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The Eucharist and the Real Presence of Christ

prepared by Janet Glowaky, parishioner
and approved by Rev. Mark A. O’Hern, Pastor

What does Eucharist mean?
The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharistein which means “thanksgiving.” It is the memorial sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood, presented under the form of bread and wine, which is offered to the Father for the forgiveness of sins. The Eucharist is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.

What is transubstantiation?
After the consecration at each Mass, the outward properties of the bread and wine that we perceive with our senses remain the same. The substance – what the objects are at their metaphysical core – changes and becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The objects have not transformed, because the form stays the same. They have transubstantiated because the substance has changed.

Isn’t that cannibalism?
Comparing the Eucharist to cannibalism is not a legitimate analogy. Jesus does not give us his earthly flesh as it was during his earthly ministry. He gives us his glorified humanity as it was after rising from the dead.

How do we know Jesus wasn’t speaking symbolically or metaphorically?

1. Metaphor of “eating the flesh”

There is a metaphor of “eating the flesh” in Jewish culture. It is used to signify doing someone grievous injury. This makes it implausible that Jesus was speaking metaphorically about the Eucharist in John Chapter 6. Examples can be found in Job 19:22, Psalm 27:2, Isaiah 49:26, and Micah 3:1-3.

2. Jesus explains his metaphors.
In John 4:41-34 and Matthew 6:5-12, Jesus used metaphors involving food. The disciples were confused because they took him literally, but Jesus explains exactly what he means.

In John, Chapter 6, Jesus’ sermon on the Eucharist, Jesus’ disciples balk at his teaching and many leave him. He doesn’t say “Look, guys, settle down; you misunderstood me! I was just talking symbolically. Don’t be so literal.” Jesus makes no effort to clear up potential misunderstandings about his Eucharistic teaching to keep them from leaving. This is the only instance in the gospels where the disciples leave him in large numbers.

Peter and the Apostles, who stay with Jesus, get it right: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

3. What does “is” mean?
In the last supper accounts, Jesus didn’t say “this represents my body.” He said, “this is my body,” using the Greek word esti, which is typically used in the literal sense. There is nothing further in Jesus’ phraseology that suggests he was intending to be understood in a non-literal, symbolic sense.

4. Parallel language in the miracle of feeding the 5000 and the Last Supper accounts
In the four gospel accounts of the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000, the writers have embedded a significant sign that points to a supernatural understanding of the Eucharist. These accounts occur prior to the Last Supper accounts and the language used directly parallels that of the Last Supper. The words in both instances are took, blessed/thanks, broke, and gave. This parallel brings a significance to the Last Supper that indicates the breaking of the bread is more than a symbolic act.

Accounts of feeding the 5000 are found in Matthew 14:19-21, Mark 6:41, Luke 9:15-16, John 6:11.
Accounts of the Last Supper are found in Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, and Luke 22:19-20.

5. John Chapter 6 speaks clearly of the supernatural nature of the Eucharist.
A. Jesus refers several times to the supernatural nature of the food he will give:
     a. food which endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man (Messiah) will give you (v. 27)
     b. the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world (v. 33)
     c. I am the bread of life…I have come down from heaven… [to do] the will of him who sent me. (v. 35-38)
     d. This is the bread of life that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. (v. 50)

B. References to the wilderness manna point to a supernatural Eucharist:
     a. The disciples ask Jesus for a miraculous sign comparable to the heavenly manna: “Then what sign do you
do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? Our ancestors ate the manna in the
wilderness; as it is written, ‘he gave them bread from heaven to eat’.” (v. 30-31)
     b. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is
the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” (V. 48-50)
     c. Jesus says, “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (V. 57-58)

Note: Whenever there is a new covenant fulfillment of an Old Testament foreshadowing, the fulfillment is always greater than the foreshadowing. The new manna is greater because it is supernatural bread from God, but unlike the original manna, it gives eternal life. The Eucharist, the new manna, cannot be greater if it is merely symbolic.

C. The bread which Jesus will give is his flesh and he clarifies this difficult teaching with a supernatural reference:
     a. Jesus first announces that the “bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” in v. 51.
     b. Jesus announces it 5 more times, even after the disciples question what he is saying: v. 53, 54, 55, 56, 57.
     c. After all of Jesus’ repetitions, the disciples say, ”This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
     d. Jesus says, “Does this offend you? What if you were to see the Son of Man (Messiah) ascending to where he was before?” It is here that Jesus is indicating the supernatural nature of the bread he will provide. It is here that Jesus dispels the notion of cannibalism and refers to his resurrected body.

6. Paul speaks of the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians
A. 1 Corinthians 10:17: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing (koinonia) in the body of Christ?” The Greek word koinonia, translated as sharing (or participation), means communion or mystical participation.

B. 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.”

If the bread and the cup are reduced to mere symbolism, how can a person receive them “unworthily” as Paul says? How can a person “eat and drink judgement against themselves” for not “discerning the body” if Paul is
talking about a mere symbol?

The Eucharist in the Early Church
Writings from many of the earliest church leaders include discussions of the bread and wine as Jesus’ body and blood. That means the earliest Christians did not believe that the Eucharist was merely symbolic. They believed that Jesus was substantially present in the Eucharist.