In the Offertory, we are like lambs being led to the slaughter. In the Consecration, we are the lambs who are slaughtered in the lower part of our sinful selves. In the Communion, we find that we have not died at all but that we have come to life.
In order to understand by opposites what takes place in Holy Communion, consider the nature of a totalitarianism such as Communism. In such a philosophy of life, every person must surrender himself totally and completely, body and soul, mind and will, action and life, to a human dictator. In Christianity there is also a total surrender, we give ourselves completely and entirely to God through His Divine Son, Jesus Christ.
But here comes the great difference. In Communism those who deliver themselves over to the state are surrendering to materialism, for they are denying God and the soul. When one gives oneself up to that which is material, one becomes possessed by it, as a drowning man becomes possessed by the materiality of water, and a burning man become possessed by the materiality of fire, and a suffocated man becomes possessed by the materiality of earth. Communism can never enrich or exalt the soul of its followers.
But when there is a dedication to God, and when our death is to the lower part of ourselves as it is in the Consecration of the Mass, then we get back our souls ennobled and enriched. We begin at last to be free, glorified, divinized, exalted. We find that, after all, our death was no more permanent in the Consecration than was the death of Christ on Calvary, for in Holy Communion we surrender our humanity and we receive Divinity. We give up time and we get eternity, we give up our sin and we receive grace, we surrender our self-will and we receive the omnipotence of Divine will. We give up petty loves and receive the Flame of Love, we give up our nothingness and we receive all. For Christ has said: “He…who loses his life for my sake…will save it.”
There is another life above the life of the body; namely, the life of the soul. Just as the life of the body is the soul so, too, the life of the soul is God. This Divine life we receive in Communion. If the sunlight and moisture and the chemicals of the earth could speak they would say to the plants: “Unless you eat me you shall not have life in you;” if the plants and the herbs of the field could speak, they would say to the animals, “Unless you eat me you shall not have life in you;” if the animals and the plants and the chemicals of the universe could speak they would say to man: “Unless you eat me you shall not have life in you.” So, too, the Son of God says to us that unless we receive of Him we shall not have Divine life in us. The law of transformation holds sway, the lower is transformed into the higher; chemicals into plants, plants into animals, animals into man and man into God without, however, man ever losing his personal identity. Hence the word that is used for Communion is “to receive” Our Lord, for literally we do receive the Divine life, more significantly than a babe receives human life as it is nursed by the mother, for in this latter case, the human is being nourished by the human, but in Communion the human receives Divine life from God. But like all words, even this one has some imperfection, for in communion it is not so much we who receive Christ as Christ who receives us, incorporating us into Himself.
We know we do not deserve this. All love really feels itself unworthy. The lover is always on his knees, the beloved always on a pedestal. Hence before receiving Communion we repeat with the priest: “Domine non sum dignus” –O, Lord, I am not worthy. It is as if we were holding ourselves back, conscious of the fact that we are unworthy of the Divine gift.
It is to be noted that there is no such thing as Communion without a sacrifice. Just as we cannot have the natural communion of eating, unless vegetables have been torn up from their roots and subjected to fire, and animals have been subjected to the knife and slain, and then submitted to purgation, so neither can we have Communion with Christ unless there is first a death. That is why the Mass is not just a Communion service; it is a sacrifice which ends in Communion. Communion is the consequence of Calvary; we live by what we slay. Our bodies live by the slaying of the beasts of the field and the plants of the garden; we draw life from their crucifixion; we slay them not to destroy but to have life more abundantly. We immolate them for the sake of communion.
By a beautiful paradox of Divine love, God makes His Cross the very means of our salvation and our life. We have slain Him; we have nailed Him there and crucified Him; but the Love in His eternal Heart could not be extinguished. He willed to give us the very life we slew; to give us the very Food we destroyed; to nourish us with the very Bread we buried, and the very Blood we we poured forth. He made our very crime into a happy fault; He turned a Crucifixion into a Redemption; a Consecration into a Communion; a death into Life Everlasting.
And it is just this that makes man all the more mysterious! Why man should be loved, is no mystery. But why he does not love in return, is a mystery. Why should Our Lord be the Great Unloved; why should Love not be loved? He is loved in all who unite themselves with Christ the Priest and the Victim.