Book Review: The Holy Bread of Eternal Life: Restoring Eucharistic Reverence in an Age of Impiety

[Author, speaker, LifeSite News contributor Dr. Peter Kwasniewski Spoke at our June 14, 2019 Forum Luncheon on “Of What Use Is a Changing Catechism?”]

By Dan Millette, One Peter Five, November 24, 2020

I feel compelled to provide some context before beginning.

Last week my family and I attended an evening daily Mass at our local parish. We live in a small town, over two hours away from the nearest traditional Latin Mass (or even semi-reverent Mass for that matter). Beforehand we went to Confession. I emerged from the sacrament, no doubt luminous as a cherub, and went to my pew to watch our four children while my wife took her turn. There I sat in silence, holding our one-year-old peacefully, and gazing at the tabernacle.

“So! Are you going to try spending the winter in Arizona this year?!” asked one middle-aged man to another, a few spots over.

“Well, with the restrictions, we’ll have to fly instead of drive. Are you off to California?”

Thus began yet another lengthy and boisterous conversation in the church before Mass. My attempts to shush the men were ineffective. Interiorly I could feel anger rising. At that moment I glanced down at my children. The three oldest were holding rosaries, looking bewildered. I saw that one of them was on the point of tears. And that’s when I saw red.

I snapped. There’s no other way to explain it. I just snapped. I lashed out at the men before I even knew I was speaking. “We didn’t come here to listen to you! We came here to pray!” I yelled, among other things. The men certainly heard me. The other two women in the church heard me. My children heard me. And yes, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament heard me.

I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself down. Did I need to march right back to Confession? (Bless me Father… it’s been seven minutes since my last Confession…). How could I? I wasn’t even sorry for what I had just done. Just shaken. Why is it like this? It’s been like this my entire life. Do we believe Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist, or don’t we? Did I overreact? What is wrong with me? What is wrong with our Church? I didn’t sleep well that night. Mary, please help me understand, I prayed.

Within a day, as an answer to my prayer, a copy of Dr. Peter Kwasniewski’s latest book, The Holy Bread of Eternal Life: Restoring Eucharistic Reverence in an Age of Impiety, arrived.

Now to begin.

Dr. Kwasniewski is indefatigable; easily one of the most prolific, and necessary, Catholic writers today. In his latest work Dr. Kwasniewski has offered a profound elucidation on a most profound subject: The Holy Eucharist.

The first part of the book examines the Eucharist through the lens of Sacred Scripture. Leviticus, the Gospel of John, and St. Paul’s writings are used with precision to demonstrate how we are to understand and reverence the Holy Sacrifice. Following this, Kwasniewski moves on to St. Thomas’ Aquinas’ teachings on the Eucharist, including snippets into Aquinas’ own spiritual devotion and love for the Blessed Sacrament.

This first section of the book brought me back to my university days of studying theology. The excitement and buzz of being immersed in truth returned. All too often we Catholics bounce around between short articles and lighter YouTube videos on the Faith – or more correctly on the latest scandal – while neglecting in-depth study and reflection. What Kwasniewski has done in the first part of his book is provide necessary theological foundations on the Eucharist, yet he does so without any of the dullness or drab that one might presume from a theological work.

With foundations covered, the second part of The Holy Bread of Eternal Life brought the inevitable. The inevitable being when you read a chapter, underlining half of it or more for future reference, while discussing multiple salient insights with your spouse, all before finally phoning a friend – the one who always seems to be reading the same books as you – to discuss some new understanding. Then this cycle repeats for the following chapters.

It is this second part of the book where Kwasniewski’s wisdom and wit coruscate most brilliantly. There is a plethora of hard-hitting topics: What is worthy, and unworthy, reception of the Eucharist? Might Jesus, contrary to the standard narrative, have given Communion on the tongue at the Last Supper? If reception on the tongue is better in every way, is it then a sin to receive on the hand? How are chastity and the love of the Eucharist connected? Conversely, how is the abuse crisis and irreverence to the Eucharist connected? What are we to make of masks at Mass? What of the government, or even bishops, shutting down the Mass? Locking churches? Banning Holy Communion? Even Kwasniewski’s usual sparring partner, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, makes an appearance. In short, the second part of the book is relentless in applying Eucharistic teaching to a litany of modern crises encountered. It is filled with personal challenges – such as bidding us not give in to consequentialism (e.g. accepting improper ways of receiving Holy Communion in order to “get” the Sacrament). It is heartbreaking – such as the chilling chapter detailing observed profanations made by extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. And it is heartwarming – such as the section expressing how Jesus, hidden away in yet another locked church, pines for us to visit Him and to find rest.

I suppose if I were to attempt a critique of the book it would be that, in a couple of instances, certain information is found in more than one chapter. For instance, the actual manner in which Holy Communion was received on the hand in the early Church (and it’s not the way it’s done today!) is mentioned more than once. This might be viewed as repetitive (though as a teacher, I appreciate the value of this repetition). On the other hand, there are certain chapters that, guaranteed, the reader will wish to share with a friend, relative, priest or bishop, in which case it is necessary for this information to be repeated as needed. I suppose this is the whole point. As you read this book you will want to share it with others. Indeed, I, with a grave urgency, want to share it with all of you.

I return to my original story of roaring at the two middle-aged men in church. Yes, Dr. Kwasniewski’s book has brought a timely clarity to my muddled and angry mind. More importantly, he has brought a spiritual tranquility, for the solution to my frustration, anger, and despair is found in the very Eucharist I cannot stand to see profaned. I pray his book reaches you, and impacts you in a profound manner as well.

With that, I end by sharing a few words from The Holy Bread of Eternal Life. Kwasniewski writes of a moment spent in quiet adoration of the Blessed Sacrament:

“I asked Him why He is allowing the Church to be crushed under the weight of so many sins, so much infidelity, so much betrayal and filth. His presence, His silence of strength and order, His indestructible love, were an answer better than any words, and I knew that He was urging me to greater faith, greater trust, more earnest prayer […] ‘I look at Him, and He looks at me.’ Where the Lord is, there is the promise of victory over all the forces of evil, within and without” (p. 169).

May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ keep our souls unto life everlasting.

This article first appeared HERE.