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The Eucharist

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The Eucharist

Eucharist - A THEOLOGICAL Apologetic

A subject that seems to cause both Catholic and Protestant alike a lot of grief is the belief in the Eucharist as the true presence of the body and blood of Christ. It is true that many people consider the Catholic Church’s beliefs about the Eucharist to be totally unbelievable and almost outrageous. We believe it because Jesus said it, and this Word of His is transmitted to us in various ways.

One of these ways is the Bible. In addition to the testimony of the Sacred Scriptures, we also have Sacred Tradition, that which the Apostles handed down to us and which they learned from Christ. We also have the teaching of the Church, given the authority to teach by Jesus in His name. Let us look first, then, at the Bible to see how exactly the Church can so confidently teach what she does about the Real Presence.

It is evident in the Gospel of John that very early in His ministry Jesus gave the first promise of the Eucharist (Jn. 6). A crowd of five thousand had just witnessed one of Christ’s greatest miracles — the multiplication of the loaves — and they were in great awe at what they had experienced. So, they follow Him to Capernaum, wanting Him to perform more signs. When they begin to speak about the manna that God gave to their ancestors to eat in the desert, Jesus uses the opportunity to give a discourse that every Christian should read and reread very carefully.

“I am the bread of life,” he said (Jn. 6:35). “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51). The Scripture then says that this shocked the Jews. How could he give them His flesh to eat? He answered by saying,

Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn. 6:53-59).

These were very powerful words, and they are the words of Jesus Christ! He was telling them that the bread that He would give for the life of the world was His flesh!

At this point, many of them left His company, but we notice that Jesus did not call them back saying, “I didn’t mean it the way you think I did” or, “Should I reword that last bit?” This is because He did mean it precisely as he spoke it! If Jesus had meant His words to be taken symbolically only, then He would have had to explain this to His disciples. But He does not, which is highly significant. Now, He thought the rest of them would leave also, but then Peter responds by giving one of the most moving answers in all human history. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:68). At that moment, Peter may not have even realized the full import of what he was declaring, but later it would become clear to him.

In verse 6:47, Jesus states, “he who believes has eternal life.” What was He talking about? It must have been the teaching that He was giving them. Over and over in these passages He repeats and reaffirms that He is the Bread of Life and that “if anyone eats this bread, he will live forever” and the bread He will give for the life of the world “is my flesh.” It takes great faith to accept and believe these words of our Lord, but we should never allow our predispositions or traditions to restrict us from recognizing the truth that Jesus wished to teach us. Our Lord said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn. 20:29).

The Catholic Church teaches that God’s Revelation is transmitted to us through Sacred Scripture and also by Sacred Tradition, and that both Scripture and Tradition are interpreted by the authoritative and authentic teaching of the Church — the Magisterium. We looked at the testimony from the Bible regarding the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, including Jesus’ own words. Now we will explore that which we learn from Sacred Tradition regarding the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.

When we speak of Tradition with a capital “T” we are referring to what has been handed down to us by the Apostles, both in oral and written form. The earliest written account of belief by the early Church in the presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist comes from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, Ch. 11. He says,

“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night He was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me’…. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

This account of the celebration of the Lord’s Last Supper was written about 50 years after Christ. In another verse from that same chapter, Paul states, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27). This clearly indicates that the early Christians truly believed that the Eucharist was indeed the Body and Blood of the Lord. In 350 AD, Cyril of Jerusalem wrote about this passage and stated,

“Since Christ himself has declared the bread to be his body, who can have any further doubts? Since he himself has said quite categorically, this is my blood, who would dare to question and say that it is not his blood? Therefore, it is with complete assurance that we receive the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ” (Catecheses).

There is an enormous amount of historical evidence in the writings of the early Church Fathers that testifies to belief in the Real Presence. These men were prominent writers of the early Church whose works manifested a pronounced theological sophistication. Why should this be important for us today? Because some of them received what they taught firsthand from the apostles. And the apostles learned it directly from Jesus Himself. He gave to them the authority to teach in His name. He even said, “Whoever hears you, hears me.”

St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing in the year 110 AD, bears a strong witness when he expresses the following:

“I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible” (Letter to the Romans 7,3).

These are powerful words! And it is only one example of the numerous early writings regarding the Holy Eucharist. This is what is meant by our understanding of Sacred Tradition. The Catholic Church has consistently taught belief in the Real Presence from the very beginning to the present day. In the first thousand years, Christians generally did not deny it, although there were some heresies. It was not until the Protestant Reformation, fifteen centuries after Christ's death, that rejection of the Real Presence gained a following of any significance.

Jesus knew how we would hunger for this “food” which is Him, and He provided ways for us to know that it is available to us. He revealed it through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition and these are interpreted and taught authoritatively by the Catholic Church. Each time we participate in the Mass, we participate in that miracle of sacrifice and redemption through the Eucharist, and each time we receive the true presence of Christ we announce that Christ dwells within us in that most perfect of sacramental unions. Our destiny is now linked to the promise of God the Father through our union with Christ in the Mass.

  • Point form analysis

    • Trent taught that the Eucharist is not simply one of the sacraments but is pre-eminent among them because Christ is present in the Eucharist even before the sacrament is used (Decree on the Most Holy Eucharist, ch.III, Session XIII,1551).

    • Vatican II (Const. on the Sacred Liturgy, n.2) declared that “the Liturgy...most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful can express in their lives, and in manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.”

