The Real Presence in the Eucharist
By Jay Rivers, Catholic Evidence Guild of Guam
“This IS my Body.” The Catholic Church teaches ;hat when a priest repeats the words of Christ at the Last Supper over bread and wine that these become truly the Body and Blood of the Lord, even though the appearance of the bread and wine remain. How can this be? What is “transubstantiation”? It doesn’t seem humanly possible. Is this merely symbolism? Where do we find these teachings’?
What is transubstantiation? It is certainly a Sacred Mystery. Transubstantiation is defined as the miraculous change that occurs when the Eucharistic elements, at their consecration, become the Body and Blood of Christ while keeping only the appearances of bread and wine. The Church’s teaching on the Eucharist is that when Christ said ‘This is my body,’ he meant is in the usual way that we mean is. (Not is like or could be, but IS.)
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (circa 350 AD) may have said it best, “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. Do not judge this matter by taste, but be fully assured by the faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the Body and Blood of Christ.”
The teaching of the Real Presence in the Eucharist was undisputed by Christians for more than a thousand years. Even then, critics had no substantial following. That is, until the Reformation. The importance of the clarity of the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence as expressed by transubstantiation became evident during the sixteenth century when the Reformers rejected it. Martin Luther, who affirmed the doctrine and had a good understanding of the meaning of the words of Sacred Scripture, attempted to preserve belief in the Real Presence while distancing himself from the Catholic Church. So he taught what is called consubstantiation which means that the Body and Blood of Christ are present along with the bread and the wine.
The Body and Blood of Christ in he Eucharist merely symbolism and can I find that in the Bible’? To better understand the institution and true meaning the Eucharist, read chapter six of St. John’s Gospel. ‘You won’t find symbolism here. This teaching occurred a little less than a year before the Last Supper. Jesus tells us “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger; who ever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). He goes on to say “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died… I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:48-51 ).
This disturbed many that were listening, and Jesus knew that his followers were taking his words literally. Does he correct them? No, he reiterates: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” (John 6:53-55).
After he said this, many of his disciples took offense and left his side returning to their former way of life. If Jesus had intended his words symbolically, he would have been obliged to clarify them for his misunderstanding disciples. He did this at other times (see Chapter 3 of St. John’s Gospel) but this time he did no such thing.
St. Paul further elaborates on the Real Presence in his First Letter to the Corinthians chapters 10 and 11. He writes: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily sins against the body and blood of Lord”(1 Cor 11:27). Again, these are not mere words of symbolism.
Belief in the Real Presence is a universal and perennial teaching of the Catholic Church. It has been taught always and everywhere, from its institution by Christ himself, to the present day. “The Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith; ‘Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking’” (CCC 1327). Remember that Jesus Christ – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – is present in your Tabernacle. Don’t forget to genuflect.