As I stated in my last blog, my sister Maria left the Church years ago. In the last blog I addressed the issues Maria had with infant baptism. In this blog I will deal with Maria’s number one problem with Catholicism: the Real Presence. This is the belief that Jesus Himself is really present under the appearances of bread and wine in the Eucharist. The two most frequently asked questions in regards to the Real Presence are:
1) Is there biblical proof for the Real Presence?
2) Is there evidence in the Church Fathers for belief in the Real Presence?
Biblical proof for the Real Presence abounds. We will primarily deal with two texts here. The first text to look at is John 6. In this chapter the Jews are questioning Jesus about Himself and His teachings. Finally they ask a sign of Jesus. Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven….” (Jn. 6:32)
When the Jews ask Jesus for this bread Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (Jn. 6:35)
The Jews are scandalized by this and ask how Jesus could have come down from heaven. Didn’t the Jews know Jesus’ mother and father? How could He have come down from heaven then? The Jews take Jesus literally, and what He says in response makes it clear that Jesus meant to be taken literally.
“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.” (Jn. 6:51)
There it is! Jesus is the bread from heaven, and we are directed to eat His flesh if we want to have eternal life. The word Jesus uses for “eat” in verse 51 of John’s gospel is “phago”. This word is translated as “eat” in English. The argument Protestants often make is that Jesus meant this metaphorically. There are two problems with this argument. One, Jesus clarifies Himself in such a way as to leave no doubt He was speaking literally. Two, Even Jesus’ own disciples understand Him literally.
The Jews argued among themselves saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (Jn. 6:52)
Here we see that even the Jews understood Jesus literally. Clearly they were on the right track, because Jesus confirms the Jews’ greatest fears! Jesus says, “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.” (Jn. 6:53-6)
In verse 53 Jesus again uses the word “phago” for “eat”. In verse 54, however, Jesus uses a different word for “eat”. The word used here is “tragon”. “Trago” (from which “tragon” is derived) means “to gnaw” or “munch”. So we have Jesus literally telling us to “gnaw” or “munch” His flesh and blood! For further evidence of this, we see the disciples of Jesus take Him literally!
“Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?'” (Jn. 6:60)
Jesus responds, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (Jn. 6:61-2)
The disciples of Jesus take Him literally, and He does nothing but confirm their thoughts! In fact, all but twelve of Jesus’ disciples abandon Him! (Jn. 6:66-8)
Now, if Jesus didn’t mean to be taken literally, why did He allow His own disciples to interpret His words that way? All Jesus had to say was, “Wait, you misunderstand! I don’t mean to literally eat my flesh and drink my blood! It’s a metaphor.”
But Jesus simply turns to His disciples, and He confirms that their literal interpretation is correct. Jesus really did mean for us to “gnaw” His flesh and drink His blood. Further confirmation of this fact is given by St. Paul. Paul says, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or 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.” (1 Cor. 11:27-9)
What St. Paul uses here is the language of homicide. He says that anyone who unworthily partakes of the Eucharist is guilty of the death of Jesus. Now, I ask you, if the bread and wine were merely symbolic, how could we be guilty of homicide (really, deicide, since Jesus is God) by receiving the Eucharist unworthily? Disrespecting a symbol is not the same as murder. The only way Paul’s homicidal language in 1 Corinthians 11:27-9 makes sense is if the bread and wine really are the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ! In other words, Jesus must really be present in the Most Holy Eucharist!
I would also like to point out Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. He doesn’t say, “This is a symbol of my body….This is a symbol of my blood.”
St. Paul (and three of the gospels) quote Jesus as saying, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me….This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink of it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor. 11:24-5. See also Lk. 22:19-20; Mk. 14:22-5; Mt. 26:26-9) The fact is, Jesus is present in the Eucharist; and this can be proven from Scripture. What about the Church Fathers?
There is abundant evidence among the Church Fathers for belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I will use only a few examples, as these should suffice to put the issue to rest. The first example comes from St. Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Romans (c. A.D. 110). (It should be noted that all the quotations I shall use from the Church Fathers comes from William A. Jurgens’: The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 1 (The Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 1970).)
“I have no desire for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the Bread of God, which is the Flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire His Blood, which is love incorruptible.” (No. 54a, p. 22)
In his Letter to the Philadelphians (c. A.D. 110), St. Ignatius of Antioch again refers to the bread wine as the body and blood of Jesus Christ. (Jurgens, no. 56, pg. 22) He does the same in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans. (Ibid., no. 64, pg. 25) As one can see from the dating of these letters, this was very early in the Church’s history. What is more, when these letters are read, one gets the impression that belief in the Real Presence was already considered old. It appears as if St. Ignatius just assumes that all true believers will accept the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist!
The dates of St. Ignatius’ letters are so early and clear that no further evidence is required. Yet, i would like to give just one more example. This one comes from the First Apology of St. Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 155). In the quotation I will use, St. Justin is speaking of the Eucharist. He says, “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 which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our flesh and blood is nourished, is both the flesh and blood of this incarnated Jesus.” (Jurgens, no. 128, p. 55)
St. Justin Martyr addressed his First Apology to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius. Written toward the middle of the second century, it is further evidence for belief in the Real Presence. St. Justin wrote this to refute the claim made by pagans that Christians were cannibals. Indeed, we are not cannibals. We do not kill Jesus, and consume His body and blood. The Eucharist is not Jesus dying again.
The Eucharist is a “making present” of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. It is what the Jews called “anamnesis”. Some people claim this is nothing more than a commemoration of the First Passover celebrated by Moses and the Hebrews in Egypt. This, however, is incorrect. Orthodox Jews still understand (as Jews of the Old Testament and New Testament understood) that “anamnesis” is more than a commemoration of Passover.
“Anamnesis” is what some might call a “mystical process”. God is infinite. As such, He does not experience time. God is all-present. This means that He lives in an eternal present. God has no past or future. There is no yesterday or tomorrow with God. There is only a now. So Orhodox Jews understand that when they celebrate the Passover here in 2013, they are celebrating it at the exact same time as Moses celebrated the First Passover with the Hebrews in Egypt!
So it is with the Eucharist. When we celebrate Holy Eucharist, Jesus is not re-sacrificed! We are uniting ourselves to His sacrifice on the cross. In other words, every time the Eucharist is celebrated, it is done so at the exact same time as Jesus died on the cross. What a wonderful gift from Our Lord!
So we see that Catholics are not cannibals. Jesus is God. During the Last Supper, He changed the bread and wine into His body, blood, soul, and divinity by the same act as we do today: anamnesis! Though in the “order of time” Jesus’ sacrifice was in the future, He-as God-was able to make His sacrifice present in the upper room with the Apostles. Now, Jesus has a glorified body. As God, He is able to be at every Mass everywhere. He turns all the bread and wine all over the world into His body and blood. And this is done at the exact same time as He offered and shed His blood on the cross for us almost 2000 years ago on Calvary!
Instead of questioning the Eucharist, we should cherish it. Praised be Jesus Christ for the great gift of His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist! Blessed be God forever!
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity