Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Monday, June 06, 2005

All these dimensions of the Eucharist come together in one aspect which more than any other makes a demand on our faith: the mystery of the “real” presence....The Eucharist is a mystery of presence, the perfect fulfilment of Jesus' promise to remain with us until the end of the world.
Pope John Paul II, Mane Nobiscum Domine #16.

As a child, I learned a simple, but insightful little rhyme. It went “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” The message is although something seems small, it can be the key to the grandest things. The same applies to the Holy Eucharist.

As the heart of the Church’s assertions concerning the Sacrament and the Holy Mass, there lies a simple nail holding everything in place: the Real Presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Without the Real Presence, the Mass ceases to be a re-presentation of Calvary. It ceases to be an anticipation of the Heavenly Jerusalem. It ceases to be the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to remain with us throughout our earthly pilgrimage.

The Church professes that under the appearance of bread and wine, the whole Christ is present, His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. This presence is not merely symbolic as though it were recalling an idea. Rather, Christ is truly, really, and substantially present through a change in the essence or substance of the bread and the wine. After the words of consecration, nothing remains of the substance of bread and wine; these substances, the things which make bread and wine what they are, are completely converted into the Substances of Christ. This change is called Transubstantiation. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we do not receive bread and wine at Mass. We receive the Flesh and Blood of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ (cf. CCC #1374-1377).

The Sacred Scriptures are loaded with instances relevant to the Most Blessed Sacrament. In the Old Testament, we can point to the following instances. Genesis 14:18-19 recounts the blessing of Abraham by the priest Melchizedek. The act of blessing involved the use of bread and wine, possibly as a sacrificial gift unto God. Exodus 12 gives the basic narrative concerns the institution of the Passover supper. Along with a roasted lamb that had been sacrificed, the meal was to be eaten with unleavened bread. The bread symbolized the haste with which the people of Israel left Egypt, thus making it a symbol of God’s deliverance. Exodus 16 tells how God fed his chosen people while they wandered in the desert. In addition to quail, the Lord provides a mysterious bread that the people call manna. This is particularly important because in John 6, Jesus describes Himself as the bread come down from Heaven, making an explicit connection between Himself and the manna. Lastly, Leviticus 24:3-9 mentions how in the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, the priests were to keep 12 loaves of bread before the Lord. This bread was called the Bread of Presence or the Show Bread. Through these loaves, the idea was that God would remember the Twelve and bless them.

The New Testament, unsurprisingly, is not wanting for comments on the Blessed Sacrament as well. In the Gospels of St. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we are given the account of the institution of the Holy Eucharist. In each case, Jesus institutes this sacrament with the words, “This is my Body...This is my Blood” (Mt.26:26-29, Mk. 14:22-25, Lk. 22:19-20) Notice that He doesn’t say “This represents my body” or “This is a symbol of my Body.” St. John sets aside an entire discourse on this matter. In chapter six, we see Jesus affirm that he will give the people his own flesh to eat. Rightly, this provokes a response of revulsion and confusion from his listeners. The prospect proposed revolted his hearers so much that some left His company. Interestingly, Jesus never stops those who leave his company. He never says, “Oh, wait, I was speaking figuratively.” The brutal truth is having life in Christ requires eating His flesh and drinking His blood. The Most Blessed Sacrament fulfills this obligation most perfectly.

What does that mean for our reception of the Most Blessed Sacrament? St. Paul has something interesting to say on that point. In first Corinthians, St. Paul repeats the same tradition concerning the Last Supper that St. Matthew, Mark, and Luke relate (I Corinthians 11:23-26). Then he adds this comment: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord...For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (I Corinthians 11:27,29). If the Holy Eucharist is only a symbol, why does St. Paul demand that proper reception of the Eucharist includes “discerning the body”? There is only one way for this passage to make sense: St. Paul believes that when he celebrates the Holy Mass and receives the Sacrament of the Altar, he is not receiving a symbol. Instead, he received His same Lord who died and rose for the sake of St. Paul’s salvation. This is the reality that continues in every Mass that is celebrated.

Without the Real Presence, our Christian worship is nothing more than play acting. It is in the Real Presence that we taste now what the future might hold. Because it is truly Christ present under the appearances of bread and wine, we receive a pledge of a place in the Heavenly Banquet.


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