IF we seek Jesus, the Beloved, we should seek Him where He is. And where He is, is there, on the altars of His Church. Why then is He not surrounded by thousands of believers every day in the Masses said throughout the world? Is it because even we Catholics no longer believe that His Body is Real Food and His Blood, Real Presence?
It was the most controversial thing He ever said during His three year ministry. So controversial that, even today, there are millions of Christians throughout the world who, though they profess Him as Lord, do not accept His teaching on the Eucharist. And so, I’m going to lay out His words here, clearly, and then conclude by showing that what He taught is what the early Christians believed and professed, what the early Church handed on, and what the Catholic Church, therefore, continues to teach 2000 years later.
I encourage you, whether you’re a faithful Catholic, a Protestant, or whomever, to take this little journey with me to stoke the fires of your love, or to find Jesus for the first time where He is. Because at the end of this, there is no other conclusion to be had… He is Real Food, Real Presence among us.
JESUS: REAL FOOD
In the Gospel of John, the day after Jesus had fed thousands through the multiplication of loaves and then walked on water, He was about to give some of them indigestion.
Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you… (John 6:27)
And then He said:
…the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life…”(John 6:32-34)
Ah, what a lovely metaphor, what a superb symbol! At least it was—until Jesus shocked their senses with the following words.
The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. (v. 51)
Wait a minute. “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”, they asked among themselves. Was Jesus implying a new religion of… cannibalism? No, He wasn’t. But His next words hardly set them at ease.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. (v. 54)
The Greek word used here, τρώγων (trōgō), means to literally “gnaw or chew.” And if that wasn’t enough to convince them of His literal intentions, He continued:
For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. (v. 55)
Read that again. His flesh is ἀληθῶς, or “truly” food; His blood is ἀληθῶς, or “truly” drink. And so He continued…
…the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. (v. 57)
τρώγων or trōgōn—literally “feeds.” Not surprisingly, His own apostles finally said “This saying is hard.” Others, not in His inner circle, didn’t wait around for a reply.
As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. (John 6:66)
But how on earth could His followers “eat” and “feed” on Him?
JESUS: REAL SACRIFICE
The answer came on the night that He was betrayed. In the Upper Room, Jesus looked into the eyes of His Apostles and said,
I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer… (Luke 22:15)
Those were loaded words. Because we know that during Passover in the Old Testament, the Israelites ate a lamb and marked their doorposts with its blood. In this way, they were saved from the angel of death, the Destroyer who “passed over” the Egyptians. But it was not just any lamb…
…it shall be a lamb without blemish, a male… (Exodus 12:5)
Now, at the Last Supper, Jesus takes the place of the lamb, thereby fulfilling the prophetic announcement of John the Baptist three years earlier…
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)
…a Lamb who will save people from eternal death—an unblemished Lamb:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15)
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain. (Rev 5:12)
Now, most notably, the Israelites were to commemorate this Passover with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Moses called it a zikrôwn or a “memorial” cf. Exodus 12:14. And so, at the Last Supper, Jesus…
…took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” (Luke 22:19)
The Lamb now offers Himself in the species of unleavened bread. But what is it a memorial of?
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt 26:27-28)
Here, we see that the memorial Supper of the Lamb is intrinsically linked to the Cross. It is a memorial of His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed… he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (1 Cor 5:7; Heb 9:12)
St. Cyprian called the Eucharist “The Sacrament of the Sacrifice of the Lord.” Thus, whenever we “remember” Christ’s sacrifice in the way that He taught us—“do this in memory of me”—we are making present again in an unbloody way the bloody Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross who died once and for all:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26)
As Church Father Aphraates the Persian Sage (c. 280 – 345 A.D.) wrote:
After having spoken thus [“This is My body…This is My blood”], the Lord rose up from the place where He had made the Passover and had given His Body as food and His Blood as drink, and He went with His disciples to the place where He was to be arrested. But He ate of His own Body and drank of His own Blood, while He was pondering on the dead. With His own hands the Lord presented His own Body to be eaten, and before He was crucified He gave His blood as drink… —Treatises 12:6
The Israelites called the unleavened bread for Passover “the bread of affliction.” Deut 16:3 But, under the New Covenant, Jesus calls It “the bread of life.” The reason is this: through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection—through His affliction—Jesus’ Blood makes atonement for the sins of the world—He literally brings life. This was foreshadowed under the Old Law when the Lord told Moses…
…since the life of the flesh is in the blood… I have given it to you to make atonement on the altar for yourselves, because it is the blood as life that makes atonement. (Leviticus 17:11)
And so, the Israelites would sacrifice animals and then be sprinkled with their blood in order to “cleanse” them of sin; but this cleansing was only a kind of stand-in, an “atonement”; it didn’t cleanse their consciences nor restore the purity of their spirit, corrupted by sin. How could it? The spirit is a spiritual matter! And therefore, the people were doomed to be eternally separated from God after their deaths, because God could not unite their spirits to His: He could not join that which is unholy to His holiness. And so, the Lord promised them, that is, made a “covenant” with them:
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you… I will put my Spirit within you… (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
So all the animal sacrifices, the unleavened bread, the Passover lamb… were but symbols and shadows of the real transformation that would come through the Blood of Jesus—the “blood of God”—who alone can take away sin and its spiritual consequences.
