Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Eucharist Part II - Real Presence

This is a follow up to my first post on the Eucharist in which I dealt with the reverence of worship and specifically the breaking of bread. I was holding off on this half of the essay until whenever but today is very appropriate since we discussed the Eucharist in RCIA tonight. (Sunday's readings will be on the Eucharist). At first, I thought the real presence was going to be a stumbling block but I was wrong. In fact this has proven to be a great testimony to the truth of the Catholic Church.

I was utterly blown away the first time I read John 6 as a Catholic. I once watched a movie where the characters spoke with a thick Hispanic accent and intermingled both Spanish & English with lots of slang. My Japanese friend watched it with me later and she asked for subtitles to assist her with comprehension. It was only then that I realized how much of the movie I had been missing. I also realized that the human mind has a tendency to ignore what it does not understand. So you can watch something, not understand 30% of it (or more) and not even realize that you didn’t catch everything as long as you grasped the over all meaning. I was completely clueless to the fact that I wasn’t grasping everything. This is precisely what had happened to me with the bible; particularly passages dealing with the Eucharist like John chapter 6.

What many don’t realize, is that the belief in the ‘real presence’ is actually a very historical belief. The early fathers were virtually unanimous in this belief. Even many of the reformers believed it. Martin Luther believed so strongly in the real presence that he even punished by imprisonment (or worse) the heresy of rejecting it. However, Luther believed in consubstantiation instead of transubstantiation like the Catholics teach. That is to say, Christ is present along with the bread & wine as opposed to a transformation. Here are some quotes from the early church Fathers on the issue:

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, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible.

Take care then to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of his blood; one altar, as there is one bishop with the presbytery and my fellow servants, the deacons.

From Eucharist and prayer they hold aloof, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His loving-kindness raised from the dead.

- St. Ignatius of Antioch 110 AD

We call this food Eucharist; and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration, and is thereby living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread nor as 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 that incarnated Jesus.

- St. Justin Martyr 150 AD

Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from offering the things just mentioned. But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.

- St. Irenaeus of Lyons 165 AD

On the night he was betrayed out Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said: ``Take, eat: this is my body.'' He took the cup, gave thanks and said: ``Take, drink: this is my blood.'' Since Christ himself has declared the bread to be his body, who can have any further doubt? Since he himself has said quite categorically, This is my blood, who would dare to question and say that it is not his blood?

- St. Cyril of Jerusalem 350 AD

These are mere highlights of what the early fathers said on the subject. It would be quite easy to write a book on the subject (as I’m sure many have been written) due to the sheer number of writings dispelling this heresy. We see it appearing in the early church because of the many writings that the fathers wrote to refute it. It later came again in the 11th century(1) and finally with the Protestant reformation.

Consider the beauty of the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist:

The Eucharist is an outward sign of an inward grace instituted by Christ(2)

And where did Christ institute it? Refer back to John 6:25-60 but specifically verse 51:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

We are saved by grace through faith(3) as St. Paul later explained. Jesus prophesied here that the Eucharist will become an external means of receiving grace from God. This is precisely what the Catholic Church continues to teach to this day. Assuming for a moment that this isn’t the true meaning of the passage, I would have to confess I am utterly dumbfounded on the Scriptures and interpretations thereof.

Additionally, we talked in RCIA about how the Passover Feast was a prefiguration of the Eucharist. I have never considered that but it makes so much sense. Christ has become the new 'unblemished lamb' as it says in Hebrews. The significance is that they not only offered the lamb as a sacrifice, but they also ate the lamb as we now eat the body of the Lamb.

In the passage from John I mentioned above, the disciples were disturbed by what Jesus said. They even asked "how can we accept this teaching?". It must have seemed quite strange to them how they could feed on Christ's body and drink His blood.

Well now we know.


NotMyOpinion30 said...


Here is an extra writing from St. Cyprian of Carthage - Letter of Cyprian to a Certain Cecil A.D.250?:

Chapter 63, Paragraph 9:
"We find that the cup which the Lord offered was mixed; and that what was wine, He called Blood. From this it is apparent that the Blood of Christ is not offered if there is no wine in the cup; nor is the Sacrifice of the Lord celebrated with a legitimate consecration unless our offering and sacrifice corresponds to the passion... I wonder, indeed, whence this practice has come, that, contrary to evangelic and apostolic tradition, in certain places water alone, which cannot signify the Blood of Christ, is offered in the cup of the Lord."

I know it's not Peter himself talking, but it is now, and was then in the 3rd century and before, the mentality of the Church. This excerpt also makes the importance of Church Tradition clear which is rejected in the modern day where some people are using grape juice among other things for the Lord's Supper. Of course, not everyone does so deliberately. After all, I was ignorant of the Truth only a year ago. And am still ignorant of much of it. I can only pray that God will continue to reveal new things to me.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Thanks for the quote Joe! I hadn't read that one. Thanks for being involved in the forum too I appreciate your contributions.