Since the first century, Christians have always believed in the real presence. Christ is physically present within the consecrated Eucharistic host. America especially is unaware of that reality, to the point where this fundamental doctrine is being denied by uncatechised Catholics. It is no secret that the source and summit of the Catholic faith is the Holy Eucharist:
The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life…” by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all. In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: “Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.”CCC 1324-1327
This prompted American bishops to promote the Eucharistic Revival, 3 years of steady reflection and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament from 2022 to 2024. The Church in America has been pushing for a more steady promotion of Eucharistic doctrine and devotion by such means as increasing the availability of adoration times. Another is through books on the truth of the Eucharist. We see there is a need for Eucharistic theology and adoration in our Church no matter what the culture says.
Two local parishes have given out different books on the issue of Eucharistic worship: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Dr. Brant Pitre and Beautiful Eucharist by Matthew Kelly. These books have been at the center of the conversation for getting Eucharistic worship into the hands of the lay people who have not known or understood the joys of the Blessed Sacrament. Dr. Pitre offers a scholarly perspective on the Eucharist, discussing its purpose within the Christian religion. Matthew Kelly’s book is more conversational, as in his previous works such as Life Is Messy (2021) and Resisting Happiness (2016). This time, however, he presents perspectives from other writers . The conversational style alongside a scholarly approach makes these two books interesting to compare and contrast. Both provide insights into the Catholic way of doing theology, faith and reason.
Dr. Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist starts with a simple story of he and his fiancee Elizabeth meeting with a Southern Baptist pastor to discuss having an ecumenical ceremony for their wedding, due to Elizabeth’s Protestant background. That meeting would change the course of his life as it became an unexpected debate on the Eucharist, inspiring him to go on and study Scripture and eventually set him on his academic path in pursuit of the truth he found. With this introduction Dr. Pitre demonstrates the academic side of Eucharist worship – we find in Scripture that the Eucharist is indeed the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Dr. Scott Hahn gives the foreword to the book, telling the audience that we must understand the Jewish context to find the wonder that the First Century Christians had:
This is something we cannot appreciate fully until we have learned to see it ‘as it was in the beginning,’ as it was for those first Jewish Christians, who saw an old, familiar world ending and a new one descending as a heavenly Jerusalem. This beautiful book by Dr. Brant Pitre gives us all we need for that appreciation of what was, so that we can see, ever more clearly, what “is now and ever shall be, world without end.”Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, xi
The book goes on to cover basic groundwork for apologetics answering Protestant arguments against Eucharistic theology. In fact the original argument given to Dr. Pitre by that long-ago Southern Baptist pastor was the idea that eating the Eucharist would be cannibalism:
Don’t you understand that if the Lord’s Supper were really Jesus’ body and blood, then you would be eating Jesus. That’s cannibalism! … if you were really able to eat Jesus, you would become Jesus?Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, 4
To rebut this claim, Dr. Pitre journeys through the Old Testament to seek out the original meaning of the manna from the desert, the bread that came from God for the Israelites to eat. He then compares this magnificent truth to Jesus, who calls himself the “bread of life”. Jesus is seen as the new passover lamb, in which the original passover was only complete once the sacrifice was eaten.
Where Dr. Pitre’s book explicates the connections between the Old and New Testaments, Matthew Kelly’s book Beautiful Eucharist opens the floor to numerous Catholic speakers and writers to relate some of their most impactful stories about the Eucharist and how it changes lives. From Fr. Mike Schmitz, Bishop Andrew Cozzans, Peter Kreeft, and many others, we get encouraging and inspiring talks on the Eucharist in published book form. We find real people talking about real encounters with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament – which makes a fine contrast to Dr. Pitre’s scholarship on the background and reasonability of the source and summit of our faith.
There is little of Matthew Kelly himself in this book. He functions as an editor, with all of the authors coming from their diverse backgrounds as lay people, scholars, or religious to tell their own stories. As a kind of anthology, different chapters may make a stronger or weaker impression on different readers. A friend of mine, for example, didn’t enjoy the chapters from Fr. Mike Schmitz, not because they were bad but rather because she believed she wasn’t the target audience for them; but she was deeply moved by a section from Fulton Sheen, and the story of Allen Hunt, a megachurch pastor who left his congregation of 15,000 to become Catholic upon becoming convinced of the truth of the Eucharist.
Beautiful Eucharist is meant to provide a source of reflection and challenge to readers. Perhaps its best application might be as a reflection piece to be read at adoration. My local perpetual adoration chapel has plenty of copies waiting to be read or taken home by visitors. It is a collection of testimonies from people who have been affected in life-changing ways by the Blessed Sacrament.
Allen Hunt’s chapter in Beautiful Eucharist, “Thirty Words That Revolutionized My Life”, is one of my favorites. It details the story of a Methodist pastor going on a retreat where he gave a talk to cloistered Dominican nuns. They all loved his story, but asked him why he wasn’t Catholic, as his talk sounded very Catholic to the sisters. He told them this was because he believed the Eucharist was a mere symbol. That was when one of the Dominican sisters read a Bible passage to explain where the Real Presence was in Scripture:
“These are the words from Saint Paul as he wrote to the Church in Corinth”, she said. Then she started to read: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.'”Beautiful Eucharist, pg. 79
The Dominican Sisters found this so plain that they couldn’t help but laugh. Ultimately, this led to Hunt’s eventual conversion.
These two books are very different in style but speak the same truth: The Lord Jesus is present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Matthew Kelly may have a reputation for writing books a mile wide and an inch deep for Catholics who don’t know any better, but Beautiful Eucharist is a great resource for devotion in Eucharistic adoration. Dr. Pitre offers deep biblical commentary and rigorous analysis on what makes the Eucharist so inherently tied to Judaism that it is foretold in the Old Testament as seen with the manna in the desert. The depth of study emerging in the Eucharistic revival is helpful for Catholics to understand the roots of the most Blessed Sacrament. And Matthew Kelly gives Catholics the chance to reflect with other authors and speakers on how the Eucharist can change everything in one’s life. Together, they are both easy recommendations I can give to a Catholic seeking to find the Eucharist in Sacred Scripture and meditate on it in adoration.