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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Questions & Answers About the Real Presence in the Eucharist

What is the main difference between the Holy Communion received by Catholics and that, which is implemented by non-Catholics?

While some may contend that there is some sort of weak “spiritual” presence, most non-Catholics reduce Communion to an “empty” sign, in other words, something that signifies a presence, which is absent, namely the historical Jesus. This reduces the communion elements simply to ordinary bread and wine. Of course, without a legitimate priesthood and Eucharistic liturgy, their communion is precisely such. On the other hand, Catholics believe that their Holy Communion conveys a sacramental and real presence of the risen Christ. The Eucharistic species have literally been transformed into our Lord. Possessing a valid priesthood, which celebrates a lawful Mass, the communicants eat the REAL body of Christ and drink the REAL blood of Christ.

Did Jesus really promise that he would give us his body to eat and his blood to drink?

Yes, most assuredly so. Jesus says in John 6:51: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” His fellow Jews murmured in disagreement, seriously doubting that Jesus could do such a thing. He could not be serious, they thought. Maybe, he only meant it in a figurative fashion? Of course, even that was somewhat offensive to Jews, given their strict dietary laws. Jesus reiterates it to insure that there is no confusion: “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).

Later, did Jesus fulfill his promise and give his apostles his body to eat and his blood to drink?

Again, the answer is yes. We read in Matthew 26:26-28: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”

Is not the fact that many denominations stress the eating and drinking a sufficient indication of their belief in the body and blood of Jesus?

No, it is not. Indeed, many deny the Catholic understanding of “real presence” while making a big deal over the fact that often Holy Communion in the Catholic Church is reduced to the host. (Each particle of the host and every drop of the precious blood, not wine, is the complete Jesus, body and soul, humanity and divinity.) Certain Protestants get caught up in the mechanics and deny the very essence of the sacrament. Jesus himself was concerned that his followers might go through the motions of eating and drinking the sacred meal and lose sight of the underlining reality. He says: “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6:55). Further, he tells his people: “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” (John 6:53). Acknowledging this truth, the apostles raised the “breaking of the bread” or Eucharist to the center of their lives and that of their faith communities.

But Christ seems to reverse himself when he says: “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail” (John 6:63). How is this explained?

If it were not tragic, it would be amusing how numbers of Protestants often point to this sentence to refute the Catholic understanding of real presence. After all, it intimates that Jesus was in error or that he hastily revises his teaching when most of his followers abandon him over it. Such is far from the truth. Jesus does not suddenly suffer from amnesia regarding his earlier words; rather, he is talking about the spirit of God which makes faith possible, even in those things difficult to accept, like the graphic truth of his Eucharistic presence. Eating the flesh of Jesus without faith would profit nothing; eating it with faith gives life.

It has been offered that what Jesus meant to say at the Last Supper was, “This represents my body, this represents my blood.” Is this not more correct?

It is a lie. If Jesus meant to say that the bread and wine only represented his body and blood, then he would have said so. However, he purposely said: “This is my body, this is my blood.” Lacking a “to be” verb, his expression is even more stark: “This–my body, this–my blood.” Some time prior to the Last Supper, our Lord promised his followers that he would give them his body and blood as food and drink. Jesus spoke plainly and made no attempt to mislead his listeners with ambiguous rhetoric. Christ’s Church has believed Jesus’ words in their literal sense for two thousand years. The apostles believed that the Eucharist was the real body of Christ. It is not ordinary bread. St. Paul goes so far as to emphasize that unworthy reception of this bread of life causes damnation.

How can God possibly give us his own body to eat and his blood to drink?

This question suffers from the intrusion of modern atheism, even when it emerges from fundamentalist Christians. How could God possibly take flesh at all? And yet, he did precisely this in the incarnation. How could he feed five thousand people with a mere five loaves of bread and two fishes? Nevertheless, he did.

If God could change rivers into blood, as he did in Egypt, could he not transform bread and wine as a sacrament for his followers? Sure he could! God is almighty and can do all things. Would we be so egotistical as to hold that just because we cannot envision something as possible that it is impossible for God?

When Jesus, and today the priest, breaks the consecrated bread, is he breaking the body of Christ?

No, only the outward form of bread is broken, not Christ’s body.

How can the complete and living Christ be present in each and every Holy Communion around the world and often at the same time?

He is God. This mystery of the real presence of Christ cannot be explained in a way sufficient for human understanding. Nevertheless, we know with God that all things are possible. The sun in the sky can shed its light and warmth upon many places at the same time, but there is still only one sun. This is a poor analogy, and yet it might help.

How can Catholics argue such a transformation when St. Paul merely called it BREAD, saying, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread” (1 Corinthians 11:27)?

The apostle emphasizes “the bread” as something more than ordinary bread. Recall that in the same chapter he complains about those who fail to discern between this bread and the ordinary variety. He warns them that to eat this bread unworthily brings down judgment, making one guilty of the body and blood of Christ. Ordinary bread could not mandate such a punishment.

While it might be granted that Jesus gave his body and blood to his apostles, is it not too great a leap to suppose that priests can give this body and blood to others?

