Q&A The Eucharist
Isn't the Eucharist just symbolic, since Jesus could only sacrifice himself once?
First of all, up to the 16th century virtually all Christians believed that the bread and wine truly becomes the body and blood of Christ. That’s a long time. The largest and oldest Christian Church still does—as do the Orthodox churches. So there has to be something credible about it.
It is true that for the Jews, consuming blood was an abomination. Scripture tells us that many of the disciples of Jesus could not accept this and from that point on did not follow him (Jn 6:66), but not all of them. “Then Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God’” (Jn 6:67-69). These disciples did accept what he said—not because they understood, but because they believed in him.
If Jesus were merely speaking symbolically, he could easily have called the other disciples back and explained that he wasn’t speaking literally. He did not. Jesus, we believe, is God. It boggles the mind that God loves his creatures so much that he became one of them, and then allowed them to torture him and put him to death for their benefit. The moment in which he died covers every person who lived on this earth before Good Friday and everyone who was to live after it. It transcends time.
The Church and everything about it is incarnational because Jesus became incarnate. He used water and spittle and bread and wine and his own body and blood to minister to those who needed him. Since Jesus is God, if he said that the bread and wine becomes his body and blood, then those who acknowledge his divinity should have no difficulty believing it to be true because, like the Twelve, they believe in him. It is certainly no more extraordinary than his Incarnation!
Since the moment of his death transcends time, to celebrate it in time is not to create another Passion and death; it is to worship him in that very Passion here and now in the concrete manner of his devising.
Can the cannibalism charge be true?
Your question unnecessarily posits a conflict between a supernatural presence and a substantial one. Jesus is both substantially present (bread and wine really become his body and blood) and supernaturally present (transubstantiation occurs by the supernatural action of God; the accidents of bread and wine remain without the substances of bread and wine).
In consuming the eucharistic elements, the physical mechanisms of eating injure only the accidents of bread and wine. The process of consuming the host doesn't involve ripping and tearing Christ's body, despite its substantial presence. This is why the charge of cannibalism won't work.
We can still say Christ's flesh and blood are consumed sacramentally in Holy Communion because what is eaten is literally his body and blood, even if the physical action of eating affects only the accidents of bread and wine.
The above Q&A’s are published by CatholicAnswers www.catholic.com
What did the early Church Fathers believe about the Eucharist?
Here are a few excerpts from the early Church Fathers that demonstrate their agreement on this issue:
- Ignatius of Antioch, A.D. 110—“[Heretics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.”
- Justin Martyr, A.D. 151—“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 nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.”
- Irenaeus, A.D. 1889—“If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be is body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?”
- Origen, A.D. 248—“Formerly, in an obscure way, there was manna for food; now, however, in full view, there is the true food, the flesh of the Word of God, as he himself says: ‘My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink’ [John 6:55].”
Have there been miracles involving the Eucharist?
Although there have been no miracles involving the Eucharist that the Church has required Catholics to believe as articles of faith, there have been several reports of miracles that the Church has investigated and deemed appropriate for Catholics to accept. Here are just a few of them:
- Lanciano, Italy, 8th century: During Mass, the consecrated bread and wine became actual flesh and blood. The host and globules of blood were preserved and are on display to tis very day. A team of researchers in the 1970s and ‘80s examined the host and determined that the flesh came from a human heart and the blood was type AB.
- Bolsena-Orvieta, Italy, 1263: A German priest named Peter of Prague was struggling with the doctrine of transubstantiation when suddenly, while he was saying Mass, blood slowly began to emerge from the host at the moment of consecration. Pope Urban IV called for an investigation into the matter and declared it to be authentic. He later commissioned St. Thomas Aquinas to compose both the Office for the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours for a feast called Corpus Christi, which would be dedicated to the Eucharist. Even today, during the feast of Corpus Christi the cathedral in Orvieto exposes the linen stained with the blood from the host held by Peter of Prague.
- Avignon, France, 1433: After several days of heavy rain, the entire city of Avignon was flooded—except for a path leading into the church where the Eucharist was being kept for perpetual adoration. The religious brothers who run the small church still celebrate this miracle by exposing the sacrament and singing a chant from the Canticle of Moses, which was originally sung when God miraculously kept the waters of the Red Sea at bay during the Exodus.
- Eten, Peru, 1649: Fr. Jerome Silva saw an image of a child on the Eucharistic host, and an apparition of the divine child Jesus was also reported to have appeared to several people. This miracle is celebrated in Eten every year on July 12.
- Trivandrum, India, 2001: Fr. Johnson Karoor saw three dots and later a human face on the Eucharist while he was saying Mass. In an interview, Fr. Karoor said, “I didn’t have the strength to speak anything to the faithful. I stood aside for some time. I couldn’t control my tears. We had the practice of reading Scripture and reflecting on it during adoration. The passage that I got that day as I opened the Bible was John 20:24-29, Jesus appearing to St. Thomas and asking him to see his wounds.”
Finally, it is important to remember that at every Mass a miracle occurs even if we can’t perceive it. That’s because after Consecration the substance of the bread and wine ceases to exist and is placed with the substance of Christ’s body and blood.
The last two questions are adapted from a Q&A published by Catholic Answers “20 Answers: The Eucharist” (San Diego: Catholic Answers, 2016) www.catholic.com