    • The Eucharist is indeed the “source and summit of the entire Christian life”(n.11).
    • Scriptural Background (Institution)

      • Eucharist derived from Greek word meaning thanksgiving.
      • Jesus himself “gave thanks” at the Last Supper (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24; Mk 14:23; Mt 26:27).
      • Same basic structure as Passover meal: the words over the bread, its breaking and sharing; the words over the wine and its sharing.
      • But Jesus identified the bread and wine with his own body and blood and speaks of himself as sacrifice.
      • OT connection: idea of sacrifice of the Old Covenant in Ex. 24:8-11 and of the New Covenant in Jer. 31:31-34; and idea of the anointing sacrifice of the servant of God in Isa. 53:12.
      • Thus the NT interprets the death of Jesus as an atoning death that establishes a new Covenant in his blood and brings redemption to all.
      • Distributing bread and wine to the disciples indicates that they too must share in Jesus' sacrifice and atoning death.
      • As an act of remembrance (anamnesis) the Eucharist not only recalls to mind what Jesus did but also effectively makes it present again (cf. 1 Cor 11:24-25).
      • Paul affirms the bodily presence of Christ: “Is not this the cup of blessing we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16).
      • Indeed, to eat and drink unworthily is to sin “against the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27) because we partake of the same bread, “we, many though we are, are one body” (1 Cor 10:17).
      • Distinctive characteristics of the text have led to a differentiation between a Petrine and a Pauline account.
      • Petrine account occurs in Mt and Mk, and the Pauline in Lk and 1 Cor.
      • In addition Mt and Mk do not have the addition to the words about the bread, i.e., “for you” or “that is given for you”.
      • According to the Synoptics the Last Supper was a Passover meal -- what we know is that Jesus instituted the new rite within the framework of a meal.


    • Sacrificial Dimension of the Eucharist
      • Trent - Jesus left the Eucharist to the Church, his bride, as a visible sacrifice.

      • One and the same sacrifice is made on Golgotha and in the Eucharist, and one and the same person sacrificing, both then and in every Eucharistic celebration, namely Jesus Christ (DS 1739- 1742; cf also canons 1 and 2, Ds 1751f.).

      • In the Eucharist the sacrifice of the cross is actualized in a sacramental way (the event of Golgotha is re-actualized in a ritual way).

      • Trent teaches that the Mass is a true sacrifice, not only of praise and thanksgiving but also of expiation for the living and the dead, without diminishing the value of the sacrifice of Calvary. Christ is the same victim and priest on the cross, although the mode of suffering is different at mass.

      • Trent (Decree on the Mass, ch. II) declared the sacrifice of the mass is “properly offered not only for sins, penalties, satisfactions, and other needs of the faithful who are living but also for the departed in Christ who are not yet fully cleansed.”

    • Dynamic Presence Of Christ In The Eucharist: Transubstantiation

      • Official Catholic teaching that Christ is really present in the consecrated elements of bread and wine.
      • Fourth Lateran Council (1215): first to speak of transubstantiation, i.e., the belief that the substances of bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ. Which was later reaffirmed and made more precise by the Councils of Constance (1415) and Trent (1551).
      • Paul VI reaffirmed the teaching that the real presence continues after Mass, and he defended Eucharistic adoration and private masses.
      • According to doctrine of transubstantiation, the whole Christ is present under each form, the consecrated bread and the consecrated wine for that reason, Trent insisted, it is unnecessary to receive the Eucharist under both species as John Hüs (d. 1415) and his disciples in Bohemia argued.
      • Vatican II teaches that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not confined to the consecrated elements of bread and wine for Christ is present, first, in the community which has assembled for worship; secondly, in the person of the minister who presides in his name; and thirdly, he is present in the biblical word which is proclaimed. Finally, he is present in the sacred species themselves (Const. on the Sacred Liturgy, n.7).
      • Real presence of Christ in the Sacred species come about through the ordained priest, who “confects” the Eucharist (Lateran IV) and the power of priest to consecrate the bread and wine is not dependant on his personal holiness (Council of Constance).
      • The nature of the change brought about in the Eucharist, as taught by the Church, lies beyond what chemistry, biology, or physics are able to establish. What is changed is the essence, the fundamental being, the hidden kernel, of the thing from which its particular forms of manifestation and activity arise.
      • Because the empirical phenomena, which came within the purview of science, remain unaffected, bread and wine can exercise the same physical functions after the transformation as before.
      • Therefore distinction must be made between the terms “substance” as referring to the empirical reality (the physical presence of bread and wine) in science (this would be the area of “accidents” in traditional Church doctrinal language).
      • Transubstantiation is not the only mode of Christ's presence (present in the Church, with the constant assistance of the Holy Spirit, in faith in the hearts of men -- an effective presence, a presence that is dynamic) -- signs produce what they signify.

    • The Permanent Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (Reservation - Adoration)
      • 4th century witnessed an attitude towards Eucharist described by the terms “terrible”, “alarming”, “dangerous” - due to Arian interpretation that caused the image of the man Jesus to fade away.
      • Attitude developed to the point that in the Middle Ages communion was seldom received. Increased emphasis on divinity and total reality, developed after 12th Century.
      • Eucharistic sacrifice itself became overshadowed by adoration (monstrance became more important than the cup).

    • The Church and the Eucharist (koinonia, intercommunion)
      • By giving itself vicariously for the whole of humanity through Jesus Christ to God, the Church performs its worship and praise in a representative way, so the Eucharist may have effects on the whole of humanity.
      • The Lords supper establishes and celebrates the communion that exists not only between the Church and Christ but also within the Church -- i.e., not only “with Christ” but also “in Christ”.
      • The Eucharist, or Lord's Supper, was celebrated in the beginning as a meal (the term mass is derived from the Latin word “missa”, which meant “dismissal”, the closing blessing at any ecclesial celebration).


 Edited: December 29, 2006 - Webmaster: Webmaster
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