Let us take a few moments to consider once again the awesomeness of the mystery of the Real Presence by reading Jesus’ own words in the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, verses 33-69.
What Jesus says was difficult for the Jews to accept and can be difficult for us today. This point is where many of the Christian faithful have diverged from the Church that Christ founded. There are many of our brothers and sisters who accept the authority of the Bible but question whether Jesus was speaking literally in this Eucharistic passage. The Greek text itself evidences the Catholic Church’s constant understanding. In John 6:49, Jesus begins His teaching by first referring to eating manna. He uses the word “efagon,” which means eat or consume. This verb can be used literally or figuratively. He then refers to himself as the new manna, the living bread from heaven, of which those who eat will live forever. In this context, he uses the same word because of the figurative connection to manna. But when the Jews dispute His teaching, Jesus uses more emphatic language to clarify His teaching and address their concerns.
Jesus employs two techniques to answer their objections to His teaching in verses 53-58. First He abandons any figurative association with manna. He no longer speaks of simply “eating” but of “eating flesh and drinking blood.” He ends His explanation by stating, “This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as your fathers ate and died.” Secondly, in this later part of Jesus’ discourse, He has begun using the Greek word “trwgwn,” which is rendered to “gnaw or chew.” This verb is rarely used figuratively, and in the context used by Christ is evidently to be taken literally.
Because of this “hard saying,” some of His followers leave Him. Jesus did not call them back, nor did He try to ease their concerns. He did not say that He was only speaking symbolically. Jesus wants us to understand, as did Simon Peter, that His words are literally true.
For the first thousand years of Christianity there was virtually unanimous acceptance of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. No one taught that the presence of the Christ was merely symbolic. We have many examples from the early church fathers. Ignatius of Antioch, who was a disciple of St. John, wrote in the first century: “I desire the Bread of God, which is the Flesh of Christ.” And elsewhere he wrote: “those who hold heretical opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us…do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father in His goodness raised up again.” This is a very early testament of what the early Christians believed.
St. Justin Martyr in the mid 100s wrote: “For not as common Bread nor common wine do we receive these, but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic Prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of the incarnated Jesus.”
Cyril of Jerusalem in the 300s said, “Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that, for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the body and blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm.” Christ did not say, “This is the symbol of my body,” but, “This is my body.” In the same way, when he gave the cup of His blood He did not say, “This is the symbol of my blood,” but “This is my blood,” for He wanted us to look upon the Eucharistic elements as they are, the body and blood of our Lord.
From this deep belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist comes our humble privilege to be able to receive Christ in His Body and Blood.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers these clarifications for us:
Christ is present in many ways to his Church: (CCC 1373) in his word, in his Church’s prayer, in the poor, sick and imprisoned…and in the person of the minister. But he is present…most especially in the Eucharistic species.
The Church encourages us to understand that: (CCC 1374) In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.”
The Priest by the power of his ordination stands “in persona Christi” – in the person of Christ as he offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. But the Catechism teaches: (CCC 1375) It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s.
(CCC 1357) “We offer to the Father what he has himself given us: the gifts of his creation, bread and wine, which, by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, have become the body and blood of Christ. Christ is thus really and mysteriously made present."
(CCC 1376) "By the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood."
(CCC 1377) "The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ."
“The Eucharist constitutes the very life of the Church, for the Lord said, ‘I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry; no one who believes in me shall ever thirst.’” We do well to ponder this great gift as we receive Christ’s Body and Blood into our body and our very cell structure.
Author: Deacon Bob McClellan