The Eucharist


1. Why do Catholics believe Jesus is really present at Mass under the appearances of bread and wine?

Because that's what the Bible teaches. It says the bread is "a participation in the body of Christ," and the wine a participation in His blood. (1 Cor. 10:16) It says that if anyone eats or drinks the bread or the cup of the Lord, and doesn't discern His body, that they drink condemnation to their self. (1 Cor. 11:27) Jesus at the First Eucharist said directly: "This is my body," referring to the bread, and "This is my blood," referring to the wine (Matthew 26:26-28). So we believe that it is His body and blood, and only appears to be bread and wine. When talking to the Jews about the bread that He would give for the life of the world, Jesus said it would be His flesh, and that it would have to be eaten, and His blood drunk. (John 6:51-54) And when they wondered what that meant, He said, "My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink." (John 6:55) It would be impossible for Him to have been more clear about this issue: the bread and wine of the Eucharist are bread and wine in appearance only, and are really His Body and Blood.

2. "This is my Body," "This is my Blood" -- Isn't that all just symbolic stuff?

No, and here's why: because in the several times that He talked about this, He said certain things that identify His statements as being literal, not symbolic. I'll give you several examples. When He said that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood to be saved, He corrected those who thought He might be speaking symbolically. The Jews had wondered and said, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" And He answered, "My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink." This is a direct clarification on how He meant it, and He clarifies that the true understanding is that His flesh must be eaten and His blood must be drunk, which is just what the Jews were beginning to think He meant.

Another example is this: at the Last Supper, when He held up the cup and said the wine was His blood, He went on, "It shall be poured out for you [for the forgiveness of sins]." (Luke 22:20) We would expect this to refer to His blood, but the grammar of this sentence in Greek shows that it refers to the contents of the cup. And this shows us that He intended us to realize that the cup and the sacrifice of His blood are the same. This clarifies what He means by calling the wine His blood: it is His blood in such a way that He can say, instead of "my blood will be poured out for your sins," "this cup will be poured out for your sins." They point to one another because they are the same offering, the same substance (His blood) being offered.

And finally I have a third example. When St. Paul was talking about the Eucharist and how Jesus called it His body and blood, he said, "Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord." (1 Cor. 11:27) This is a God-written commentary on what Jesus meant. And it shows us that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, because by offending it you are made guilty of Jesus' body and blood. I am not guilty of the death of my friend if I burn up an image of him or a symbol; but if I violate the dignity of the Eucharistic bread and wine, I am guilty of an offense against Jesus' body and blood. Thus St. Paul shows that Jesus is really present there in a way that is not true of a symbol.

3. Jesus said "I am the vine," and "I am the door" symbolically -- "This is my body" is the same thing.

They are not the same thing, because different things are said about them and we can use those things to separate literal meaning from figurative meaning. Figurative statements are characterized by the context showing the parallels between the figure and the thing it refers to. Thus Jesus said "I am the door" and immediately explained the parallel He intended: because we don't get into heaven except through Him. And it is the same with the vine: because we grow and bear fruit by our connection to Jesus just as a vine-branch grows and bears fruit by connection to the vine. But with the Eucharist it is different. The Eucharist has a context each time it is talked about that shows a direct identification between it and Jesus' body and blood (see question 2). There are statements in and around these passages that clearly indicate that they are literal. And so by careful reading of Scripture and applying good sense to it, we can come to a good awareness of what is figurative and what is literal, and the Eucharist belongs in the second class. And so we believe it is.

4. Jesus said "My words are spirit and life." He was speaking symbolically. John 6:63.

Those words do not mean that He was speaking symbolically. "Spirit and life" are terms that signify something's importance, not whether or not it is literal. In fact, the sentence "my words are spirit and life" could be said about any of Jesus' teachings, because all of His teachings are expressions of His Spirit and are life for our souls. To say His words are spirit and life means they need to be believed. It does not mean they are symbolic but that they are important.

