For nearly 2,000 years, the Church has taught that bread and wine consecrated during Mass become the actual body and blood of Jesus. However, almost half of Catholics polled believe she teaches they are merely symbols of the body and blood of Christ.
“(People ask) ‘How can God’s body be available to me? How can this bread be God’s body?” he said. “I think the answer is—Jesus himself says it is.”
From the first days of the Church, Christians have celebrated the Lord’s Supper as Jesus instituted it on Holy Thursday, when he took the bread, blessed it, broke it and said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 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” (Mt 26:27-28).
“What did Jesus mean by this?” Edward Sri, Ph.D., Augustine Institute chancellor and professor, asked in the Symbolon video. “Did he really intend for us to eat his body and drink his blood?”
According to a 2010 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, 55 percent of Catholics said ‘yes,’ while 41 percent said ‘no,’ they are symbols. Roughly 3 percent said they do not know what Church teaching is.
Sri explained a teaching earlier in Jesus’ public ministry that helped shed light on it.
“In the passage known as the bread of life discourse (Jn 6:51), Jesus teaches on the Eucharist,” Sri said. “He makes it very clear that he’s speaking realistically, not just metaphorically, not just figuratively, but realistically about us eating his very body and drinking his blood.”
In the passage, he described himself as the living bread and goes on to say the bread he will give “is my flesh for the life of the world.”
The Jewish people were scandalized, Sri said, and asked: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?
Instead of backing down, Jesus responded with even stronger language: “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 6:54-56).
“These are not the words of a man speaking merely metaphorically,” Sri said. “No, Jesus is speaking quite realistically. He wants to give us his very body and blood in the Eucharist. And why? Because in the Jewish biblical world of Jesus’ day, the body expresses the whole person, and the life is in the blood.”
That is why Catholics call reception of the Eucharist “holy Communion.”
“It is just that,” he said, “it is an intimate and holy communion with our Lord Jesus Christ.”
However, this Communion with the Lord, available at every Mass, is not always taken seriously.
“Catholics often take for granted how mysterious, how glorious, how magnificent the holy Mass is,” Coffin said. “We’re going to be transformed with an encounter with God himself.”
It is the most amazing thing happening in the universe, Sri said.
“Every chance we get to go to Mass, Jesus becomes present among us,” he said. “The bread and wine are really changed into his very body and blood … and he’s coming because he loves us. He wants to be near us, he even wants to enter inside us.”
It is the time when the faithful are closest to the Lord.
“You are what you eat, we become like the thing we’re being fed by,” Coffin said. “The Eucharist has been a saint-making machine for 2,000 years, because the Lord knows we can’t be saints without him. His power in us is the secret.”
For more about Symbolon, visit www.symboloncatholic.org.
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> Jewish roots of the Eucharist
One of the keys to understanding the Eucharist is to see how it was instituted in the context of one of Israel’s greatest feasts, the feast of Passover, according to Edward Sri, Ph.D., of the Augustine Institute.
“Every year at Passover, the Jews would take a lamb, sacrifice it and offer it up to God, but that wasn’t enough,” Sri explained. “They had to go on to a next step, which was to eat of the lamb. For the Jews, it was the partaking of the lamb that symbolized and established covenant union with God.”
When Jesus, on the night before he died, in the context of a Passover meal, said this is my body and this is my blood, he was using sacrificial language.
“(This was) language normally used to describe the Passover lamb, but (he was) applying it to himself,” Sri said. “Indeed Jesus is the new Passover lamb.”
After a sacrifice is made—this time Jesus’ body on the cross—a communion meal would be expected.
“It’s not enough for the lamb to be sacrificed, you have to eat of the lamb,” Sri said, “because it is the communion meal that forms the covenant with God.”