…since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near. (Heb 10:1)
An animal’s blood cannot heal my soul. But now, through Jesus’ Blood, there is a…
…new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh… For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance. (Heb 10:20; 9:13-15)
How do we receive this eternal inheritance? Jesus was clear:
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. (John 6:54)
The question, then, is are you eating and drinking this Gift of God?
JESUS: REAL PRESENCE
To recap: Jesus said that He is the “bread of life”; that this Bread is His “flesh”; that His flesh is “true food”; that we should “take and eat it”; and that we should do this “in memory” of Him. So too of His Precious Blood. Nor was this to be a one time event, but a recurring event in the life of the Church—“as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup”, said St. Paul.
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor 11:23-25)
So, whenever we repeat Christ’s actions in the Mass, Jesus becomes fully present to us, “Body, Blood, soul and divinity” under the species of bread of wine. “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” —Council of Trent, 1551; CCC n. 1376 In this way, the New Covenant is constantly renewed in us, who are sinners, for He is really present in the Eucharist. As St. Paul said without apology:
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? (1 For 10:16)
From the very beginning of Christ’s life, His desire to give Himself to us in such a personal, real and intimate way was expressed right from the womb. In the Old Testament, besides the Ten Commandments and the rod of Aaron, the Ark of the Covenant contained a jar of “manna”, the “bread from Heaven” with which God fed the Israelites in the desert. In the New Testament, Mary is the “Ark of the New Covenant”.
Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the ark of the covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells. She is “the dwelling of God… with men.” —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2676
She carried within her the Logos, the Word of God; the King who would “rule the nations with an iron rod”;cf ,Rev 19:15 and the One who would become the “bread of life.” Indeed, He was to be born in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread.”
The whole of Jesus’ life was to offer Himself for us on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins and the restoration of our hearts. But then, it was also to make that offering and Sacrifice present over and over again until the end of time. For as He Himself promised,
Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.. (Matt 28:20)
This Real Presence is contained in the Eucharist on the altars and in the Tabernacles of the world.
- … He wanted to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit. —Council of Trent, n. 1562
That Jesus’ presence to us is Real in the Eucharist is not the fabrication of some pope or the imaginings of a wayward council. It is the words of Our Lord himself. And hence, it is rightly said that…
The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.” —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1324
But in order to show that this interpretation of the Gospel is what the Church has always believed and taught, and is the correct one, I include below some of the earliest records of the Church Fathers in this regard. For as St. Paul said:
I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you. (1 Corinthians 11:2)
St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110 A.D.)
I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the Bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ… —Letter to the Romans, 7:3
They [i.e. the Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. —Letter to Smyrnians, 7:1
St. Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 A.D.)
…as we have been taught, the food which 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 nourished, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus. —First Apology, 66
St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 140 – 202 A.D.)
He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be His own Blood, from which He causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, He has established as His own Body, from which He gives increase to our bodies… the Eucharist, which is the Body and Blood of Christ. —Against Heresies, 5:2:2-3
Origen (c. 185 – 254 A.D.)
You see how the altars are no longer sprinkled with the blood of oxen, but consecrated by the Precious Blood of Christ. —Homilies on Joshua, 2:1
…now, however, in full view, there is the true food, the flesh of the Word of God, as He Himself says: “My flesh is truly food, and My blood is truly drink. —Homilies on Numbers, 7:2
St. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200 – 258 A.D.)
He Himself warns us, saying, “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.” Therefore do we ask that our Bread, which is Christ, be given to us daily, so that we who abide and live in Christ may not withdraw from His sanctification and from His Body. —The Lord’s Prayer, 18
St. Ephraim (c. 306 – 373 A.D.)
Our Lord Jesus took in His hands what in the beginning was only bread; and He blessed it… He called the bread His living Body, and did Himself fill it with Himself and the Spirit… Do not now regard as bread that which I have given you; but take, eat this Bread [of life], and do not scatter the crumbs; for what I have called My Body, that it is indeed. One particle from its crumbs is able to sanctify thousands and thousands, and is sufficient to afford life to those who eat of it. Take, eat, entertaining no doubt of faith, because this is My Body, and whoever eats it in belief eats in it Fire and Spirit. But if any doubter eat of it, for him it will be only bread. And whoever eats in belief the Bread made holy in My name, if he be pure, he will be preserved in his purity; and if he be a sinner, he will be forgiven.” But if anyone despise it or reject it or treat it with ignominy, it may be taken as a certainty that he treats with ignominy the Son, who called it and actually made it to be His Body. —Homilies, 4:4; 4:6
“As you have seen Me do, do you also in My memory. Whenever you are gathered together in My name in Churches everywhere, do what I have done, in memory of Me. Eat My Body, and drink My Blood, a covenant new and old.” —Ibid., 4:6
St. Athanasius (c. 295 – 373 A.D.)
This bread and this wine, so long as the prayers and supplications have not taken place, remain simply what they are. But after the great prayers and holy supplications have been sent forth, the Word comes down into the bread and wine—and thus is His Body confected. —Sermon to the Newly Baptized, from Eutyches
To read more Church Fathers’ words on the Eucharist during the first five centuries, see therealpresence.org.
Resource for First Communicants: myfirstholycommunion.com
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|↑1||cf. Exodus 12:14|
|↑3||“Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” —Council of Trent, 1551; CCC n. 1376|
|↑4||cf ,Rev 19:15|