5. Jesus said "Do this in memory of me." He is not actually present, He is remembered. Luke 22:19.

He can be both. The way Catholics look at it, He is present but unseen, and thus, the knowledge of His presence has to be mental rather than visual. And that's how we understand that we have to remember His sacrifice even though He is present right there. But there's something more I want to point out, and that's this: the word for "Do" in this passage represents causing or effecting something, and was used by the Jews as one of the words for offering, as in offering a sacrifice. And the word for "memory" is anamnesis, which was used by the Jews for memorial ceremonies that involved sacrificial acts. In other words, by saying "Do this in memory of me" Jesus is indicating that the Eucharist is His Sacrifice: the sacrifice of His body and blood. And so, contrary to meaning Jesus is *not* present, "Do this in memory" means He is, in the Sacrificial offering of His body and blood at Catholic churches all over the world!

6. Eating Jesus' Body and Blood would be cannibalism.

Not if you understand the matter correctly. Cannibalism involves eating a person's body, yes, but it involves more than that. When you cannibalize someone you do physical damage to their body, but in the Eucharist Jesus' body isn't harmed, and the reason why is this: eating the Eucharistic host and drinking from the cup makes things happen to the physical properties of the Eucharistic elements, but the physical properties are all those of bread and wine and none of a person's body. It's missing a critical part of cannibalism in another way, too: the nutrients of a person's body aren't taken in and used by your own body. Instead, nutrients that really are ordinarily proper only to bread and wine are taken in and assimilated as they ordinarily would be, and the only difference is that these nutrients and their physical structure were adopted by God for His own substantial presence, and the "breadness" of them was replaced by the presence of Jesus Christ.

7. If it's really Jesus' Body and Blood, let a scientist test it, and see what it is!

We know exactly what a scientist would find out if he tested it, and that's that it has all the properties and characteristics of bread and wine. But that wouldn't disprove our doctrine -- our doctrine says that's true! A scientist couldn't tell you whether Jesus took on all these properties or not, he would only be able to report what these properties are, and our doctrine says that the properties haven't changed from those of bread and wine. So if that's what he said they are, that makes sense since that's our doctrine. But what we say is that underneath those properties is a God who makes Himself bread, to all appearances, so that we can receive Him into ourselves in a distinctly human way. And that is something a scientist could not disprove, since Jesus said it.

8. It can't be Jesus' Body and Blood because it looks and tastes and smells like bread and wine.

Then it is Jesus' body and blood with the appearance and taste and smell of bread and wine. Why do you say that is impossible? There are stories in the Bible of angels who took on the look and the voices of men; why is it that Jesus can't take on the look and taste of bread, if He says that He did? Because remember, it was Jesus who took bread, with all of its smells and tastes and appearances, and said it was His Body without changing what it looks like. So why not try believing what Jesus said happened, and accept that this food is His body, and this drink is His blood?

9. The doctrine of the Real Presence violates reason, the five senses, and Scripture.

Well let's go through those in order. Reason says that you should believe something that God said was true, and it was God who took bread and wine and said "This is my body" -- "This is my blood." The five senses should confirm for you half of our doctrine, which is that this bread and wine, though changed, retains bread and wine's appearance. And as for Scripture, that repeats our doctrine again and again and answers those who say it can't be true. It is on our side 100%, and you who claim to believe it should be the first to believe in the Eucharist.

10. Jesus never mentioned "accidents and substance." You corrupt the pure Gospel with Greek philosophy.

Accidents is just an old word for a thing's physical properties, and substance just means what something is. These aren't Greek concepts, they are obvious everyday experiences. And no, Jesus didn't describe the Eucharist in this way, but He did take something that had the physical properties of bread and was bread for a time, and gave it to us saying "This is my body," and did the same with the cup of wine. So the elements of our doctrine are all there: something with the properties, or "accidents" as people used to call them, of bread and wine, but which was actually His body and blood (the substance). You don't need to know an iota of Greek philosophy to understand that.