It is no stretch of credulity at all. The apostles were commanded by Jesus to repeat what he did. He gave them his body and blood so that they might have a share in his eternal life. If this power was not handed down to the priests, how could we eat the body of Christ and drink his blood? Jesus said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18); “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21). The authority given the apostles is necessarily passed down to the bishops and priests.

Might the communion bread and wine be seen as a remembrance of Christ only?

No, this view is too narrow. The consecrated elements are indeed a remembrance of Christ, but they are also his body and blood. The stark words of institution make any other interpretation impossible. Further, the Hebrew view of memory is much different from our own. We tend to use remembrance in a nostalgic way, recalling something that is past and absent. The ancients saw the past coming alive again in the telling. Remembrance makes something present; it allows one to enter into the story. Regarding the Eucharist, this is not only figuratively true, but really so. The Mass allows us to visit and participate in the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Holy Communion is our encounter with our risen Lord, now made our saving food.

Can it be proven that the first Christians held such views about the Eucharist?

Yes, it can. St. Justin (150 AD) says, “The faithful receive communion not as an ordinary bread, or an ordinary drink, but we were instructed that it is the flesh and blood of Christ” (First Apology). St. Irenaeus (200 AD) writes regarding the Gnostic heretics, “They refuse to acknowledge that the bread in Communion is the body of their Lord and the chalice his blood” (Against Heresies). Other early authorities write similar testimonies, saying that Christ is joined with us in communion, not only through faith, but really and truly. It is said that just as water was changed into wine, so is the bread changed into the body of Christ. Others speak of adoration, an operation proper to God alone, as proper before the Blessed Sacrament. Extending back to apostolic times, this 16th century epiclesis illustrates this abiding belief: “Come, Holy Spirit, consecrate, change, transform by thy almighty power the bread and wine into the body of Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, and in the blood which was shed for our salvation.” Even many of the early breakaway groups from the Catholic Church retained this central teaching in the real presence.

How could Jesus reasonably be present under the appearance of so many wafers and in so many churches at the same time?

Spatial and temporal limitations do not apply to God. We may not understand it, but Jesus, being God, is not locked exclusively into any one time or place. Such is the mystery of Christ after his resurrection and ascension.

What proof can be put forward in favor of the claim that Jesus remains in the hosts reserved in the Church tabernacle?

We have Jesus’ own words for this sacred trust. He says: “This is my body,” and he makes no move to turn the sacred elements back into bread. Therefore, as long as the appearances of bread are present, so is Jesus. In addition, we know that the first Christian believers carried the consecrated bread to the sick, to prisoners, and maintained it in valuable vases for later administration to those near death. This faith of the early Church is formative to what we have always maintained.

Does the body of Christ in Holy Communion suffer from human digestion?

No, only the outward appearances are subject to change. The body of Jesus is not touched.

Does the Bible say that Jesus will live in our hearts after communion?

Yes, we find the passage in St. John 6:56: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

Is it permissible only to believe that Jesus is somehow present in the bread, but not that it is actually transformed into his body?

No, it is not, if one wants to remain a true Catholic. Again, Jesus said: “This is my body.” We either believe in Jesus’ words or we do not. If it is not really changed into his body, then Jesus was lying to us. This would be absurd.

Is it idolatry to adore the communion bread?

If it were ordinary bread, adoration would indeed be idolatrous. However, since it is the body of Jesus, it is expected and proper.

Why do so many churches offer only the host and not the cup?

The pattern followed by the early Church is significant in that many received only the consecrated bread or only the precious blood. Further, the totality of Christ– body and blood, soul and divinity– is received whole and entire under either form. The practical consideration aside, which could be serious regarding excess consecrated wine, the priest’s communion of both species illustrates the unity of the host and the cup.

But, are not Catholics denying a direct command of Jesus in not drinking from the cup?

It should be said that many Catholic parishes do offer the precious blood to the congregation. However, large parishes often find it difficult. After all, unlike some of the Protestant parishes, our sensibilities about the real presence would cause a just anxiety about the use of hundreds of small thimble-sized cups. While Jesus did say “unless you eat my body . . . and unless you drink my blood”; he also said in the same chapter: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). Clearly, this means that eating this bread will give us a share in eternal life. This is elaborated by St. Paul: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27).

Is not every baptized believer a priest who can celebrate the Lord’s Supper?

No, baptismal priesthood and ministerial priesthood are quite different. The laity cannot consecrate the bread and wine. Only the apostles were commanded to do this by Jesus. Consequently, only their successors, the bishops and priests at Mass, are able to consecrate the bread and wine in the name of the people. As St. Paul tells us, the ministers are chosen by God to offer sacrifices for the people (Hebrews 5:1).

What are some of the practical reasons why the cup might not be offered?

  • The apostles themselves could not always administer it to the sick or imprisoned.
  • The danger of spillage is a real concern.
  • There is a great aversion to drinking from the same cup, especially with the sick.
  • Some places have difficulty procuring and preserving wine.
  • Alcoholics and certain others cannot drink it.
  • Because Jesus gave the Church authority to regulate such matters.