Magdala. And the Holy Eucharist is a great school of such
faith. For in the celebration of the Mass we experience the various
seasons of grace that mark the life of Christ.
Particularly through Holy Communion, we experience something quite
similar to what Mary Magdala experienced. The experience of Mary
Magdala on Easter Sunday morning is a paradigm of the Eucharistic
experience of the members of the Church. In the Eucharistic Bread
and Wine Christ comes to us in His resurrected body, in the form of
life-giving food and drink. Prior to the words of consecration He is
not there; but by the power of the Holy Spirit He comes, even as He
came to the Virgin Mary by the power of the same Spirit.
But, just as Christ came into the world through Mary only to depart
through the Passover of His death, resurrection and ascension, so
also in the Eucharist He will soon leave us. For as the Church
teaches, His Eucharistic Presence endures only for so long as the
consecrated bread and wine endure.
In Holy Communion we take Him into us with all the love and
affection of Mary Magdala, knowing full well that we cannot hold
onto Him in this manner. His Eucharistic presence will melt away,
and like Mary Magdala we must "let Him go" so that He can depart and
return to the Father. But we also know that He does not leave us
orphans (John 14:18). We know that He departs only to come back to
us in the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Authentic Eucharistic devotion is a devotion to the entire mystery
of the coming and going of Jesus Christ through the Paschal Mystery.
Because it contains Christ Himself, the Eucharist also contains all
of the seasons of grace. For this reason, the Eucharist is the
source of all the graces we need in order to give the proper
response of faith to the various seasons of grace we experience in
our journey with Christ.
Douglas Bushman holds a licentiate in Sacred Theology from the
University of Friebourg. Currently he is the director of the
Institute for Pastoral Theology at Ave Maria University.
This page is the work of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and