Thursday February 21st 2019

Do Catholics believe Jesus really is the Eucharist or a symbol?

The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus is truly and completely present in the Eucharist. In John chapter 6 Jesus says:

  • “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.
  • Amen, amen, I say to you, 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 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. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  Jesus was very explicit in his teaching of the Eucharist. “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”  Jesus made sure this was not up for interpretation.

Since the very beginning the idea of Christ giving us His body as food has been a reason to turn away from the faith. The Bible tells us that many people responded to Jesus by saying “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” and “As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”  Jesus did not try to change their mind and soften the statement.  The statement was what Jesus meant, “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.Amen, amen, I say to you, 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 on the last day.

The Catholic Church believes infallibly (without the possibility of error) that Jesus is present body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. This dogma is one that non-Catholics have particular trouble accepting. However, we can see that the institution of the Eucharist is clearly revealed in scripture.

Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He made a promise to His apostles, and to all generations “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:20). To some, this presence refers to the Holy Spirit, which was received by the apostles at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is one way Jesus has remained with us, to counsel and guide the Church. However, after being both bodily and spiritually present to His followers while on Earth, could Jesus only be referring to his continuing spiritual presence? Catholics profess and believe that Jesus’ continuing presence is physical and spiritual, as there is no greater way Jesus can remain with us than in His true flesh and Spirit. We come into communion with Jesus in this way during the celebration of the Eucharist.

During the last supper, Jesus declared that He was going to remain with his disciples under the form of bread and wine. In the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus consecrates the bread and wine with the words “this is my body”(Luke 22:19) and “this is my blood” (Luke 22:20). Jesus states this as an absolute, and is in no way left up to interpretation. In the next lines, Jesus institutes the priesthood with the words to His apostles “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). It is interesting to note, that the word remembrance in the Hebrew sense is not a word meaning “to recall a time in the past,” as it is generally used. Rather, the word remembrance means “to call forth the past into the present.” In other words, Jesus was instructing His apostles to bring this event into the present, which is what the priest does at each Mass.

When the priest who is acting in persona Christi(in the person of Christ) recites the words of consecration during Mass, the bread and wine become, through the occurrence of transubstantiation (change of substance), fully and completely, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. With the consecration of the bread and wine at each Mass, Jesus’ sacrifice is re-presented to us, the Church militant, as well as to the angels and the saints who offer glory and praise to Christ in Heaven, for Christ’s sacrifice carries on throughout the ages.

It is in this way that Jesus chose to stay with His Church. There is not a more intimate way that we could experience the love of Christ, than with His very life inside of us. Jesus states in John 6:53 “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” The Eucharist is our strength in life, which gives us courage and conviction in our journey with Christ.

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