“How come you Catholics worship a piece of bread? Don’t you know that idolatry is the worst sin of all? And yet you Catholics bow down and worship the bread used during the communion service—which, of course, is only symbolic—as if was God. The idea that the bread becomes the body of Christ is not biblical. Therefore, you are committing the terrible sin of idolatry. That’s why you’re not real Christians!”
Wow, have you ever been confronted with these questions by a friend or co-worker or, most zealous of all, a family member who USED to be Catholic? How do you respond? Is it really true that we Catholics worship a piece of bread?
The Eucharist is a central part of the Catholic faith. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Why would a piece of bread and a cup of wine be so important? Well, that’s simple. It’s because the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.
And the reason Catholics believe the bread and wine become the true Body and Blood of Christ also is simple: because Jesus said so.
Unlike what our zealous friends might claim, the doctrine of the Eucharist is VERY biblical. It’s one of the easiest Catholic doctrines to defend directly from Scripture. In John’s Gospel, chapter 6, Jesus offered His “Bread of Life discourse.” He repeatedly said that people must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Unlike other times during His ministry—when He spoke in figurative terms and was quick to explain the figurative meaning if His listeners got confused—here Jesus did not offer a figurative explanation for His shocking statements. He actually doubled-down and repeated in even more graphic terms His original claim: people must eat His flesh and drink His blood.
As folks in the crowd began to leave, shocked by what He said, Jesus did not say, “Wait, come back. Let me explain. It was just symbolic.” Instead, He let them leave, and then turned to His 12 apostles and defiantly challenged them: “Do you also want to leave?”
Good ol’ Peter spoke up in reply, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In all likelihood, Peter was probably thinking, “I’m staying, but what you just said makes no sense!”
Maybe it started to make some sense at the Last Supper, when Jesus held up bread and wine and said, “This is my body….This is my blood.”
It certainly made sense to the apostle Paul, who wrote about the Eucharistic ritual in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Is not the cup…a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” The clincher comes a few verses later when Paul exclaimed, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord….For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
“…without RECOGNIZING the body of the Lord…” That does not sound like symbolic, figure-of-speech language, does it? It sure sounds like St. Paul knew without a doubt that the bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Jesus.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, because it truly is Jesus. Our Lord proclaimed it, the apostles believed it, and the Bible clearly teaches it. And as Catholics, we should not be defensive about it.
Oh, and one last thing, in case you’re not sure: Catholics definitely ARE real Christians.