No, I’m not talking about the Disney movie (Tangled is the best Disney princess movie, anyway). I’m talking about the original fairy tale, written by Madame Villeneuve in the 1700s and later abridged/edited by Jeanne-Maire Leprince de Beaumont- in other words, the really old French fairy tale that you probably didn’t know existed.
Basically, the story goes like this (you can find the whole thing online if you want): Beauty is the daughter of a wealthy merchant, who one day loses everything and his family becomes poor. Out of all her siblings, Beauty alone remains cheerful and doesn’t complain that she doesn’t have everything she wants. Eventually, her father receives word that one of his merchant ships arrived after all, and he goes to meet it to see if he can regain any of his former wealth. His daughters all ask for dresses and all sorts of expensive items, but Beauty asks only for his safe return- and a rose.
Well, the father makes it to his ship, but its good had already been distributed and he comes back with nothing. On the way home, he gets lost and ends up at a castle. There, he seems to be magically attended to, though he never sees anybody. On the way out, though, he picks a rose to bring home to Beauty, and the Beast appears. Ready to kill the merchant who would dare steal a rose after receiving so much generosity, the Beast demands that the merchant sends one of his daughters back to the castle if he wants to preserve his life. The merchant goes home, tells his family what happened, and Beauty volunteers to go, since she was the one who asked for the rose.
At the castle, she finds that, though the Beast is horrible and terrifying, he is not unkind. She has everything she could possibly want in her enchanted new home, and is actually quite content except for the fact that every evening, the Beast asks her to marry him. Disturbed and confused, she continually refuses. On top of this, every night she dreams about a handsome prince who always asks her why she is so cruel to him. She recognizes the setting of her dreams as the castle grounds, and assumes this prince must be a prisoner of the Beast that she must free.
Then one day, she asks to return home to visit her family. The Beast consents, but says she must be back before a specific date, otherwise he will die. Despite this warning, she draws out the visit until a dream warns her that she is nearly too late, and she returns to the castle with all possible speed. There, she finds the Beast dying. He recovers upon her return, and she realizes that she truly does love him. That night, when he asks her to marry him, she says yes. At that moment, he transforms into his true form- the prince of her dreams. (And they all lived happily ever after, of course)
After that extensive summary of a fairy tale, you’re probably wondering what it has to do with the Eucharist. I will explain by bringing forward one quote from the story, which the prince says to Beauty in a dream: “Here you will be rewarded for all you have suffered elsewhere. Your every wish shall be gratified. Only try to find me out, no matter how I may be disguised, for I love you dearly, and in making me happy, you will find your own happiness.”
To me, these words aren’t just from a prince disguised as a beast- they’re from Christ under the appearance of bread. The circumstances of the story don’t make it a perfect analogy, but certainly this one line holds true for the Eucharist as much as it did for the Beast. In the Eucharist, we receive abundant graces and get a taste of heaven on earth. The one desire of our heart -to be loved- is satisfied by Love Himself. All the “prince” wants us to do is receive His love, and we will be happy with Him. But there is one small detail that makes all this hard- we can’t see Him as He is.
The Beast showed immense love for Beauty by loving her unconditionally and caring for her even though he couldn’t expect her to love him back, since he was under the form of a monster. Sound familiar? Christ loves us infinitely and unconditionally, even though we continually reject Him and ignore Him- especially since we can’t see Him in the way that we’re used to seeing people. So how can we love Him back, in spite of this apparent obstacle? How did Beauty love the Beast?
Well, in the story, she showed her love by coming back to the Beast when he was dying- never mind that she wanted to stay with her family, and she would much rather be with the prince than a beast. In spite of his appearance, she came to him and accepted his marriage proposal- and that is how she showed her love. We can do the same thing for Christ. We can love Him simply by receiving Him in the Eucharist, regardless of whether we can see Him or not. In spite of the appearance of bread, we can believe that God is physically present and is with us. That’s all that He asks- that we love Him by receiving His love instead of rejecting it, as Beauty rejected the Beast’s proposal night after night.
Like in the story, it doesn’t end there. God doesn’t ask us to eternally love Him only in His disguised form. Just as the Beast regained his true form when Beauty consented to marry him, so we will truly see God when we love Him perfectly- which is to say, when we enter heaven. But we won’t get to see Him until we love Him in spite of appearances, just like Beauty.
One of my favorite Saint Augustine quotes is: “Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” You could replace ‘believe’ with ‘love,’ and it essentially sums up our relationship with Christ in the Eucharist- “Faith is to love what you do not yet see; the reward of this faith is to see what you love.” What greater reward can there be than this- to finally have what we love most, unveiled before our eyes?