The Eucharistic “Tiramisu”
Roman culture is well-versed in the art of “lifting up” body and soul. As my friends and I experienced on our semester abroad, one is normally connected to the other. That is, if you did not treat cappuccino as a replacement for a “real” American breakfast, chase pranzo with a trip to the local espresso bar, or finish a late-night meal with tiramisu, many important higher intellectual and aesthetic discoveries simply would not have been possible! What ends in contemplation of “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” (Dante, Paradiso XXXIII.145) must start with a more grounded (and preferably caffeinated) way to reach the goal.
Based on the Acts of the Apostles reading from the Octave Day of Easter, one could say that the holy Eucharist is like tiramisu (which literally means “lift me up”) in the worship and life of a Christian. The sacred writer records of the early Church: “They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46b). The primary reference here would appear to be the “breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:46a), the celebration of the Eucharist. In this verse are contained two sweet truths about the Eucharist, both necessary parts of living this sacramental reality, not unlike two layers of espresso-soaked lady fingers joined by sweet mascarpone.
Layer One: Exultation. During the Easter-time Eucharistic liturgy, we hear the injunction “exult” or “rejoice and be glad!” The famous poem known as the Exultet invites all gathered for the Easter Vigil to join the praise: “Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her.” Angel hosts are described trumpeting the news of Christ’s victory over death while his light reaches the corners of the globe. The People of God for their part, “arrayed with the lightning of his glory,” are told to sing out and even let the walls of the church building shake!
The Catholic world is susceptible to exultation over whatever is real, beautiful, and truly worthy. Christ’s light reaches all created things. And it is the celebration of the Eucharist which makes Christ’s saving action uniquely present in our world today. St. Thomas Aquinas’ prayer “O Sacred Banquet” meditates on the mystery of the Eucharist and speaks of past, present, and future time all enveloped in God’s plan to restore mankind to his friendship. Aquinas honors Christ’s suffering memorialized at each Eucharist and delights in the graces mediated through the Sacrament to the individual communicant. Yet he also calls the Eucharist the “pledge of future glory” because it points towards a revelation wonderful beyond comprehension (cf. 1 Cor 2:9). We can “exult” in this promise, knowing that the high invitation uttered by our Savior was meant for sinners: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).
Layer Two: Sincerity of Heart. An epistle reading for Mass on Easter Sunday instructs us to “celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor 5:8). Here’s the nitty-gritty part of our sacramental practice. The “good thief” (cf. Lk 23:39-43) is an example for all Christians because he models the humility and contrition that opens us up to redemption and life in Christ. Without confession of faults, our experience of Eucharistic worship risks becoming superficial and tiresome drama.
Christians avoid empty worship by becoming transparent before God and, in several respects, before one another. Speaking against focusing on external religious practices to the exclusion of having a heart ready to worship, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees saying, “cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean” (Mt 23:26). He also required the communal manifestation of such integrity: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23-24). Catholic living seeks to avoid duplicity, encouraging the faithful to abandon the contradiction and destructiveness that accompany sin. Instead Christians are to be “of one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32). This comes through receiving the free gifts of God—especially in Baptism, Confession, and the Eucharist, the “Sacrament of Charity.” With its inherent reference to Christ’s selfless gift [“This is my body which will be given for you…” (Lk 22:19)], the Eucharist nourishes the charity we first gained at Baptism.
Over the course of a Catholic lifetime, with its layers of ecstatic praise and self-emptying sincerity of heart, our hearts will be expanded and filled over again with the love of Christ present in the Eucharist. In the words of St. Leo the Great, “The leaven of our former malice is thrown out, and a new creature is filled and inebriated with the Lord himself.” St. Leo says that the Eucharist changes us into what we receive: Christ himself. This is the trajectory of Eucharistic worship. What has connected us very concretely to his redemptive Passion and sustained our spiritual vigor throughout earthly life ultimately guarantees that we are ready for eternity. This “good grace” (cf. ST III 73.4 c) of the Eucharist “carries” us toward our goal. It’s the true tiramisu “lifting us up” to life forever with God.