The True Presence of the Eucharist can be one of the hardest things to accept. I mean you look at it and it looks like a mere piece of bread - a flattened one at that. You taste it and it tastes like it needs some seasoning or butter. You smell it and – okay, I don’t think I ever smelled it before, but I can imagine it smelling like a mild grain. You listen to it, and you don’t hear Jesus speaking to you, but the silence you would expect to hear from, well, a piece of bread. How then could that Eucharist possibly be Jesus? Is this Eucharist really that important? And when did this practice of the Eucharist even start?
I think the best place to begin answering these questions is to start with the good old Bible. There are so many references to the Eucharist that I will have to limit myself, but know that the Bible is filled with references of the Eucharist. We will first start at the famous chapter of John 6 – the Bread of Life Discourse. Here we have a very large crowd following Jesus that began questioning Him. Jesus replies:
“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 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.”
The disciples started arguing among themselves saying things like, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” Jesus then repeats Himself with more emphasis.
“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.”
After this, the disciples understood, but said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” I don’t know about you, but I think I would have been among those disciples. I mean this, what appears to be, mere man wants us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. He even uses the Greek term “trogo” for eat, which means to literally “gnaw”. Thousands of His followers left Him after that, and you get the impression that the only ones who stayed were the twelve apostles. Jesus did not call them back and say, “Hey guys, I was only kidding.” He meant all of it.
Later in the Bible, after Jesus had risen from the dead, we have many different letters written by the disciple Paul. In 1 Corinthians 10:16, we have Paul reiterating what Jesus had said. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” When Jesus said during the famous Last Supper, “This is my body…” and “This is my blood…”, He was not being symbolic. The bread and wine that the priest consecrates is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. And it is so important that we must be without mortal sin to partake in it. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29,
“Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
If it were just your average bread and wine, why would you need to eat it without sin? We can also see the importance of the Body of Christ in another part of scripture. Here Jesus had died and they had just discovered His tomb to be empty. Two disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus discussing all that had happened to Jesus when they run into Jesus Himself. Now you would think that they would recognize who He was immediately. I mean wouldn’t the holes in His hands and feet be a dead giveaway? He even talked to them about scriptures, but it wasn’t until they invited Him into their house and began breaking bread that their eyes were opened.
“And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight… Then the two recounted [to the apostles] what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:30-31;35)
Early Christian Evidence
So if it is so obvious that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ and that it is very important, why are there so many people that interpret the scriptures otherwise? Well, I think a good way to further look into the correct interpretation is to delve into the Church Fathers/Early Christians – the people that lived shortly after Jesus rose. Wouldn’t they have the best insight on what Jesus intended?
Well it turns out that many people that have read the Church Father’s works have converted to Catholicism. The Eucharist is unmistakably the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. The Didache (full translation meaning The Teaching of the Lord Through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles)written in about 70 A.D., around the same time the gospels were written, uses the term “Eucharist”. Eucharist comes from the Greek word “eucharistia” which means “thanksgiving”. You can see this term being used in some of the references to the Body and Blood of Christ in the Bible. It states in the Didache chapter 9, “But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.” In the Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6-7 written by St. Ignatius of Antioch (a disciple of the apostle John) in 110 A.D., we see another reference:
“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ, which have come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God… They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh that suffered for our sins and that the Father, in his goodness, raised up again.”
In that passage you notice that people were considered heretics if they did not believe that the Eucharist was the flesh of the Lord. A little later we see St. Justin Martyr in his First Apology 66 written in 151 A.D. talk about the Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ:
“For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food that has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.”
It is clear reading the Early Christian’s works that they interpreted what Jesus had said as meaning to be truly the Flesh and Blood of Him – and that was just a few of the many quotes. Not only did Jesus leave us the Bible and the Church Father’s works, He has also performed miracles to show us the Truth. There has been many Eucharistic miracles throughout the centuries. One of the most popular is from Italy when, after the priest consecrated the host, they found the bread and wine to be actually human flesh and blood. After a scientific investigation, they found the flesh was part of someone’s heart and the blood was type AB which is thought to be Jesus’ blood type. There have also been a miracle in another part of Italy where blood started to flow from the Eucharist (Eucharistic Miracles). There are also reports of many people in this generation that see the Eucharist glow during Adoration.
So although the Eucharist may taste, smell, and look like a mere piece of bread, once it is consecrated, it is truly the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. How great is the Catholic Church to have the Real Presence of the Lord! Jesus died for our sins, but He also died to give us this New Covenant – the Eucharist. He doesn’t want us to eat of it during just the holidays, but he wants us to partake of the Eucharist at least once a week. It feeds us spiritually and gives us strength. As Jesus said, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:53).
"Eucharistic Miracles." The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association. Web. 18 July 2015. <http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/a3.html>.